MIAMI -- Sean Payton arrived as the New Orleans Saints' head coach on Jan. 18, 2006, less than five months after Hurricane Katrina tore holes in the Louisiana Superdome roof, tearing the very fabric of a proud, historical city, as well as the entire Gulf South.
In another way, of course, Payton arrived on Sunday night at Sun Life Stadium. His gutty decisions gave the Saints an emotional lift in Super Bowl XLIV, first at the start of the second half and then when the game was on the line.
The Saints scored all 15 of the game's fourth-quarter points and turned back the favored Indianapolis Colts 31-17, bringing the team its first Vince Lombardi Trophy to New Orleans in the 43-year history of the franchise.
The Saints made history, all right. They're the best team in the NFL.
"As underdogs, we felt like we were the better team," Payton said. "We liked the way our guys were preparing for this game. We liked the confidence in the locker room, on the practice field. We liked the spot we were in."
They like it even better now.
The Saints, who finished the season with a 16-3 record, trailed by 10 points after the first quarter and didn't take their first lead until the opening moments of the second half.
It was the way they did it, of course, that will be immortalized in the annals of pro football history. Payton chose to go for an onside kick to open the second half, while the legendary British band The Who was rocking on the field and the Saints were waiting in their locker room.
Rookie punter Thomas Morstead executed the kick to perfection, as charging Colts receiver Hank Baskett charged the ball, only to watch it bounce off his helmet. Special-teams standout Chris Reis made the recovery for the Saints, and six plays later, the Saints took their first lead on Drew Brees' 16-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas.
The momentum was theirs, even though the Colts quickly went back in front on Joseph Addai's 4-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. The Saints' defense started forcing Peyton Manning, the Colts' gifted quarterback, into some bad decisions, and the Saints would win going away. The Colts also finished 16-3, but it was that third defeat that will linger for months, even years.
"We talked about being aggressive in this game," Payton said. "All week, we've practiced that onside kick. I made the decision at halftime to do it. I told the team, 'You've got to make me look good here.'"
The Saints did that, and a lot more.
Brees, who joined the Saints a couple months after Payton's arrival, was again on top of his game. He completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, the second one a 2-yard strike to colorful tight end Jeremy Shockey, which put the Saints in front 22-17 with 5:42 left in the game.
"We knew we were going to have to move the ball, be patient and score when we had opportunities," Brees said.
The Saints needed to add a 2-point conversion to extend their lead to seven points, and Brees got the ball to Lance Moore at the goal line near the pylon on the right sideline.
Officials initially ruled Moore did not make the catch, and Payton challenged the call with his red flag. Television replays showed Moore pinned the ball against his leg as he crossed the goal line. The largely pro-Saints crowd responded when officials put two more points on the scoreboard, and the Saints would add seven more before it was over.
That's the moment two New Orleanians, Manning and Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, will always regret.
Manning tried to force the ball on a quick slant to Wayne on a third-and-5 play from the Saints' 31-yard line, and Tracy Porter, the Saints' second-year cornerback, made a quick break on the ball.
Porter was even quicker making his way down the left sideline, intercepting Manning's pass and scoring on a 74-yard interception return and putting the game on ice.
"He made a great play. That's all I can say about it," Manning said. "It's certainly disappointing. I'm very disappointed."
Brees was named the Super Bowl MVP, an award that went to Manning three years ago, when the Colts stopped the Chicago Bears in the big game, also in Miami. The Saints reached the NFC championship game that season, losing to the Bears 39-14 at Chicago's Soldier Field. They missed the playoffs the next two years, but they vowed that they'd be back.
On Sunday night, they delivered on that promise.
They'll be honored in a parade in downtown New Orleans on Tuesday evening.
Suffice it to say it will be a wild scene. And then some.