New Orleans, Indianapolis To Headline Super Bowl XLIV

Super Bowl Lineup Settled: The New Orleans Saints New Orleans Saints The face off for NFL Super Bowl XLIV is set. Sunday, 2007 Super Bowl championship team Indianapolis Colts came from behind to beat the New York Jets and earn another spot at the showdown. And the New Orleans Saints went into overtime to squeek past the Minnesota Vikings to secure their first Super Bowl slot. Sports Illustrated Reporter Pablo Torre offers analysis of the past football season gives his predictions.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we turn from politics to sports. The matchup for Super Bowl XLIV is set. Yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts had to come from behind to beat the New York Jets to advance to the big game, while the New Orleans Saints went into overtime to squeak past the Minnesota Vikings to secure their spot.

This year's Super Bowl will be played in Miami and features two of the most explosive offenses in all of football. And here to talk more about this is Sports Illustrated's reporter, Pablo Torre. Welcome.

Mr.�PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, speak very softly, because, you know, my Jets went down the tube. So I'm still kind of feeling a little sensitive. I'm feeling a little sensitive.

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah, I feel you.

MARTIN: But there were four great stories, I think you and I agree, going into the weekend's contest. So let's talk about how each of the teams got there. Let's talk about the Saints battling the Vikings. What was exciting about that game?

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah, I mean, it was in New Orleans. I think New Orleans has a team that really, I mean, you don't want to use hyperbole too much in sports, although every tabloid - and SI, at times, itself does. But, you know, the Saints have been the emotional center, the emotional ballast of the team. They've embraced the city. The city has embraced them back.

Obviously, in the years since Hurricane Katrina, the city is still recovering, and they've never made the Super Bowl before. But they have this great offense led by Drew Brees, who's really - you know, not since Brett Favre in Green Bay, ironically, have we seen a man who's so identified with his adopted city.

And so it's this great storyline of sort of human tragedy coming back to - to sort of getting in the first Super Bowl. I mean, these fans used to be so embarrassed to call themselves Saints fans that they used to wear paper bags and call themselves the Aints, to games.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�TORRE: And so to have this type of turnaround is really amazing. And so bringing that to New Orleans, having that momentum into the Super Bowl - I mean, they had the emotional cards all ready to play there.

MARTIN: And speaking of Brett Favre, okay, those of us who are over 40...

(Soundbite of cough)

Mr.�TORRE: Hmm. Yes.

MARTIN: ...you have to - you know, you have to - well, you don't have to, because you're not. You haven't crossed that bridge. But for those of us who have, talk about Brett Favre.

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah. I mean, he's - you know, he was a former Jets quarterback. There were all these intermingling lines of - storylines here, but he was a former Jets quarterback who was retiring and unretiring, flip-flopping over and over and over again, to the point where it seemed like you were interviewing a politician at certain points. You know, what's he going to do? What's he - who's he catering to now?

But he signed with the Vikings. People had very low expectations of him outside of the fact that most folks didn't like him because he just had all the spotlight, hadn't done anything yet. But this season, he proved that he was actually MVP worthy, having the best season, arguably, of his career, you know, pushing 40, over 40, and brought the Vikings to the brink against the Saints. And again, went into overtime, lost by a field goal, but he made a crucial Brett Favre-ian mistake, throwing an interception into tight coverage at the end of the game that sort of sealed their fate....

MARTIN: Which he did two years ago in his last game as a Green Bay Packers, which had some sort of...

Mr.�TORRE: Against the Vikings - against the Giants, yes.

MARTIN: ...tragic overtime story. And, of course, there's the whole - in fact, his whole will-he-or-won't-he kind of Hamlet-like quality has become so well-known that they've actually done commercials about it, sort of featuring his indecision as a factor in the commercials.

Again, the question is will he or will he not retire, which is...

Mr.�TORRE: And that's the question again, right?

MARTIN: Well, let's just play what he had - let's - he gave a - he talked about that, as you might imagine, after the game yesterday, and here's what he had to say.

Mr.�BRETT FAVRE (Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings): And I know people are rolling their eyes, or will roll their eyes. In a situation like this, I really don't want to make a decision right now based solely on what's happened, because I do know the year could not have gone any better, aside from this night, going to Miami. I really enjoy the guys, and I was wondering if I could hold up, you know, especially after a day like today, physically and mentally. That was pretty draining.

MARTIN: So I'm going to put you on the spot. Will he, or won't he?

Mr.�TORRE: He will. He...

MARTIN: Do you think he'll come back?

Mr.�TORRE: At this point, I think, given his history, he needs to be physically dragged away from a football stadium in order to not suit up and play. He's genetically hard-wired to know nothing else beyond playing football. So even if his body's breaking down, which it is, I have a feeling he'll be out there, and he'll have to be forcibly removed before he stops playing in the NFL.

MARTIN: Oh, dear. All right, let's talk about the other match-up, the AFC championship game. Until yesterday, the Jets were the story, and I say that without any bias at all, of course, as a native New Yorker. And so, how were the Colts able to beat them?

Mr.�TORRE: Well, it was funny. I mean, on all these local news channels, they had this sort of narrowly prepared where they were going to watch the game with Jets fans, and then after the game, they'd go to them. And it turned out just to be this very sad - like a series of very sad segments where you just had people predicting in the second quarter, oh, the Jets are going to win this, you know, shades of Joe Namath. And then by the end, the Colts roared back and just became the methodical offense that they were beyond Peyton Manning. And inevitably, everyone was sort of weeping into their green jerseys and their beer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�TORRE: No offense to you, Michel.

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that hurt. Ouch. That hurts. Speaking of weeping. But, you know, there was this funny thing, because you had the Brett Favre story on the one hand. On the other hand, you've got this freshman quarterback...

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah, Mark Sanchez.

MARTIN: ...Mark Sanchez, which is his own great story. Tell us a little bit more about him.

Mr.�TORRE: Yeah. You know, a guy who came in, you know, had the matinee-idol looks, seemed like a New York-type player who'd thrive in the spotlight, flourished in the beginning and then struggled in middle. And people thought, oh, maybe he's just too young. He can't handle the pressure. His coach at USC, Pete Carroll, said it was a mistake for him to come to the NFL, became the caretaker of an offense with a great running game, got further than anybody thought they would.

This is the Jets making the AFC championship, surpassing expectations even then. So the Jets, on the bright side, are set up with a great future in Mark Sanchez.

MARTIN: And then finally on the Indianapolis side, I mean, it seems like only yesterday we were talking about the former coach, Tony Dungy, vying to be the first African-American to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. Now, if current coach Jim Caldwell wins with the Colts, it'll be the third black coach in four years to achieve that. So, I don't know. Are we missing a good story here about diversity in the NFL?

Mr.�TORRE: I think we are. I think the Rooney Rule is sort of indicated here. I mean, it's sort of - that's, obviously, it's just a thing that people - that teams do as a matter of course to make sure they not offend anybody, basically. But what we're proving empirically is that it's not just something you need to consider in the course of things. It should be a spotlight, a focus, I mean, on the hiring process.

Jim Caldwell is a huge story, in my opinion. He's a guy - it's hard to do that.

MARTIN: Okay, it's hard. I've got to put you on the spot. So who is in the - who gets the trophy?

Mr.�TORRE: Colts 28, Saints 27. Peyton Manning didn't even lift the AFC trophy above his head. He was looking to the Super Bowl as soon as the bell rung at the end of that game.

MARTIN: Oh, man. Well, we'll hold you to it. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was kind enough to join us from our New York studios. He's also a Barbershop regular. Thanks, Pablo.

Mr.�TORRE: Of course.

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