When the NFL schedule was released in mid-April, when the season was in jeopardy (was it really?) because of a lockout of the players by owners, a juicy nationally televised Sunday night game in October stood out.
For the second straight season, the New Orleans Saints were penciled in to host a game of great significance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers a year earlier.
The highly-anticipated Saints-Steelers matchup had the two most recent Super Bowl champions squaring off, and the game lived up to its billing when New Orleans out-toughed Pittsburgh, 20-10, in a slugfest.
This time around, NBC was probably proud as a peacock to have a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV on its hands when the Saints and Indianapolis Colts were pegged for a Sunday night telecast.
It had super ratings written all over it, especially when you consider Colts quarterback Peyton Manning would be returning to his hometown to duel his Saints counterpart, Drew Brees.
But that was back in April, when the Colts were licking their chops over a chance to gain some payback against the Saints, whose stunning 31-17 win in Super Bowl XLIV touched off a celebration not seen in a city that, well, celebrates anything and everything.
Six months later, it’s lost some of its luster thanks to two Manning neck surgeries and an 0-6 start for a Colts franchise that was a model of consistency for much of the last decade.
So when the Colts and Saints get together again Sunday night, it may seem like it’s been 20 years rather than 20 months since they met in the Super Bowl on a cool Miami evening.
Part of it is the makeup of the current teams.
Of the 53 players that were on the Saints roster as of Thursday, only 25 were on the active roster the night of Feb. 7, 2010. The Colts are in a similar boat, having just 23 players remaining from the team that suited up that evening.
And while the Colts are winless, the Saints will be trying to bounce back from a 26-20 loss at Tampa Bay in which coach Sean Payton tore the meniscus in his knee and fractured his tibia in a sideline mishap.
As a result, the game could set a record for the ubiquitous TV shots of Peyton and Payton in their respective coaches’ booths.
The juicy matchup that didn’t materialize doesn’t matter much to the players, who, despite the lack of a Super Bowl-type atmosphere, are excited about the opportunity.
“Both teams are very hungry, they’re coming off a loss and we’re trying to get a bounceback win,” said Saints strong safety Roman Harper. “We’re all be going out there to grind and scratch. Maybe a little luster has been taken off this game, but both teams are hungry.
“Maybe if Peyton was playing, the game would have more hype to it. But for us, it’s about the Saints trying to get better. The Colts are trying to get their first win and we need to win after last week. So it’ll be exciting.”