For the first time in 16 years, the top two teams will decide the National Football League championship at the Super Bowl. The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both boast high-powered offenses that could produce a thrilling shootout.
The Saints are trying to create history, making it to the Super Bowl for the first time in their 42-year franchise history. But the slightly favored Indianapolis Colts will be doing their best to repeat history. They are back in Miami, the same place they beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl 41.
While neither team is known for exceptional defense, with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints were the most potent offense during the regular season. And over the past four seasons, Brees has been the most prolific passer in the NFL.
The Colts are led by Peyton Manning, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. With both teams having shown the ability to rally from behind to win in the final seconds, the game has all the makings of a classic. Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell says his team does not want to end a good story for New Orleans.
"I understand a bit about the culture and they have a lot of pride," he said. "And we don't want to stamp any of that out. We hope that continues. But what we want to do is we want to win this ball game."
A victory for the Saints would complete the resurrection of the franchise, which finished 3-13 the season before Drew Brees came to New Orleans. It would also go a long way toward instilling pride in a city still working toward recovering from the horror and devastation of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Saints head coach Sean Payton says the team has a special relationship with the people of New Orleans.
"This is a city that really has been very close to this team through a lot of hard times. And after Katrina, when the Saints were able to get back and play in the Superdome there was certainly some symbolism that evening. I think playing good football and giving them something to be proud of is important," he said.
The game has special meaning for Peyton Manning as well. He grew up in New Orleans, where his father Archie quarterbacked the Saints during 10 losing seasons. Peyton Manning now has to beat his favorite childhood team in order to win the NFL's championship game.
Manning says he has lots of respect for the Saints. "I expect a tough defense and I expect it is going to be a challenge to move the ball against them. And they have excellent players, they are very active and they know how to get their hands on the football. And so all of those characteristics combined make for a tough defense," he said.
It looks like Super Bowl 44 will turn out to be a tale of two quarterbacks. Let's put it another way: This is the greatest one-on-one passing match-up since Joe Montana and Dan Marino in the 1985 Super Bowl.