Sean Payton dunks on Colts after his famous play is outlawed

Jun 13, 2024, 2:22 PM

The surprise onside kick is one of football’s most exciting plays, a chance for the kicking team to get the ball back or for the receiving team to get great field position all on one gusty play, and it’s the call to run one of these that lasts as Sean Payton’s most famous decision.

Payton made the call for the New Orleans Saints to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV with a surprise onside kick.

Payton made the call in the locker room to run “ambush” and said, “Let’s go get this game.”

Kicker Thomas Morstead got the perfect bounce off of an Indianapolis Colts player and the Saints recovered. The Saints took the lead on a touchdown pass from Drew Brees on the ensuing drive, outscoring Indy 25-10 in the second half to beat Peyton Manning’s Colts 31-17.

But that’s never going to happen again thanks to the NFL’s kickoff rule changes this offseason which spell out no more surprise onside kicks. Teams can only do them in the fourth quarter when trailing and must declare the play before running it. This all means that the surprise onside kick is dead in the NFL and we’ll never see a decision like Payton’s again.

Asked how much he would miss the play, the second-year coach of the Denver Broncos said, “I think you should ask Indianapolis that.”

Payton will always have a ring to remember the play as well as a shoutout from President Barack Obama for his guts when the Saints took their trip to the white house.

As far as the new XFL style kickoff the NFL will be using, Payton said that it will bring more strategy back into kickoffs with an increase of plays in Denver’s playbook for this coming fall.

“Oh, there are all sorts… there are all sorts of ideas that you keep hearing,” Payton said. “There is a box you have to kick it into. It’s a rectangle, and you want the ball to land there. You understand all of it. You understand why you gain an 11th guy if it wasn’t a kicker. Then I think the body type relative to who’s returning will be interesting, and certainly the body types along the front lines I think will be a little bigger because there is less running involved. But the plays are going to be fast. We had a period yesterday, and I was sitting right in the front lines. Everyone is waiting for the ball to be caught, almost like you were tagging up on a deep flyball. It’s caught, and you can go. They are very quick in developing, so I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s certainly new.”

Since the teams will align so close to each other and closer to the kick spot, the less running Payton mentioned may have the coach deploy offensive linemen protecting returners. He expects the strategy and style of these kicks to quickly evolve across the NFL given it’s a copycat league. It’s very likely the kicks and returns we see in the preseason will be different than the ones 10 weeks into the season.

“He will mix it up. You try to anticipate—the perfect kick goes inside of the box and into the endzone,” Payton said of his kicker. “If the kick does not hit inside the box, it goes to the 30-[yard line]. If it goes out of bounds, it goes to the 40. If it goes into the endzone, it goes to the 30. It has to go into the box and into the endzone [to go to the] 20. You then have to predict—you are two-deep, everyone will be. Those guys are going to have to be a little bit like infielders that have to react to knuckleballs. As you begin to vary your kicks, there is a little bit of, ‘All right, what’s your confidence in accuracy?’ You don’t want to hit someone in the back of your own team and the ball is spotted right there.”

As for the surprise onside kick, Payton got one last one in last year—starting his Broncos tenure off with the play to begin the 2023 season, that one didn’t work out so well.

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Sean Payton dunks on Colts after his famous play is outlawed