The greatest play in Saints' history wouldn't be possible under new NFL rules

The play that’s a big reason why the New Orleans Saints won their only Super Bowl can no longer happen in the NFL thanks to a recent rule change.
Feb 7, 2010; Miami, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints fight for the ball after an onsides kick during the
Feb 7, 2010; Miami, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints fight for the ball after an onsides kick during the / Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In 2010, during Super Bowl 44, the New Orleans Saints trailed the Indianapolis Colts 10-6 at halftime. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Saints came out of halftime and pulled off a surprise onside kick, recovering the ball at their own 44-yard line. New Orleans scored a touchdown six plays later, taking a 13-10 lead. The gutsy play that no one saw coming took a possession away from the Colts, made Thomas Morstead a franchise legend, and helped the Saints win their only Super Bowl in franchise history.

If that Super Bowl was played today, that play wouldn’t be possible. That’s because on Tuesday, the NFL passed a new hybrid kickoff rule, drastically changing the kickoff play. Drawing inspiration from the XFL, the new kickoff format will consist of the return team lining up across the 35-yard line, with the returners about 20 yards behind. The kicking team will be lined up across the 35-yard line, five yards away from the return team. Neither side will be able to move until the ball is fielded.

The point of this new format is to make the play safer but to also make sure it still happens. In recent years, as the league has tried ways to limit the high-speed collisions on kickoff, the play became somewhat of a formality, with very few returns. Teams started to just fair catch the ball, accepting the automatic starting position on the 25-yard line.

This new format will eliminate the high-speed collisions, as the kicking team and return team are just five yards away from each other, but will likely lead to more actual returns.

NFL votes for new hybrid kickoff model

Of course, this model makes onside kicks impossible. However, the league hasn’t completely eliminated onside kicks. Teams will be allowed two onside kicks per game, with the traditional format, and they can only be used in the fourth quarter. This means teams must announce when they are attempting their onside kicks.

So while the onside kick wasn’t eliminated, the potential surprise element was. Going back to the Saints’ surprise onside kick in the Super Bowl, the play wouldn’t have been allowed to happen because it took place in the third quarter. Additionally, the Colts wouldn’t have been caught off guard, because New Orleans would’ve had to announce it was utilizing its onside kick. Fortunately, the NFL introduced this rule in 2024 and not 2009.