FOXBORO, Mass. — Just a short time ago, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter was hardly known anywhere outside of New Orleans. These days, he's a budding star and an adopted son of New England.
Porter intercepted Peyton Manning and returned it for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the Saints' 31-17 victory against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Prior to the pick-six, the Saints were clinging to a seven-point lead, and Manning was trying to engineer a comeback drive that could have defined his career.
Because of the Patriots-Colts rivalry — which has been centered around Tom Brady and Manning, two of the all-time greats at their position — Porter has taken on somewhat of a cult-hero status in New England. After the Pats and Saints concluded their joint practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, Porter spent a solid 20-30 minutes signing autographs and heard plenty of thank yous from the New England faithful.
"I've heard all the New England fans tell me, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,'" Porter said. "It's a big rivalry they have and will always have. Just to see their rival go down, they were real excited, so they were thanking me as well as the other Saints fans.
"A few more people know me know because of the Super Bowl, the most-watched show in the world. A lot of people saw it. After the interception, everyone wanted to know, 'Who is Tracy Porter? Who is Tracy Porter?' That’s sort of a way that I've made a name for myself. They know my name now, and they wanted to get to know me. I know the rivalry with the Patriots and the Colts, and I'm over there signing for Patriots fans and even the Saints fans coming out. Everyone is telling me, 'Thank you, thank you for picking off Manning,' and all this and that. It's fun."
The Colts had a third-and-5 on the Saints' 31-yard-line with less than four minutes remaining in the Super Bowl, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne ran a six-yard hitch. A combination of things worked out for Porter in that situation.
First, the Saints were blitzing, so Porter knew Manning would release the ball quickly. Because of that, Porter sat on an underneath route and didn’t turn his weight downfield. It was also a commonly-run route for Wayne, so Porter had a good idea what was coming. Lastly, Manning appeared to choke on the ball a second too long, completing a perfect storm of events that helped Porter execute the defining moment of the biggest victory in Saints history.
"Man, the first thing that was going through my mind was to score because our defense is big on scoring after the turnover," Porter said. "Once I did score, it was like, 'Wow, we're one step away from being Super Bowl champs,' and I just had all kinds of things going through my head."
Porter has also collected fans elsewhere. Two weeks before the Super Bowl, Porter intercepted a fourth-quarter Brett Favre pass in NFC Championship against the Vikings. Favre, obviously, has lost a lot of fans because of his retirement antics, and it's possible that Porter picked off the final pass of Favre's illustrious career, which overjoyed Favre haters.
It also helped launch Porter's career. Months after the two big interceptions, the third-year starting cornerback is grateful for the exposure, but he's not racing to Canton with those achievements just yet.
"When you look at those two quarterbacks, they are hands-down first-ballot Hall of Famers once they're done playing," Porter said. "For me, a second-year guy at the time coming in, to pick those two quarterbacks off, that was pivotal in my young career. It's a stepping stone, but it's not what I'm going to hold my career on, just the Super Bowl and picking those two guys off. I have a long career ahead of me, and I know this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, so I have to steadily improve and improve. That’s what I want to keep doing."
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