MIAMI - Peyton Manning spent the whole season building toward a Super Bowl crown, a win that certainly would put him among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
And then he threw it all away.
Blocked onto his butt, Manning could only watch as Tracy Porter returned an interception for a clinching 74-yard touchdown in the final minutes last night as the Saints upset the Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV.
"It's time for the Saints to celebrate,'' Manning said. "It's their field and it's their championship."
It was a startling end to a game that seemed destined to wind up in his strong right hand. It was the lone turnover of a back-and-forth thriller - and who in the world would have thought the big mistake would be made by Manning?
Yet there he was, sitting on the grass after brawny Saints defensive end Will Smith knocked him down as he tried to get in Porter's way. Manning took a glance over his shoulder toward the end zone, unbuckled his chin strap, stood up and walked toward the bench.
"We played well in the first playoff game, played well two weeks ago,'' he said. "We just didn't make enough plays against the Saints."
All week, the story line for the Super Bowl was this: Could Manning, a New Orleans boy through and through, deny the Saints in a game they desperately wanted to win for their city?
Turned out he did help his hometown town win its first Super Bowl - only not in the way he wanted.
Until Porter cut in front of wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Manning seemed to be in charge. The four-time MVP did his dance at the line of scrimmage, putting his teammates in position, and zipped completions all over the field.
The Colts set a record with seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season, and surely most everyone at Sun Life Stadium thought ol' Peyton was at it again. Down 24-17, the Colts were driving toward a tying score, reaching the New Orleans 31 before Porter sealed it with 3:12 left.
Manning was MVP of the Colts' victory in the Super Bowl on the very same field three years ago, and was a good bet to win the trophy again. Instead, the night finished the same way his final college game for Tennessee did - a bruising loss, also on this field, to Nebraska.
Even after Porter's pick, Manning tried to rally the Colts. He moved them as far as the Saints' 3, but a final pass to Wayne fell incomplete.
Manning completed 31 of 45 for 333 yards and one TD. He was one short of the Super Bowl record for completions set by Tom Brady and tied last night by the Saints' Drew Brees - though the one pass Manning threw to the Saints will be the one that fans remember.
Known for their late rallies, the Colts lost after being outscored 15-0 in the final 15 minutes and 31-7 after the first quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Manning made one of his few bad throws, floating a deep ball that fell incomplete near the goal line. He threw down a towel when he got to the bench.
Moments later, the giant video board showed his younger brother, Eli, in the crowd. Eli was the MVP of the Super Bowl two years ago as quarterback of the Giants, but there was no celebrating this time.
Unlike celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Gloria Estefan and Scottie Pippen who smiled when they showed up on the board, Eli merely looked straight ahead with no emotion.