MIAMI - Right before getting on the team bus to go to the Super Bowl, Tracy Porter sat in the Saints’ downtown Miami hotel, getting his head shaved by his regular New Orleans barber.
Patches of hair left on Porter’s mostly bald head included a rendering of the Louisiana Superdome, connected by a road to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, as well as “SB 44,” a reference to the Saints’ meeting with the Indianapolis Colts in the 44th Super Bowl.
“Now you can look at the Lombardi Trophy on the same road back to the Superdome,” Porter said.
And that once unthinkable truth came thanks in no small part to Porter himself, a Louisiana native — and former Indiana University player — who made two of the biggest interceptions in Saints history in consecutive games.
His 74-yard touchdown on an interception of Peyton Manning gave the Saints an insurmountable two-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter of New Orleans’ 31-17 victory over the Colts on Sunday night.
In the NFC title game, his late interception of Brett Favre stalled Minnesota’s potential game-winning drive. The Saints went on to beat the Vikings in overtime to earn their first Super Bowl berth in the club’s 43-year history.
When asked how it felt to make a huge interception against a quarterback such as Manning in such a big game, Porter had already been there.
“I got the same question when I picked off Brett Favre. Peyton, he’s a phenomenal quarterback, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, such as the previous two quarterbacks we played in the playoffs,” he said, also referring to Arizona’s Kurt Warner. “I’ve been watching (Manning) since my time at Indiana put up points on the scoreboard.”
Growing up in Port Allen, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Porter watched the Saints every Sunday with his family and friends. He remembers bags on the heads of embarrassed fans during the lean years.
“This is a moment he could really use to build off of and really elevate his status,” Saints safety and active NFL interception leader Darren Sharper said. “I tell him all the time, ’Tracy, if you wanted to be, you could be one of the top cornerbacks in the league the rest of your career’ because he has all he intangibles, all the talents to do that. And days like this in big-time games are what catapults guys to the upper echelon of players.”
Porter said it was a case of film study paying off. He recognized the formation, with Austin Collie going in motion, and knew Manning would be looking for Reggie Wayne right around the needed distance for a first down.
“When I saw Austin Collie go in motion I said, ’Oh yeah, this is the route they’ve been running all year,’ and yeah, I had it in my mind I was going to jump the route,” Porter said. “It was just like I was watching it on film and I made the break on it and here comes the end zone.”
He followed a couple of blocks, made one cut, and there was nothing but open field in front of him. He knew he was going to score and pointed to the stands, where Saints fans were jumping out of their seats with delight.
“I was pointing at the Who Dat nation out there,” he said.
Manning called the interception a “great play.”
“Porter made a heck of a play,” Manning said.
Porter was drafted by the Saints in 2008 and earned a starting cornerback spot in his rookie season. But that year was cut short by a broken wrist in the first half of the season.
“I was told that it was a severe knee injury and that I could be out for the year,” Porter recalled. “During that time I was real down, thinking I wasn’t going to come back — second year in a row — thinking maybe I was jinxed. I was going to be labeled as that player who wasn’t durable.”
The next day, Porter — and the Saints — got good news. It was a severe sprain. His season wasn’t over. He returned in Week 15 and played brilliantly in the playoffs.
Now, in the midst of Mardi Gras season, his family, friends, and Saints fans in New Orleans and all across the Gulf South have another reason to party.
“This team means more to the people of New Orleans than I can say any team in the NFL. I can say no one is behind their team as much as the people of New Orleans,” Porter said. “They’re just as much a part of this victory as we are.”
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