MIAMI — From Bourbon Street to the Alligator Bayou, let them cheer. From Tchoupitoulas Street to the Garden District, let them celebrate. From the edges of the 9th Ward to the heart of Desire, let them shout out his name.
As of today, and for the next hundred years or so, Drew Brees is the King of New Orleans.
They will name streets for him, maybe schools. A thousand babies will be christened with his name. There will be long, potent drinks called the Cool Brees shoved into the hands of tourists, and his face will be all over those fake coins they toss around at Mardi Gras.
As of now, he is St. Drew.
In Louisiana, he may never pay for a meal again.
Brees wrote his name all over New Orleans lore Sunday night. He outdueled the mighty Peyton Manning. He brought his team from behind against the favored Colts. And after 43 years of a franchise wandering around the bayou, he delivered a Lombardi Trophy to a city that hasn't smiled nearly enough in recent years.
"We played for so much more than ourselves," Brees said. "We played for our city, for the entire Gulf Coast region, for the entire Who Dat Nation. This championship is for you, New Orleans."
He was almost flawless, Brees, carving up the Colts so easily you wondered if Indianapolis was playing enough defensive backs. In the end, the Saints won 31-17, but that was after spotting the Colts a 10-0 lead. You know, just to make it interesting.
How good was Brees? If he had been any more of a surgeon, you would have thought you were watching an episode of House. For the game, Brees hit 32-of-39 for 288 yards.
Ah, but for the last three quarters, Brees was almost perfect. He hit 29 of 32 passes for 261 yards, and from the second quarter on, the Saints outscored Indianapolis 31-7. For a guy who was supposed to be the "other" quarterback in this game, Brees, 31, stole the show. He kept his team moving, and he kept the Colts on the sideline. When you get down to it, what more can a quarterback do?
This was supposed to be Manning's night, remember? This was supposed to be the night the conversation began on whether Manning was, as some were ready to argue, the best quarterback ever to play, better than Montana and better than Brady.
As it was, Manning wasn't even the best quarterback on the field Sunday night. It was Brees who led the winning drive. The nail-in-the-coffin interception was thrown by Manning. It was as if Brees let Manning toy with the idea of winning a second championship then snatched it out of his hands. Quarterback rope-a-dope, if you will.
Speaking of Montana, you have to figure Joe loved watching the way Brees cut up the Colts. Nothing against Manning, but Brees is from the same chip-on-the-shoulder mentality Montana had in his best moments.
Consider Brees on the Saints' scoring drive. He was 4-of-4 on the Saints' first field goal drive (stopped by a sack). He was 3-of-4 leading to the second field goal. He was 5-of-5 on the touchdown drive that led to a 13-10 Saints lead. He was 4-of-5 on another field goal drive. He was 7-of-7 on the Saints' go-ahead drive (plus another completion on the two-point conversation).
"Magnificent," is the way New Orleans coach Sean Payton described it.
Don't forget. It was only four seasons ago that doctors (and NFL general managers) doubted Brees would ever play again. Only New Orleans and Miami were interested, and Miami dropped out after deciding to go with Daunte Culpepper.
That left New Orleans, a franchise that has botched a great many positions in its wayward past, but none worse than quarterback. Throughout their history, the Saints have sorted through over-the-hill and under-the-standard quarterbacks such as Ken Stabler and Richard Todd and Jim Everett and Wade Wilson and Heath Shuler. When Brees came aboard, no one knew quite what to expect.
Certainly, it wasn't a performance like this. Considering how good Brees was Sunday night, the Louisiana Purchase is now the second-best deal the state ever made.
How can you not like Brees with his Tom Sawyer grin and a heart as big as Jackson Square? Brees has hit every note since coming to New Orleans, from his play on the field to his dedication to helping the city rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Again, what more can a quarterback do?
"Four years ago, who ever thought this would be happening," Brees said. "Eighty-five percent of the city was under water. All of its residents had evacuated to places all over the country. Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back. Our core group of players came in that year. We looked at each other and said, 'We're going to rebuild together. We're going to lean on each other.' This is the culmination of all that belief."
Who will ever forget this? From now on, Brees is as much a part of New Orleans as beignets and beads and the blues. This was his night, this was his game, and this was his trophy.
Most of all, it was the night New Orleans became his city. From now until the Saints come marching in.