FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Drew Brees turned to his wife when he woke up and asked: "Did yesterday really happen?"
The Saints and their fans awoke Monday to the realization that the once lovable losers from New Orleans were Super Bowl champions for the first time in the club's 43-year history after Sunday's 31-17 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts.
"I'm not sure if it's completely sunk in yet," Brees said at Monday morning's news conference at the convention center in Fort Lauderdale. "It seems like as the minutes go by, it slowly does.
"Our victory last night was the culmination of four years of hard work, fighting through a lot of adversity, ups and downs and more importantly than that, representing a city that has been through so much," Brees said.
"Along the way, people have asked me so many times, 'Do you look at it as a burden or extra pressure? Do you feel like you're carrying the weight of the city on your teams' shoulders.' I said, 'No, not at all. We look at it as a responsibility. Our city, our fans, gave us strength and we owe this to them. That's made all the difference. ... There's no people that you would want to win for more than the city of New Orleans. So it's an honor."
As Brees spoke, coach Sean Payton sat off to the side, elbows on knees, face buried in his hands. When it was his turn to speak, he leaned on the podium, clutching the Vince Lombardi trophy in his right hand. He recounted Lombardi's grandson, Saints assistant Joe Lombardi, posing for a photo with the sterling silver hardware awarded each year to the Super Bowl winner.
"Joe Lombardi, his father, Vince Jr., and his two brothers sat and posed with this trophy, the four of them, while pictures were taken. And I just thought to myself, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Payton said. "If you believe in heaven, and you believe Vince Lombardi is there looking down on his grandson, it doesn't get any better. This is a guy that coaches our quarterbacks, coaches Drew Brees and here a trophy that's named after his grandfather."
Payton then smiled and added that he had the trophy in bed with him while he slept early Monday morning.
"You can't get enough of this," Payton said. "Rolled over it a couple times. I probably drooled on it. But man, there's nothing like it."
Payton said when all was quiet in the team hotel around 3 a.m., he offered a prayer of thanks for his team and his experience in New Orleans, where he became a head coach for the first time in 2006, with the city still largely in ruin only months after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005.
"When (Saints general manager) Mickey Loomis hired me in 2006, not having been from New Orleans, it would be hard to describe the relationship between the fans and the players there, and it became apparent to me that football was obviously very important but it was much bigger than football," Payton said. "When we got into coaching or playing, we got into it for certain reasons and yet the reasons in New Orleans far exceeded what we ever expected."
The theme for the Saints in 2009 became: A season of firsts. They opened with their first 13-game winning streak, which earned them a first No. 1 seeding in the NFC playoffs. That led to a first home NFC title game, then a first Super Bowl, and now New Orleans' first major professional sports championship.
Before this season, the Saints had only eight winning campaigns — and two playoff victories — in their previous 42 years combined. The Saints had to win three postseason games over three great quarterbacks — Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning — to win the title this season.
Their run to the Super Bowl captured the attention of football fans everywhere. The Nielsen Co. says the game got its highest overnight ratings in 23 years, meaning there's a strong likelihood it will be the most-watched Super Bowl when the final numbers are released later Monday.
Commissioner Roger Goodell called this Super Bowl "clearly more than a game.
"I keep thinking of the word 'magical,'" he said. "When you think about the relationship between the Saints and the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans, it was more than just a football game and more than just a football team. The hopes, the dreams and the struggles of that community were all reflected in that football team. It was a great night for the people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region."