10. Betty White for Snickers
This was my own, personal, completely biased and subjective ad winner for the evening, though I will say that given tonight's competition this might be damning with faint praise. Then again, I can't recall laughing at a Super Bowl commercial harder than I did when Betty White said, "That's not what your girlfriend said..."
It's often amazing how quickly and completely the story lines that have been hyped for days or even weeks before a big game like this disappear by the time the first whistle is blown. The Freeney injury storyline -- at least for the first half, though it may resurrect itself now after he was fussed over on the sideline in the second half -- took roughly half a quarter to neutralize. No sooner had injury expert Will Caroll Tweeted, "Freeney is playing at 100%" than he bull-rushed Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod and yanked Drew Brees down by the jersey. Everybody knew he was playing hurt, and as far as I'm concerned, he put in a valiant performance.
In the first half, these Colts looked like the world-beating juggernaut they'd been made out to be, their defense stifling the New Orleans offense while Manning and his Swiss Army knife of offensive weapons (among them high flyer Reggie Wayne, infuriatingly slippery tight end Dallas Clark, and the nimble runningback Joseph Addai) took care of the points. But the Saints kept grinding, and began to recover in the second quarter with a handsome drive that took them from their own 28 to the Colts' 1...which they left empty-handed. 'Demoralizing' was the only word for it -- and I'll give credit where credit is due.
7. Jonathan Vilma denies the Colts
Still, I'm not going to lie, I liked the parts that went the Saints' way a lot better. Especially when the Saints defense finally got its legs underneath it in the second half -- but they were still trailing by one point as the fourth quarter began, with the ball in Manning's hands. He would drive the Colts as far as the New Orleans 32, which is when the Saints defense mounted a stand of its own, stuffing Addai and hitting Austin Collie behind the line for a loss of three yards, setting up a third and 11 at the 33. Manning went for Collie again, near the goal line, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma made a leaping, diving play to bat down the pass and set up a Colts' field goal attempt...
6. Matt Stover Falls Short
...which turned out to be the field goal I'm referring to here. It would have been a 51-yarder had the ball not bowed left and fallen short of the goalpost, leaving Manning doing the patented Manning Face on the sidelines. With the goal line stand, the momentum of the game had been completely behind the Colts. This was where it finally switched sides.
We wouldn't be talking about momentum changes in the second half at all, though, had the Saints failed to capitalize on the failed drive for the Colts and seize the lead on their next possession.
4. Garrett Hartley sets a Super Bowl Record
Talk of momentum might also be moot if it weren't for an unprecedented performance by the Saints kicker tonight, when he became the first kicker in history to make three field goals of more than 40 yards in a Super Bowl. Garrett Hartley also earns extra underdog points from me for achieving Super Bowl greatness while looking like the frontman for a Top 40 emo band. And what can I say, where I'm from, we kind of have a weird thing for heroic kickers.
Football can be delicate. It can be so intricate, so precise, a matter of micrometers, the halting of all action to stare at and dissect three seconds of film, frame by frame, to assess with philosophical deliberation whether the end of an oblong ball 'broke' an imaginary pane of glass over a white line. In this case, over and over again, we watched Lance Moore seem to defy physics, flinging himself toward the goal line while bobbling, then re-catching the ball as he flipped upside down, regaining possession just before a Colts defender touched him and the ball squirted out again. In the confusion, the 2-point attempt was called no good, but a challenge saw it overturned. An unforgettable moment of football.
These things hardly ever work. And it had literally never been tried before the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl before. When last we'd seen the Saints, they'd been leaving the field after that demoralizing stop on the 1 to close out the first half. With the very first play of the third quarter, they showed they still weren't going down easy -- and made Super Bowl history.
The last moment of football happiness this pure for me was the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl. But truth be told, the feeling of it had more in common with their very first championship win, when Vinatieri made that last-minute kick through the uprights to shock the world, and Gil Santos's voice broke as he made the call. That's what it reminded me of, the moment Tracy Porter and his blocker ran over Peyton Manning, shed their last defenders, and then, running alone for the last few yards, Porter put a hand up in the air, index finger raised, and you knew it was finally over, that at long last the celebration could begin.