By Drew Olson Special to Published Feb 08, 2010 at 1:08 AM

The offensive shootout didn't materialize in the first 30 minutes. The commercials, save for Google's take on Paris, were mostly mediocre and largely forgettable. The Who looked several years, if not decades, past its prime during halftime.

Just when Super Bowl XLIV seemed headed for the scrap heap of overhyped, overblown disappointments, a guy named Payton came in and rescued the evening.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton put his underdog team in a position to win with a crafty game plan, made gutsy decisions that buoyed his club's confidence and watched Indianapolis and standout quarterback Peyton Manning wilt under the brightest spotlight in sports.

When the gun sounded, the Saints had a 31-17 victory and their quarterback, Drew Brees, had an MVP trophy and a championship to put on his already impressive resume.

The Saints, who trailed by 10-0 in the first quarter, didn't mount much of a running attack, but they didn't need one. Brees completed 32 of 39 passes -- including an incredible run of 29 of 32 that included a clock-killing spike and a drop -- and finished with 288 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

In some circles, Brees is being hailed as a savior of both his team and the hurricane-ravaged city that it represents.

But, it was Payton who brought him to New Orleans. It was Payton who pushed the right buttons, including a successful officiating challenge preceded by a surprise onside kick to start the second half -- a play that turned the momentum in New Orleans' favor.

Trailing by a 10-6 margin at halftime, Payton ordered kicker Thomas Morstead to deliver an onside kick to open the third quarter. Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas, a University of Wisconsin product, pounced on the ball and the Saints drove 58 yards for a score that gave them a lead.

Had Payton's risky decision backfired, he'd have been barbecued. New Orleans failed to convert a fourth and 1 from the 1-yard line in the second quarter, in part because Payton called for three consecutive running plays.

That shortcoming was alleviated somewhat, though, when the Colts ran three plays and punted, setting up one of Garrett Hartley's record-setting three field goals from beyond 40 yards.

Payton's last shining moment came when he challenge the officials' ruling that a two-point conversion pass to Lance Moore was incomplete. Payton could see on the stadium replay that Moore had extended the ball over the goal line before it was knocked away. The call was overturned and the Saints moved into a 24-17 lead.

The Colts, who dominated the first quarter and couldn't get their defense off the field in the second, still had a chance to force the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

They put the ball in the hands of their leader, Manning -- a four-time MVP -- and he made a nearly unfathomable mistake that mirrored one made by Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game two weeks earlier.

Like Favre before him, Manning was victimized by Tracy Porter, a former Indiana University defensive back who picked off a pass -- the only turnover of the game -- and returned it 74 yards for a clinching touchdown with 3 minutes 12 seconds remaining.

Porter's play left Colts fans to wonder if their team and their quarterback are capable of winning the big one. Indianapolis has won 12 regular-season games in each of the past seven seasons, but has one title to show for it. Are they the Atlanta Braves of football? Are they the modern Buffalo Bills?

What about Manning? Kansas City sports columnist Jason Whitlock summed up his thoughts about Manning on his Twitter account: "All time quarterbacks: Elway, Montana, Unitas, Brady ... Manning falls to bottom of second five. He's a tall Brett Favre."

It's too early to close the book on Manning or the Colts, who had a tremendous season under first-year coach (and Beloit native) Jim Caldwell. But, the Saints and their long-suffering fans (who once famously wore grocery bags over their heads) will be saying "Who Dat?" for the next several months.

New Orleans won two playoff games in its first 42 years of existence. This year, the Saints took all three. They scored 107 points and allowed just 59. When push came to shove, the team and its coach showed faith in each other and overcame the odds. As a result, 4 1/2 years after Katrina ravaged the city, residents of New Orleans will kick off the annual Mardi Gras celebration with a victory parade.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.