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Barry Hirstius

Peyton Manning’s Statue is Well Deserved — But the Saints Tarnished His Legacy

The New Orleans Saints are off today, as they get to experience their last weekend of rest and relaxation before moving on to the "grind" of the remainder of the 2017 NFL regular season, for the next 12 consecutive weeks.

Meanwhile, 28 other NFL teams are in action today (the Saints' arch-rivals and the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons are one of 3 other teams along with the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos that have the weekend off); highlighted by a nationally-televised clash between the Green Bay Packers (whom the Saints play in 2 more weeks from today) and the Dallas Cowboys.

Another highlight on tap for today: recently retired and legendary NFL QB (and New Orleans native) Peyton Manning being honored before the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers.

Photo courtesy of The Indy Star

Manning will be inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor and become the first player from the franchise's "Indianapolis Era" (they played in Baltimore for 30 years from 1953 to 1983, prior to moving to Indianapolis in 1984) to have his jersey retired.

Today's Ring of Honor ceremony comes right after the Colts organization yesterday unveiled a statue of Manning on a plaza outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, in downtown Indianapolis.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of fans and featuring remarks from Hall of Famers (and former Colts head coach) Tony Dungy and executive (and former Colts GM) Bill Polian, who originally drafted Manning for Indianapolis in 1998, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The former five-time NFL MVP concluded the event Saturday by proclaiming "I will always be a Colt" and throwing autographed footballs into the crowd.

And the bronze statue bearing his likeness features Manning in his Colts uniform, preparing to throw a pass.

(Photo: Darron Cummings, AP)

It goes without saying that the honor is due for the legacy of a former NFL QB who some consider to be one of THE greatest players in Pro Football's long history, to have ever played the quarterback position.

However.....

While there's no denying that the statue of Manning is well deserved, his legacy will always be somewhat "tarnished" by the New Orleans Saints — the team from his hometown that he had one of the lowlights of his brilliant career against in Super Bowl XLIV, back on the date of Febraury 7, 2010.

If you're a fan of the Saints, then you already know how this story goes.

But for the folks that may have missed it somehow, the story goes like this:

The Saints were leading by a score of 24-17 in the 4th quarter, with the Colts facing a 3rd-down-and-5 at the New Orleans 31 with just over 3 minutes left to play.

But former Saints CB Tracy Porter intercepted a Manning pass intended for Reggie Wayne and returned it all the way down the field 74 yards (and right in front of the Saints bench on the near sideline) for a touchdown, and essentially clinching the first ever Super Bowl victory in Saints history in the process.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

In an interview earlier this year with writer Larry Mayer, Porter said that he knew that Wayne was going to run a short "stick route" on the play as soon as receiver Austin Collie motioned from outside to a stack alignment with Wayne.

Porter had done some very extensive film study during the week prior to the game; and that knowledge enabled him to jump the route and beat Wayne to the ball.

"They ran that play earlier in the game," Porter said. "When they came out we were in man-to-man coverage. Malcolm Jenkins was the nickel. He and I both knew what was coming, so when [Collie] motioned down, [Jenkins] and I switched guys.

"They never put [Collie] as the outside receiver from what we watched on film. So in seeing that we knew he was going to motion down to a stack position. Malcolm and I didn't even have to make hand signals. We just made eye contact, knowing that we were going to switch guys."

Mayer says that because he was confident he knew what play was coming, Porter had decided that he was going to jump the route — even though he understood that a double-move by Wayne would likely result in an easy game-tying touchdown for the Colts.

"Either I was going to make a play or he was going to double move me and make a play, so one of us was going to make a play," Porter said. "I just told myself that if he runs a double move, then they deserve to win the championship. But I knew what was coming, so I was going to play the play. I played the play, he threw it right to me and the rest is history."

As Mayer noted and as most Saints fans well remember: Porter dashed untouched into the end zone, as he covered the final 30 yards while looking up and pointing at a throng of Saints fans in the crowd.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

"My first thought was, 'don't drop the ball,'" Porter said. "When I was running, I was thinking that I was about to score in the biggest game of my career. People would give their right arm to play in the game let alone make a big play in the game.

"There were a ton of Saints fans in the crowd jumping and screaming. Everyone asked me what I was pointing at and I was pointing at those guys."

It's THE single greatest play in the entire 51-year history of the New Orleans Saints franchise.

The Saints won their first Super Bowl in franchise history, while dropping Manning at that point in time; to a 9–9 record in the postseason and a 1–1 record in the Super Bowl. Manning passed for 333 yards on 31-of-45 attempts passing, with one touchdown and one interception.

But it was the Porter interception and that eventual loss to the Saints — the team that his Dad (the legendary Archie Manning) played for and who Peyton cheered for growing up in New Orleans as a kid —  that is the one true "blemish" on his otherwise remarkable 18-year long legacy from 1998 to 2015.

As Pro Football Talk / NBC Sports writer Mike Florio observed last year: other scapegoats emerged for the Colts loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, from the Colts offensive line to back-up Indianapolis running back Mike Hart.

But...

Florio says that the guy who threw the pass (Manning) — who ran the offense with the ability at the line of scrimmage to make whatever adjustments he thought he needed to make — never was blamed for calling the play (or allowing the play to remain the call) and making the throw.

And now all of these years later, Manning still to this very day hasn't said much about the infamous play; other than what he told reporters in the locker room after the game's conclusion.

"Disappointing," Manning said. "He made a great play. That's all I can say about it. Porter made a heckuva play."

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

"It was a good play for us all year long. It's a play we run a lot," Manning said. "Porter made a great break on the ball."

When then asked if he was happy that at least he had been beaten by the Saints — the team representing his hometown and the place of his birth — Manning said: 

"There's not much consolation for the guys who didn't win," he said. "The stage is being set up for the celebration. It's the time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field. They deserve the moment. I will speak to Drew Brees and speak to Sean Payton."

Later on today as the Colts take on the 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning will deservedly be inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor.

It's recognition befitting of one of the greatest QB's to ever play the sport of Pro Football, and for a player who threw for 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns, won 4 MVP awards and a World Championship (Super Bowl XLI) during his 14 years worth of playing time in Indianapolis. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

But one thing that he won't be remembered for later on today by the Colts and their adoring fans in the great state of Indiana:

That time he threw a costly interception that cost himself and the Colts franchise, a 2nd Super Bowl title in the "Indianapolis Era" when they lost Super Bowl XLIV.

Peyton Manning's statue is well deserved --- but his legacy will be FOREVER tarnished, by the New Orleans Saints.....

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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