Saints' top plays: 'Ambush' onside kick

  Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New Orleans Saints history. The others are Steve Gleason’s blocked punt on the night the Superdome reopened following Hurricane Katrina and cornerback Tracy Porter’s game-clinching interception return for a touchdown against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV. Please vote for your choice as the Saints’ most memorable play.

Score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Date: Feb. 7, 2010 Site: Sun Life Stadium

With the Saints trailing 10-6 at halftime, Saints coach Sean Payton made one of the gutsiest gambles in Super Bowl history, calling for an onside kick to start the second half. It was the first onside kick ever attempted before the fourth quarter in a Super Bowl, and it paid off big time. The Saints recovered after a mad scramble for the ball, drove quickly down the field for the go-ahead touchdown and ultimately won the first championship in franchise history.

Although it can be debated which Super Bowl moment was more exhilarating for Saints fans (Porter’s game-clinching interception is a fellow nominee), the onside kick was clearly more unique. It has since appeared on many lists of the top moments in Super Bowl history. And the play, named “Ambush,” cemented Payton’s reputation as one of the NFL’s all-time boldest coaches.

The idea -- which was inspired by Payton’s mentor, Bill Parcells -- actually started out as a fake punt. Parcells had once run a fake punt to help win a NFC championship game, and Payton wanted to do the same thing as a way to “steal” a possession away from the potent Colts offense. However, Payton later admitted that coaches and even players had to talk him out of it because there were just too many unpredictable variables.

Instead, special teams coaches Greg McMahon and Mike Mallory suggested the solution -- an onside kick, similar to one that had worked for the Saints two years earlier in a regular-season game. This time, everyone got on board after it worked perfectly in practice. And Payton decided the time was right during the extra-long Super Bowl halftime, because his offense had started to finally get some momentum going late in the second quarter and he wanted to keep it rolling.

Then-rookie punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead had practiced the play successfully all week, but he had a great line after the game about his reaction when Payton told him they were actually going to do it: “I wasn’t worried. I was terrified.”

The Saints had calculated the odds of success at 68 percent -- but it quickly turned into a 50-50 scramble after Morstead’s kick bounced off Indianapolis receiver Hank Baskett, then through the legs of Saints safety Chris Reis. After an assist from linebacker Jonathan Casillas, Reis ultimately was able to hold on to the ball for somewhere between 90 seconds and an eternity while officials sorted through the pile.