It was supposed to be the perfect night. It was to be the perfect cherry atop the perfect season in the perfect place. New
Orleans, the city hammered by Katrina and then pummeled by FEMA, would show the world their indomitable spirit and their unique ability to party their way through any sort of disaster and come out the other end, drink in hand, shouting “I dare ya” in the Devil’s face.
It was the perfect stage: They had the national spotlight all to themselves. It was the perfect opponent: that hated team with the silver pants, the shiny new silver – and – glass stadium, all those silver Lombardi trophies…and that infuriating silver spoon stuck in their smug gobs.
The have-nots would finally deal the haves their come-uppance. It would be glorious. It would be…perfect!
The crowd was sauced. The signs were all made and ready to wave in America’s face. The pundits—to a man (this one included)—were all certain this contest would belong to “dem Saints.” The “Who Dats” were finally set to become the “We Dats.” This would be the last major challenge, the last big hurdle to get over. Then, the boys in the Gold and Black would sprint down the homestretch and into the playoffs, sporting a perfect 16 – 0 record, and ready to zip past all NFC comers to the Super Bowl, where the other perfect team—the 16 – 0 Colts—would be waiting to play them in the perfect ending to the perfect season.
Perfection would show his elusive face in the Cowboys—Saints contest Saturday night, December 19, 2009. Only he would have a mind of his own. He would choose the wrong team. He would shun the Fleur de Lis and, instead, don the Star.
Perfection would be the Redheaded Boy Genius calling all the right plays, pushing all the right buttons. Here a run; there a run. Now a deep pass. Cowboys 7, Saints 0. Perfection would return a punt, pound the rock, dash up the sideline, blast defenders off the line, and finally, dive, braided locks flying, into the end zone. Cowboys 14, Saints 0.
Perfection would be bookend linebackers named DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer harassing the league’s newest darling, Drew Brees. They would hurry his throws, hit him in the chops, flush him from the pocket, sling him to the ground…and then do it some more. Perfection would be Ware, a wounded linebacker who wasn’t expected to play in the contest, making two key sacks, forcing two key turnovers, and sealing victory for the underdogs.
Perfection would be the other quarterback: The one who couldn’t win the big games. The one who folds like a K-Mart umbrella when the calendar reads December. While Drew Brees turned the ball over three times, Tony Romo—for the fourth consecutive week—avoided throwing an interception. What he did throw was a perfect deep ball to Miles Austin to put his team up 7 – 0.
Romo protected the ball. He managed the game. He rallied the troops. And when he needed to, he threaded the needle.
Perfection was a team motivated by necessity. Perfection wore the grim look of determination on its face and played with a distinct sense of desperation. He didn’t need a field goal from Nick Folk to seal the game, nor did he require a key third down catch from the still way – too – erratic receiver Roy Williams. Who needs those guys when even Bobby Carpenter is making plays?
As it turns out, the underachieving Cowboys were the perfect spoiler for the horseshoe-carrying Saints. New Orleans should have lost to Washington. They could have lost to Carolina. They didn’t. Luck was partnering with Perfection, conspiring to keep their perfect season intact. The Saints just kept winning and winning and winning…until most everyone was convinced they would never do anything but win.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys had held the high-scoring Chargers to their lowest season scoring output. They had strung together five straight weeks of stellar defensive performances. On offense, they had moved the ball at times with precision, only to break down in the red zone. They just had not put it all together for an entire game since their big win in Philadephia.
The Cowboys were better than they appeared. The Saints were not quite as good as they seemed. So, the Cowboys did what no one gave them a chance to do: They won the game, 24 – 17.
The Saints still control their own destiny. They still have the conference lead in wins. Now, the Cowboys control theirs, as well. If they can post wins in their last two games—against the 4 – 9 Redskins and the 9 – 4 Eagles, they will win their division.
Who knows? These same two teams may meet in the same place in a few weeks with much more on the line.
Wouldn’t that be…perfect?