Who would have known that last year's game between the Saints and Vikings was a prelude to Sunday’s NFC Championship at the Superdome. Both the Saints and Vikings blew out their opponents in the Divisional Round and now find themselves on a collision course for the right to go to the Super Bowl in Miami in two weeks.
I recall writing about the Saints’ loss to the Vikings last year. New Orleans lost by a last-second field goal, but it was the referees’ calling of the game that sticks in my mind the most.
Twice, the officiating crew made calls against the Saints that were clearly blown. The first came on a fumble by Reggie Bush out of bounds that resulted in a turnover -- even though there was no change of possession on the field. The latter occurred when Adrian Peterson fumbled and it was ruled that he still had possession -- even though the referees admitted the ball was coming out before his knee hit the turf.
More than a year later, who would have known that game was a prelude to Sunday’s NFC Championship at the Superdome. Both the Saints and Vikings blew out their opponents in the Divisional Round and now find themselves on a collision course for the right to go to the Super Bowl in Miami in two weeks.
All season long, it seemed like they were destined to meet each other with the Super Bowl on the line. Now the stage is set, featuring two of the most exciting offenses in the league -- led by quarterbacks Brett Favre and Drew Brees -- and two of the hardest-hitting defenses.
The Saints began the season 13-0, but the Vikings were nipping at their heels the entire time. Without a regular-season game scheduled between the two, it is only fitting that they meet in a contest to crown the conference champion.
The last time the Vikings made a trip to the Super Bowl was 1977. The Saints have never been to the big game. It took them 20 years just to reach the playoffs, and their introduction was at Minnesota, no less.
Now, 20 years later, they will meet again. Although many of the same players that competed in last year’s game remain on both sides there are several big changes that have allowed the clubs to reach this point. The Vikings brought in Favre, a Super Bowl MVP who grew up 50 miles from New Orleans and is now 40, just before the season began. The Saints now have Darren Sharper, who at 34 set an NFL record this year for the most interception return yards and was Favre’s teammate the last time the Green Bay Packers made it to the Super Bowl.
There are many other changes here and there for both, but two constants have been Brees and Peterson. A year after threatening Dan Marino’s single-season passing record, Brees followed it up by setting the completion percentage record over a year. Peterson rushed for nearly 1,800 yards last season, and while his production has slipped some in the presence of Favre, he still averages nearly 20 carries per game.
Two wild cards that you have to keep your eyes on are Bush and Sidney Rice. Bush, who returned two punts for touchdowns last season against the Vikings, had 217 all-purpose yards for the Saints last week against the Cardinals, including another punt return for a score, while Rice caught three touchdown passes from Favre against Dallas.
As long as the referees don’t interfere, the game should be one for the ages. Expect a high-scoring, hard-hitting affair that will become an instant classic. I guarantee it will be entertaining.
Peter Silas Pasqua writes for the Weekly Citizen in Gonzales, La. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.