The party over, Saints start tough task of winning again

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - They became the new 'America's team', winning hearts by taking a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina to Super Bowl glory, but the New Orleans Saints know just how tough a repeat performance is in the NFL.

The team coached by Sean Payton and led on the field by quarterback Drew Brees beat the Indianapolis Colts as underdogs last season in what was their first Super Bowl appearance.

The Super Bowl win led to a party that lasted for days - some say weeks - in the streets of the French Quarter, where the 'Who Dat nation' of fans enjoyed their moment of glory and across the country neutrals smiled at a genuine feel good story.

That kind of casual support for the Saints, which led to talk of them replacing the Dallas Cowboys as the neutral's preference, is unlikely to be reproduced this year as the Black and Gold start off among the favorites for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

While it is a cliche in the NFL that it is almost impossible to go back-to-back in such a closely competitive league, the record shows it is not that rare - in fact there has been at least one repeat winner in each decade since the Super Bowl began with consecutive wins for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.

But last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed how easy it is to go from champions to also-rans -- winners in 2009, Mike Tomlin's team failed to even make the playoffs.

The key to avoiding such a fate, according to Payton, is to treat this year's season as a totally different entity to last year.

"The process has to begin again and it doesn't pick up where you left off. Identifying those challenges is one thing and that attacking them is another. So here we go again," he said recently.

Brees, whose composed performances on the field and classy behavior away from the gridiron won him many plaudits last year, says it is all about fighting that instinct to feel satisfied.

"The big thing is that human nature is to relax a little bit or feel like we've arrived or feel like we're there and take the approach of not needing to get better every day to get to that level because we're at that level," Brees said. "When you have that mentality, you're in trouble.

"When you start to think that way, you let the little things slide and that's a disease. The fact is that we recognize those things and because we recognize them, we're not going to let it happen," he said.

There has never even been a repeat winner of the NFC South but with Brees leading such a quality-filled offense it is hard not to see that change this year.

Whether there will be another early Mardi Gras in Louisiana in February is, however, another matter all together.