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Brees Leads Team, City to New Heights

USA TODAYMIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Drew Brees, a career underdog, outdueled Peyton Manning, the NFL's golden boy, lifting a franchise, a team and a city to once-unthinkable heights Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIV.

For four seasons, Brees carried the football-fantasy dreams of New Orleans on his shoulder pads. Against the favored Indianapolis Colts, the sentimental favorites culminated the 2009 season with a 31-17 upset victory for their first Super Bowl triumph after four decades of almost-habitual losing.

"We played for so much more than ourselves - we played for our city," said the Saints quarterback. "We played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for the entire 'Who Dat Nation.' "

In a record-setting performance, Brees outdueled Manning, a four-time league MVP, and was named Super Bowl MVP. The 31-year-old Saints quarterback finished 32 of 39 for 288 yards and tied the Super Bowl record for largest deficit overcome when New Orleans wiped out a 10-0 first-quarter Indianapolis lead.

Brees, who finished the game with 10 consecutive completions, set the Super Bowl record for highest completion percentage (82.1) and tied Tom Brady's 2004 record for Super Bowl completions. Brees ralled the Saints with second-half touchdown passes to running back Pierre Thomas and tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Brees was at a career crossroads when he signed with the Saints 197 days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. He was coming off right shoulder surgery and the San Diego Chargers decided he wasn't worth the gamble, not with Philip Rivers on their team.

The Miami Dolphins initially were interested in Brees but didn't like his medical prognosis and passed.

Brees proved a lot of folks wrong. And now?

"Mardi Gras may never end," he said smiling.

"I thought Drew was magnificent tonight," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It's a part of the resume and the career of a quarterback and a great player."

In an efficient performance devoid of the big passing plays the Saints' high-powered offense displayed during the regular season, Brees displayed his usual dart-throwing accuracy, refusing to force the ball downfield.

"We knew we had to be patient, take what they gave us," Brees said.

After a so-so first quarter, when the Saints' jitters were evident, Brees and Payton began clicking with the NFL's highest-scoring offense.

On the third play of the game, Brees overthrew wide receiver Robert Meachem.

On their second series, the Saints caught a bad case of the "dropsies."

After that, it was all fleur de lis.

"There's nobody I wanted to win this championship for more than Sean Payton," Brees said. "He makes us better players but he also makes us better men."

Afterward, the quarterback held 1-year-old son Baylen as confetti rained down upon them. Brees had tears in his eyes. It had been one of those years: His first child was born; he lost his mother to suicide, and he convinced a struggling, comeback-bound city anything was possible.

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