Monday, February 8, 2010

Calm Vilma Helps Saints Realize Super Bowl Dream

By Perryn Keys

MIAMI — Those hands. Those calm hands.

The rest of Sun Life Stadium erupted. Every football fan in the world inched closer to his TV, ready to watch the final stirring minutes of Super Bowl XLIV. Meanwhile, with 5:42 remaining in the biggest game he ever played in, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma stood on the sideline, his hands resting peacefully on his hips.

Just moments before the Saints clinched their 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, he was calm.

For goodness sake, what was he thinking?

From the front row to the upper deck, amid all the frenzy, Saints fans — grown men and women, mind you — sobbed openly, hugging each other and holding hands. Overcome with emotion, they simply couldn’t comprehend that their lovable losers were minutes away from a world title.

What was Vilma thinking? Didn’t he understand this moment? Didn’t he understand the magnitude?

He sure did.

While officials awarded a catch to wideout Lance Moore on a two-point conversion, one that gave the Saints a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Vilma conferred quietly with the Saints coaching staff. Then he shook hands with a few defensive teammates.

As the captain of a defense that lived on the edge all season, Vilma understood his role in the moment: If the Saints were to finish their rally and win the biggest game in franchise history, their defense had to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts one more time.

On Indianapolis’ previous possession, Vilma made one of the Super Bowl’s most important plays.

The Saints trailed 17-16 as Manning led the Colts to a third-and-11 at New Orleans’ 33-yard line. New Orleans had to have a stop. Vilma made it.

In pass coverage against wideout Austin Collie, more than 30 yards downfield, Vilma turned his head and broke up Manning’s pass near the goal line.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Vilma was supposed to blitz on the play — but he recognized Manning’s call and checked out of the blitz, one of dozens of pre-snap adjustments Vilma made Sunday night. On the next play, Colts place-kicker Matt Stover — a replacement for the injured Adam Vinatieri, who won three previous Super Bowls with his right leg — missed a 51-yard field goal wide left.

The Saints responded with a touchdown pass from MVP Drew Brees to tight end Jeremy Shockey, followed by Moore’s fingernail-thin two-point conversion.

Seven plays later, Tracy Porter made his clinching interception return for a touchdown. As it turned out, for the Saints, Super Bowl XLIV was the stage for one final dramatic comeback in a season that saw so many.

It was a fitting rally for a franchise that stumbled through blowout losses, bad luck and bad personnel moves for the better part of 43 years.

Finally, at 9:22 p.m. CST, Jonathan Vilma vanished into a tunnel, his hands high above his head, nodding to thousands of Saints fans who realized their dream as Vilma realized his.

He seemed calm, but happy. At long last, he and the Saints were world champions, and their fans were full of joy.

They were whole.

Super Bowl XLIV highlights
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Source: 2TheAdvocate and NFL

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