Saints cope with being 'newbies'
In Super Bowl experience, the Colts own a huge edge, but New Orleans is resourceful
That's it for Super Bowl rings among the Saints. So how does a team in a sport in which "act like you've been here before" is one of the unwritten rules act like it's been here before?
"When you get into coaching or playing, your goal is to someday win a Super Bowl championship,'' New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "I don't think the focus is that of the first time. I think each year when you look at a team that goes, it's made up of so many different players."You know, the [Pittsburgh] Steelers a year ago, you could say, 'Well, they've been to X number of Super Bowls.' Yet when you look at the roster, the guy that makes the play of the game is a first- or second-year player. I think the challenge is winning a championship and understanding that we're playing a great Indianapolis team.'' That sounds easy enough. But, seriously, where does a team that has very little Super Bowl experience turn for leadership? There aren't a lot of obvious answers.
Tight end David Thomas was on the injured-reserve list for the 2007 New England Patriots team that lost to the Giants. Fullback Heath Evans actually played for the Patriots in that Super Bowl, but the Saints had to put him on their injured-reserve list in the middle of this season.
Outside of those guys, no other Saints have been to a Super Bowl. It's kind of fitting, because this is the first Super Bowl for New Orleans, a franchise that doesn't exactly have a glowing history.
There basically are two options here as the Saints get ready to fly to Miami and get hit with all the glitter that comes with a Super Bowl. The first choice is to turn to the outside, and the Saints already have used that trick.
It happened a couple of days before the NFC Championship Game victory over Minnesota, when Payton brought in former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson and handed him a captive audience.
"He told us that you can't prepare for one thing because you don't know what's going to happen in these types of games,'' New Orleans running back Reggie Bush said. "All you can do is prepare yourself for everything and just take it as it comes. Whatever happens in a game, just take it for what it is and try to do whatever you can to win the game.''
That's solid advice from a guy who coached the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. But that's not the only direction the Saints are turning.
They're also looking inside for strength and leadership. You can bet that Gay, Sharper, Eckel and Kyle have been telling teammates what to prepare for in Super Bowl XLIV. Payton isn't a Super Bowl stranger, either. He was with the New York Giants when they lost Super Bowl XXXV to the Baltimore Ravens.
That experience will help. But, most of all, the Saints are just kind of leaning on each other. And that just might work, because that's pretty much the story of this team, the city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region the past few years. This region was slugged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the aftermath brought questions about whether the Saints would be able to return to New Orleans.
"This team might be in L.A. or something, or San Antonio," said quarterback Drew Brees, who joined the Saints in 2006, the same year Payton arrived.
"Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions and fight through adversity in order to kind of achieve what you thought you maybe might not be able to achieve otherwise. I would say this city having gone through what it's gone through, and this organization having gone through what it's gone through over the past five or six years before Katrina and post Katrina, has allowed us to have the opportunity that we have now.
"It's hardened us, given us an edge. But in the end, it's made us tougher. It's brought us together. It's united us. That's all for the better."
It's tough to argue with Brees' logic. Yeah, maybe the Saints don't have a bunch of Super Bowl rings. But the team, the city and the entire region have scored a big victory against the damage done by Katrina.
The Saints have been a focal point in the recovery.
"I think you can draw so many parallels between our team and our city, but in reality, we kind of leaned on each other in order to survive and in order to get to where we are now," Brees said.
"The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways, it's back better than ever. For us as a team, we use the strength and resilience of our fans. We go out and play every Sunday, and go out with the confidence to do it. We're going to achieve everything we've set out to achieve.
"It's been one step at a time. It hasn't always been easy. We've had to fight through plenty of adversity, just like this city has. We know what it's meant thus far to this community, not only the regular season, but also being able to host two playoffs games, what it did for this economy, and what it did for the spirit of this city and these people."
Maybe that kind of experience can mean more than Super Bowl experience?
Pat Yasinkas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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