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A trophy for the heart

Linebacker assistant Adam Zimmer helped choreograph the Saints defense's domination of the vaunted Colts offense. (AP photo)

Posted: 7:05 a.m.

MIAMI - The last time Adam Zimmer stood on a Super Bowl sideline, he held the cord for his father's headsets when his Cowboys beat the Steelers.

On Sunday night while he assisted the resourceful Saints defense, he held his dad's heart while Mike Zimmer sat in the stands with his two daughters to end this remarkable season of win and loss.

And don't let them kid you.

Defense still wins championships. Even when there are $100 million quarterbacks and video game rules. The New Orleans Saints offense came into the Super Bowl leading the league in scoring and innovation, but needed an onside kick and an interception return for a touchdown to claim their first NFL title with a what-the-heck-is-dat 31-17 win over the favored Colts at breezy Sun Life Stadium.

Bengals fans know that now firsthand after a season their fourth-ranked defense made possible a run into these playoffs despite an offense ranked 24th. And after all that he had accomplished despite all the heartache his family has been through this season, it was somehow fitting that Zimmer's dad, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was on the field in the swirl of confetti to share in at least a slice of the 2009 NFL championship.

"Corri said there were angels in the end zone. My mom was helping us out all year," said Adam Zimmer, the Saints assistant linebackers coach, with a sad smile when he was reminded that Vikki Zimmer seemed to also make a late appearance in some Bengals games.

"Yeah, they had a heck of year, too."

But the Bengals didn't win a Super Bowl like Adam Zimmer did a mere 25 days after he turned 26 and 14 years after Cowboys secondary coach Mike Zimmer lifted him in his arms and told him, "We won the big one."

Adam Zimmer's Saints won the big one because of the relentless microchip precision passing of Drew Brees, the bottomless supply of personnel groups defensive coordinator Gregg Williams showed the other MVP quarterback, and the endless chutzpah supplied by Saints head coach Sean Payton.

But his linebackers were also giving Adam Zimmer some big-time credit. Scott Fujita swore that Zimmer had picked up enough of quarterback Peyton Manning's words off TV scouting that it helped them break one of the more ancient and mystifying codes for NFL defenses.

"A lot of it was spot on," Fujita said. "You wonder during the week that you got these code words you hear about other teams from scouting and watching TV copies. But a lot of them were pretty accurate. We came out and we were calling out some of the plays on the field."  

The Saints also won because of a tight bond they've clung to since Peyton arrived at about the time New Orleans started digging out of the hole Hurricane Katrina had left. On Saturday linebackers coach Joe Vitt thought that his players should watch the 12-minute piece NFL Films did on the Zimmers that aired on the NFL Network and ESPN last month. Some of the backers hadn't seen the video that chronicled the Zimmers' life since their wife and mother died suddenly in October and how Mike and Adam Zimmer kept coaching while Corri and Marki kept trying to keep it together and how the Saints had helped.  

"Just to remind us what we went through this year, how we close we are and the love we have for one another," said linebacker Scott Shanle. "It was emotional to watch it as a linebacker group in our meeting. Before the biggest game of the year it was a reminder how close we are and the support we gave."

It was Vitt and Payton and all the linebackers that had made the trip to Cincinnati for the Oct. 13 funeral even though it was the Tuesday of the bye week. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who came up with the ball on the biggest onside kick in Super Bowl history, remembers junking all his plans that day.

"That's more important. He's family. He needs to be around his family. And we're his family locally," Casillas said. "When we got (to Cincinnati), his dad was there and his sisters were there and the Bengals came out. I'm not a big funeral guy, but I thought it was very important for us to be there. I think it meant a lot to him and the family."

During the past week, Adam Zimmer talked about how when the Saints came marching into that church on Mount Adams it gave him a big lift on the toughest day of his life. With the Lombardi Trophy in his grasp because he snatched the ball from the Colts, Casillas and Zimmer were sharing the biggest moment of their young lives. 

"It was powerful," Casillas said of the video. "He means a lot to us and this organization. It's part of the whole movement we've got going on."

The Bengals and Saints shared a year of tragedy. Payton recalled the death of the mother of Drew Brees as well as the death of Vikki Zimmer, a woman Payton knew from his days with Mike Zimmer in Dallas and who would help Corri and Marki babysit his two children.

"You have to feel good for that family tonight," Payton said, finally able to reflect just a bit as he walked to the bus nearly two hours after it was all over. "You know Vikki is up there watching somewhere."

For the first time since the funeral the Zimmers were all together for a Friday night dinner and Sunday night's postgame whirl. They were on the field during the trophy presentation and had their cameras snapping away. "Victory pictures," Adam called them. And then Mike and the girls left for the postgame party, a concert by Payton's good friend, country star Kenny Chesney.

"I told my dad we've had a rough stretch," he said, "but here we are."

Adam felt good all week. He told his father the Saints were focused and crisp and thought they would "win by as couple of scores." He just didn't think they would fall behind by a couple of scores. Mike didn't think Adam sounded nervous at all.

A big difference than when he was 12. There was no confetti or red carpet or touching the Lombardi Trophy like there was Sunday night.

He wants something else to be different, too.

His ring.

"I told him as long as mine is bigger than his," Adam Zimmer said.

It was clearly his son's moment. Mike Zimmer made sure he was with his girls and not in the postgame locker room.

But seeing Mike Zimmer on the field was also emotional for Shanle, a guy that played for him in Dallas before he got traded to the Saints. Fujita had also played for Zimmer as a Cowboy and it figures that they are the two closest to the Zimmers.

"It was great seeing Mike. I was a young guy in Dallas. I didn't know much about much," Shanle said. "I really credit him for teaching me how to play the game of football in the NFL. Without him showing me how to play the game and producing in Dallas I never would have got traded here and become a starter. I give a lot of credit to him ... I don't think I'd be here now without him."

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had made the biggest news of the week by brazenly talking about his plan to hit Manning. Payton had jokingly sent him a jar of peanut butter and crackers with which to seal his mouth, but as he did all night, Williams had the last word. On his way to the bus he stuck a jar of Jif in the crook of Payton's arm.

Earlier in the postgame jubilation, Williams came across nothing like a loud-mouth lout. He said he told Adam Zimmer that his "mom was looking down on us tonight." Then he took out of his pocket a Sean Taylor coin honoring the late Redskins safety.

"One of the things I told him is that one of my favorite players of all-time is right here and Sean Taylor passed away on my watch," Williams said. "I made these coins for the team and every single day he's in my pocket and I know (Zimmer's) mother was looking down, too. Our players have rallied around him through a tough time. He's a bright young coach. I wish his mother could be with him, but I'm sure they'll be rejoicing about that tonight."

Getting lost in the emotion was that Adam Zimmer, also the defense's quality control coach, had a big hand in Williams being able to execute his brilliant game plan. As Williams explained it, the idea was to give Manning a boat load of different personnel groupings. In the first quarter, it was a 3-4 style. In the second quarter it was a 4-3 style. In the second half it was a mixture. He thinks enough of Zimmer that he's got him standing next to him in case the head set breaks down and Zimmer would have to hand signal in the play.

(Zimmer thought for sure that would happen with all of Sunday's cell phone activity, but he said everything stayed clear.) 

"Because they were going with three receivers so much in the fourth quarter, we leaned on the 3-4 concept," said Williams of three linemen, three backers and five DBs. "We've got 27 (packages) to add up to 11. Tonight we used an awful lot of them. We have all these kinds of names on different guys who go out to play certain positions. It does cause (Manning) to think longer and not be quite as decisive."

Shanle gave credit to Zimmer's tips and alerts sheets that he puts together for Williams about two days before the game.

"I got a lot of tips with Peyton Manning's signals," Shanle said. "He talked to some people about the signals. It helped. They started changing them up during the game. The thing Adam did, he breaks it down a lot by sets. Run. Pass. We aligned in a lot of the defenses because of the breakdowns they did."

The winning play came off a blitz with 3:24 left in the game and Manning looking at a third-and-five from the Saints 31 and trailing, 24-17. Shanle and Fujita weren't even sure of the name of the blitz ("Ram, wasn't it?" Shanle asked Fujita), but they also could have been playing with the media.

Shanle did confirm it was an overloaded blitz off Manning's strong side and when he tried to go back to the other side cornerback Tracy Porter jumped the route and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown that made you wish you were on Bourbon Street instead of the beach.

"I know there are a lot of shirts coming off, for sure," Fujita said.

About five plays before, the Colts had run the same play that Williams called a "trick blitz." He said the Saints had to be careful with what they ran early because they knew if they showed Manning it all he would have enough time to figure it out. After running it the first time, Shanle, Fujita and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma had gone to Williams and urged him to run it again and "Tracy believed in the blitz and read it."

An hour after it was over, Zimmer was still wearing what looked to soon be a souvenir: The wristband of the calls.

"This was just for the second half," he said. "We were worried about them stealing our signals, so we wore a different one in the first half and changed them at halftime.

"We knew we didn't want to give up the big play. We wanted to make them drive down the field and play well in the red zone and for the most part we did that. We blitzed a little more on third down and played more coverage on first and second down. Then as the game went on, we were putting on more pressure on first and second down. ... We did a better job of disguising and throwing them off later in the game."

Zimmer talks to Williams between each series so he can give him feedback and help him reset with "Do you like this call, do you like that call?"  Zimmer's view of the pick was that "We were playing man pressure and we had 44 (tight end Dallas Clark) doubled and he had to get rid of it."

Zimmer went nuts running down the sidelines and knocked down the Saints DB coach. About an hour later, they knocked out some tradition when Zimmer helped gather the backers to pull them out of the locker room and take them out to the field for one last victory shot.

"We've done it after every game in the playoffs," said Adam Zimmer, who even at just 26 knows something about tradition.

He is 1-0 now holding his dad's heart in Super Bowls, 1-0 holding the cord.

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