Make no mistake about it, the road to the Super Bowl is fraught with peril. It’s littered with pot holes the size of Texas, fallen trees blocking the path, and sometimes snow-covered paths that impede progress. The teams that get through it need a sharp axe, a chainsaw and sometimes a snowplow. Luckily, the Saints seem to have all that and more, which makes it fitting that the next mile goes through Minnesota. The conditions will be perfect for serving up a little vengeance, and both teams have sufficient reason to look at the game as a revenge match.
Who Dat Nation well remembers opening day of this season when their heroes traveled to Minnesota and had their fannies spanked, 29-19. Of course, the season soon turned around so it is hard to look back at that game with bitter feelings. It's another story when playoffs are on the line, as both teams know.
The Vikings igloo is still chilled by nightmares of the last time their team faced the Saints in a playoff game. Minnesota in2009 was led by future Hall of Famer Brett Favre of Kiln, Mississippi (which I have since learned is pronounced KILL. Seriously!) Favre had returned to the NFC North from a disastrous season with the Jets, and he recovered in fine fashion, starting all 16 games for the 12-4 Vikes. In the NFC Championship game at the Superdome, Favre fought Drew Brees to a near standstill, but two interceptions thwarted drives and the 31-28 victory sent the top-seeded Saints to the Super Bowl.
Older Who Dats recall another memorable playoff disappointment as their best reason for vengeance. In 1987, the Saints rebounded from a 3-3 start and ran off nine straight wins for their first-ever winning season. Going into the playoffs, hopes were higher than they ever had been for the franchise that never in 19 years of existence enjoyed a winning season. And why would we not be excited? A home game against an opponent lucky to be there? The 8-7 Vikings had lost three of their last four games, had scored one more point during the season than they surrendered, and their most effective quarterback was a journeyman backup. We all thought it was the perfect playoff start to let the Dream continue.
Indeed, the Saints scored first after Vikings QB Tommy Kramer fumbled and Bobby Hebert connected with WR Eric Martin for a 7-0 lead. The defense, led by the Dome Patrol, looked invincible on the next series, sacking Kramer and forcing a punt. But the Saints’ Mel Gray could not handle the ensuing kick, and the roof of the Superdome might as well have fallen in. The Vikings rolled, 44-10, and what could have been a Dream Season for the ages was ended. And those of us who were there haven't forgotten!
You’ll be hearing about this footnote, but the Vikings’ tight end that day compounded the Saints’ slide when he caught a touchdown pass from backup QB Wade Wilson to make the score 17-7. I wonder who he will be pulling for this week? The son of former tight end Steve Jordan, who added to the Saints' past misery, is Cameron Jordan, the All-Pro leader of the New Orleans defense.
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.