In defeat, Bush gave Saints hope for future

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CHICAGO (AP) – High-stepping and somersaulting his way to the end zone, Reggie Bush gave New Orleans a reason to celebrate the Saints’ future, if not their present.

Saints fans will want to forget New Orleans’ loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday in the NFC Championship, but Bush’s spectacular 88-yard touchdown catch will be a fond and enduring memory.

“You give Reggie an inch, and he’ll take a mile for sure,” center Jeff Faine said. “We thought it was a momentum changer. We just couldn’t take advantage of it.”

The play displayed all the attributes that had Saints fans delirious with joy when the Houston Texans surprisingly passed on Bush in last spring’s draft, allowing New Orleans to take the Heisman Trophy winning running back with the No. 2 pick.

Bush blew by the pass coverage on his side of the field, hauled in Drew Brees’ throw, then streaked across the field to avoid tacklers. From there, it was clear no one was going to catch him, so Bush added what in Louisiana they’d call “a little lagniappe.”

He didn’t just score, he put on a show – an airborne forward roll across the goal line, then a little grooving when he got up.

“I was just happy to make a big play for my team at a crucial moment,” Bush said.

His mistake, if there was one, may have been to point back mockingly at the Bears defense as he approached the end zone.

“I got caught up in the emotion of the game. I was excited. It was a big play,” Bush said.

At that point, the Saints had closed to 16-14 with most of the second half remaining.

But not long after his dive, the game flipped back to the Bears.

“I apologized to (coach Sean Payton) about that,” Bush said. “Obviously, I know I made a mistake, but I’m not going to kill myself over it. … You move on.”

The Bears’ revenge seemed complete, fittingly, when Bush came up just short of the first-down marker on a fourth-down play on his last carry of the game.

Bush finished with 132 yards on seven receptions to go with 19 yards rushing – not bad for a rookie in his first NFC Championship.

But of course, Bush is hardly a typical rookie. He is flashy, charismatic, and has dazzling speed and agility.

His arrival coincided with the best season in the Saints’ four-decade history, but that, clearly, was no coincidence.

“Just to be able to turn this organization around a bit from where it was last year is saying a lot,” Bush said. “We need to use this as motivation to come back and get to this point again next year and hopefully get to the Super Bowl.”

Bush had 1,307 yards running and receiving combined and scored nine touchdowns in the regular season.

His first NFL touchdown, which came on a punt return, lifted New Orleans to an early season-victory over Tampa Bay. His zigzagging, tackle-slipping 61-yard score on a swing pass at Dallas in December cemented New Orleans’ status as one of the top teams in the NFC.

His presence, and the distraction it caused opposing defenses, opened up the field for teammates as well, helping Deuce McAllister to a fourth 1,000-yard rushing season.

“This season will give me a lot of motivation. I feel like I learned a lot,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better situation to come here, just thinking back to the NFL draft, and not being the first pick and everybody kind of disappointed, wondering what was going on.”

Providing inspiration for famously passionate fans in a city rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, Bush and the Saints shared numerous glorious moments in a season that began with low expectations following a 3-13 2005 campaign. As for the glory that accompanies a trip to the Super Bowl, they came up one victory short this time.

“We really wanted to be a light of inspiration to the city,” Bush said. “I think we were able to do that a little bit.”

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