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Tracy Porter carries it home for a long-suffering city

The kid from a tiny Louisiana river town picked the pocket of the quarterback giant, and he was gone.

Sprinting through doubt. Racing past history. Swaying, then swerving, then striding into 30 yards of clear, smooth, unsullied green.

After all the darkness his city and his team have endured, it was amazing Tracy Porter knew what to do with all that beauty.

In the final moments of Sunday’s Super Bowl magic, cradling the clinching interception of Peyton Manning in his arms like a bag of fresh beignets, the kid somehow figured it out.

He waved to fans on his right, waved to fans on his left, then crossed into the end zone, put his hand on his hips and finished his triumph in the same manner his New Orleans Saints and his fellow Louisianans have handled their turmoil.

Stood perfectly still, perfectly strong.

“Long, hard journey; long, hard dream,” said Porter, from Port Allen, one of four native Louisianans on the Saints. “Words can’t describe it.”

Then we’ll let the roar do it, a thunder that stretched from Sun Life Stadium to the Louisiana Superdome to crowds around television sets all across America.

Mardi Wow. Fleur de Whee! Who dat say dey . . . nobody, not now, not anymore, OK?

In what might be the most heartfelt upset in Super Bowl history, the New Orleans Saints were a desperate team representing a desperate city with delirious results Sunday, overcoming a 10-point deficit and defeating the favored Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV.

Beat them by risking everything and settling for nothing. Beat them by blitzing Manning when nobody blitzes Manning, breaking Colts tackles that nobody breaks, and generally dancing around as if they weren’t fighting for a championship but leading a French Quarter parade.

Beat them after a nutty 35-second scoring drive at the end of the first half. Beat them after recovering an onside kick to start the second half.

Won just like you would expect a team without a championship in its 43-year history, representing a city only 4 1/2 years removed from a devastating hurricane, to win.

“We were on a mission,” said linebacker Scott Fujita. “For us, it was about much more than just football.”

Oh, yeah, and the Saints finally beat the Colts with 3:12 remaining when Porter stepped in front of a well-studied pass route, picked off Manning as he was driving for the potential tying score, and returned it 74 yards for a clinching touchdown.

The same Porter who missed the first team bus to the game because he was getting three inspirational symbols cut into his hair.

One was “SB 44.” Another was the Superdome. And the third was the championship Lombardi Trophy. I saw his bare head after the game. I’m not making this up.

Said Porter: “Cost me 40 bucks, but I gave the barber a pretty nice tip.”

Said Colts running back Joseph Addai: “To be honest with you, it was probably just their time.”

You think?

This game had destiny scribbled all over it, from the sudden fear that racked the Colts to the nutty fearlessness that overtook Brees -- he completed a record-tying 32 passes in 39 attempts -- to the strange noise that engulfed this corporate party.

In three decades of covering this game, I’ve never heard more fervent cheering and chanting here -- and I’m just talking about afterward. As the Saints dropped to their knees and pointed to the sky and rolled in the confetti, fans filled the concourses with ear-splitting, unabashed roars of glee.

When was the last time somebody tried to buy your ticket on the way out of the stadium? It was happening here, Saints fans begging for your ticket stubs, grabbing any piece of memorabilia to hug one another with.

The biggest Saints fan, owner Tom Benson, nearly dropped the biggest of all souvenirs, the 80-year-old man noticeably wobbling as he stood on the midfield stage and repeatedly thrust the giant Lombardi Trophy into the South Florida night air.

Shouted Benson: “We’re back! We’re back!”

Said the Saints’ Pierre Thomas: “I didn’t know Super Bowls were this loud. When I scored our first touchdown, I felt like we could hear them all the way back in New Orleans.”

It started before that touchdown, before Thomas scooted around five tacklers to score on a 16-yard catch and run to start the third quarter and give the Saints their first lead.

It started at the end of the first half, when each team did something symbolic of their approach, and central to the outcome.

On fourth and goal, the Saints went for the touchdown. Thomas was tackled for no gain, it failed, but the first of several daring moves by Coach Sean Payton inspired.

"[Payton] came in playing to win this game,” said Fujita, adding: “He’s got a swagger to him.”

The stop should have inspired the Colts. But even with two timeouts and the great Manning, they inexplicably ran three straight plays up the middle as if hoping the clock would run out. It did not. The Saints regained possession and three passes later pulled off that 35-second field-goal drive to pull closer and gain momentum.

“We won because we pulled out all the stops,” Porter said.

The best gamble was yet to come, the first onside kick outside of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl history, a chip shot by rookie punter Thomas Morstead at the start of the third quarter that stunned the Colts while being recovered by Jonathan Casillas.

This was the first season in his life that Morstead had also kicked off, and he was equally shocked when Payton patted him on the back in the locker room during halftime and casually told him of the play.

“I wasn’t worried,” said Morstead. “I was just terrified.”

Six plays later, Thomas scored and the Saints led and everything felt different.

“It was a big time game-changer,” said Colts linebacker Clint Session.

After game MVP Brees and league MVP Manning matched each other dart for dart -- their 63 combined completions were the most in Super Bowl history -- it only figured that the final interception would also come from Saints smarts and swagger.

Porter said he jumped Reggie Wayne’s route and picked off the pass because he had spent two weeks studying the play on film.

“It was like I had seen it before, like I was watching it happen again right before my eyes,” he said.

Manning could not disagree with him.

“It was a kind of play we run a lot,” said the fallen former champion.

The Colts played safe. The Saints played hungry. The Colts tried not to lose. The Saints tried everything to win.

The Saints deserved this. America deserves this.

Mardi Gras is nine days away. Mardi Gras starts now.

“This is bigger than just the game,” said Fujita, the roar of fans above his head still echoing long after the finish, an echo that will bounce around the sports world for months before settling in a bayou town forever. Let the good times roll.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke


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