The New Orleans Saints have won their first Super Bowl after rallying to beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in one of the NFL's most thrilling title games.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns to out-duel the Colts' Peyton Manning in a match-up of marquee quarterbacks.
A Mardi Gras-style celebration broke out in Dolphin Stadium in Miami when Tracy Porter picked off a Manning pass with just over three minutes left and raced 74 yards for a score to give the Saints a 31-17 lead.
"I'm proud of this team, these coaches and everybody back in New Orleans," Sean Payton, the Saints coach, told the crowd after the game.
Brees said: "We just believed in ourselves and we knew that we had an entire city and maybe an entire country behind us.
"What can I say? I tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time and it's better than expected."
Devastation to delight
The championship came four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New
Orleans, making the Saints nomads for the 2005 season.
There was doubt they would return, but the NFL refused to abandon the Big Easy.
The Superdome was rebuilt and the Saints won the NFC South in 2006 - their first season with Payton and Brees, who joined the Saints as a free agent four years ago.
Mike Kirsch, Al Jazeera's correspondent in New Orleans, said: "Anyone who knows New Orleans, knows it's the birthplace of jazz; the real soul of America.
"After Hurricane Katrina five years ago, the city was brought to its knees.
"It's been a huge, huge pick-me-up for this city.
"While insurance payments and government loans have not come in for many of these people, the Super Bowl win for the Saints is something they will cherish for years to come."
Garrett Hartley, the hero of the NFC title game with his 40-yard field goal in overtime, kicked two of his three field goals in the second quarter and although they trailed 10-6 at the half, the Saints were back in the game.
|New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees led the biggest drive in the Saints history [AFP]
A 16-yard scoring pass from Brees to Pierre Thomas gave the Saints a 13-10 lead in the third quarter and the confidence they could actually win the game.
New Orleans entered the final quarter trailing 17-16 but Brees hit Jeremy Shockey on a two-yard scoring pass to give the Saints a 22-16 lead with under six minutes remaining.
The quarterback, named the game's Most Valuable Player, found Lance Moore on a two-point conversion attempt that was ruled incomplete. But the Saints successfully challenged the call to take a 24-17 lead.
The Colts' last gasp ended with 44 seconds left when Manning's pass slipped through the hands of Reggie Wayne in the end zone, giving the Saints their first title in their mostly moribund 43-year history.
Manning, who was hoping to guide the Colts to their second Super Bowl crown in the last four seasons, finished with 31 completions in 45 attempts for 333 yards, one touchdown and one very costly interception.
Tracy Porter, who had a key pickoff against Minnesota in the NFC championship, sealed the victory with his interception of Manning's pass, pointing to the end zone during the last 20 yards.
Payton held the NFL champions' Vince Lombardi Trophy high over his head on Sunday night and ran into the end zone toward several hundred fans chanting the Saints' rally cry: "Who dat, who dat, who dat say gonna beat dem Saints?"
"Everybody back in New Orleans gets a piece of this trophy," he said.
Tom Benson, the team owner, said: "I think I could kiss him."