Super Bowl XLIV preview

THE enduring beauty of sport lies in its ceaseless ability to write stories which, if committed to the silver screen in a Hollywood blockbuster or some such, would have you snorting and huffing with incredulity at the sheer ridiculousness of the plot.

Mark Heath

THE enduring beauty of sport lies in its ceaseless ability to write stories which, if committed to the silver screen in a Hollywood blockbuster or some such, would have you snorting and huffing with incredulity at the sheer ridiculousness of the plot.

Just such a tale could unfold before our very eyes this weekend in Miami, as the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts meet in Super Bowl XLIV.

Before you roll your eyes and turn the page looking for something football-related - deep sigh - I'd implore you to read on and take an interest in Sunday night's events. Even better, watch it - 100 million people worldwide will join you.

The Super Bowl is unlike anything you will have ever witnessed before. An orgy of bright lights, fanfare, razzmatazz and extravagance mixed with a brutal ballet of sensational skill, violence and athleticism. It's a clich�, but this really does have to be seen to be believed.

Anyway, back to the story. Our tale centres around the plucky underdog Saints, who will be appearing in their first-ever Super Bowl after years of pathetic play and bad luck, both on and off the field.

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That all came to head in the unthinkable tragedy which faced the team, and the whole city, when Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans in 2005.

As hundreds of lives were lost and chaos reigned, the Saint's iconic home -the Louisiana Superdome - was firmly at the eye of the media storm.

Badly battered on the outside and home to thousands of displaced peoples on the inside, horrifying tales of murder, sexual assault and violent attacks began to emerge.

As the city started to stagger back to its feet there was talk that, such were the terrible memories left in that dome, it could never be used for sports or entertainment again and calls were even made for it to be demolished.

Meanwhile the Saints, who played 'home' games in New Jersey, San Antonio and Baton Rouge, laboured to a three-win, thirteen-loss season amid the horrors.

Into the maelstrom strode free agent quarterback signing Drew Brees who, having been shown around the hurricane-ravaged city, decided that it was his “calling” to sign for the Saints and help rebuild both the team and the community.

In the very next season, the emotionally-charged Saints - playing in a refurbished Superdome - marched to within a game of the Super Bowl, losing to eventual runners-up the Chicago Bears, who in turn lost the big show to the Colts.

A few disappointing campaigns followed, but as the team toiled, Brees and his team-mates slowly helped put New Orleans back together.

One of sport's genuine good guys, Brees has been described as a “pillar of the community” and his philanthropic work and leadership have been instrumental in the resurrection of the city and their beloved team.

Now, they stand on the brink of completing a truly remarkable tale of triumph in the face of hardship, a formidable team buoyed by a sense of destiny.

In Brees they have one of the very best quarterbacks in the game. Though under-sized he's as tough as they come, and his accuracy and touch is without equal in the NFL.

He leads a frighteningly powerful offense which boasts an awesome artillery of weapons ranging from do-it-all human highlight reel Reggie Bush to all-pro receiver Marques Colston and athletic tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Indeed, the Saints (15-3) led the league in scoring with an average of 31.9 points per game. Unfortunately for them, the team they face on Sunday is equally impressive with the ball.

Ironically their leader, Peyton Manning, is the son of the man who first forced the Saints to prominence with his play, the legendary Archie Manning.

He is undoubtedly very proud of his progeny. Peyton, who led the Colts to that Super Bowl victory over the Bears back in 2007, is already recognised among the league's greatest-ever signal callers.

The only QB left in the game to call his own plays, Manning keeps defenses off-balance with intelligence, a quick release and an unparalleled command of the game.

The Colts' offense scored 26 points a game during the season, with star men Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon - a Haiti native who's also had to deal with tragedy recently - combining to spearhead their attack.

While both offenses are as dangerous as they are fun to watch, I believe the real key to this game lies with the defenses - neither of which are especially remarkable.

The Saints have made a habit of creating big turnovers this season and will surely need to replicate that in this game, as well as hitting the usually untouchable Manning early and often, to stand a chance.

Across the field, the Colts (16-2) are sweating on the health of their talismanic defensive end Dwight Freeney, who has a torn ankle ligament and may not be able to play.

If he is on the field the Colts should have enough of an advantage on the defensive side of the ball to see them to victory.

And so we arrive - gulp - at the inevitable prediction. I'm afraid it will not make happy reading for Saints fans and the millions of neutrals who will back Brees and his squad.

For as much as I'd like to see the fairytale ending written for New Orleans, I have a nagging feeling that Manning's brilliance will be the deciding factor.

This promises to be a wildly entertaining clash and may even come down to which team has the ball last, but I believe that the Colts' superior running game and Manning's big-game experience will see them prevail.

Colts to win, 34-28.

- I'll be tweeting during the build up and the game itself. Follow me on Twitter at mark__heath to get involved and have your say

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