Favre to face boyhood favorites in New Orleans
It appears that Brett Favre is just like everyone else - he never forgot his first love.
Shortly after Favre and the Minnesota Vikings dismantled Dallas on Sunday to setup a showdown with the Saints in New Orleans for the NFC championship, the 40-year-old quarterback recalled a conversation he had with Saints coach Sean Payton a while back.
``I told him secretly I'm a Saints fan,'' Favre said.
For years as a kid growing up in southeastern Mississippi, Favre never felt the need to hide his devotion to Archie Manning and the rest of those lovable losers, even as many in the Gulf Coast region were cutting eye holes in grocery bags to avoid being seen at Saints games.
``All of those years I never wore a bag on my head, but I remember those days,'' Favre said.
New Orleans may not be home for Favre. But when it comes to NFL cities, the Big Easy is as close as it gets. Favre grew up in Kiln, Miss., just an hour's drive away from New Orleans. He played his college ball at Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, a mere two hours from Bourbon Street.
Now, in the latest dramatic twist to a 19th season that has been almost too good to be true, the Saints are the last team standing in his way of reaching a third Super Bowl. Favre and the Vikings will go into the Superdome on Sunday with a trip to Miami on the line.
``We didn't think we were going to actually play,'' Favre said of his past conversations with Payton. ``There was always an outside chance, but go figure.''
As this storybook season draws closer to a conclusion for Favre, it almost had to be this way.
After signing with the rival Vikings, Favre has already stuck it to the Green Bay Packers twice in convincing fashion.
With a four-TD performance against the Cowboys last weekend, he became the first quarterback to win a playoff game in his 40s and has put together one of the best seasons of his brilliant career. He has thrown 37 touchdown passes and a career-low seven interceptions. His 107.2 rating in the regular season was by far the highest of his career and his 4,202 yards passing were third-most behind seasons in 1995 and 1998, a lifetime ago in NFL years.
Favre led the Vikings to a 12-4 season and a first-round bye in the playoffs, just the second time since 1975 that Minnesota has won at least 12 games in the regular season.
If he is to lead the Vikings to their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1976 season, it will have to be at the expense of the team that was so close to his heart for so long. Favre loved the Saints as a kid, even mimicking Manning in backyard football games of his youth.
``We all liked Archie,'' Favre's brother, Scott, said in a telephone interview. ``We'd go to quite a few games. Everybody down here, that's their team.''
Scott said Brett also was a big Cowboys and Roger Staubach fan, but the boys did have Saints banners hanging on their walls and relished meeting players like Manning, Bobby Hebert and John Fourcade through the years.
As Favre rose to prominence in the NFL, he earned a following in the Gulf region that would match the Saints fervent fan base. He still spends the vast majority of his free time at his offseason home in Hattiesburg and suffered through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the rest of the folks in the area in 2005.
Katrina destroyed the Kiln home where Favre grew up and his mother still lived at the time, and Favre's vast estate in Hattiesburg was damaged as well. He helped raise millions in the storm's aftermath to rebuild the region, which only further cemented his status as a local hero.
But Favre has no illusions about the reception he will receive in the raucous Superdome on Sunday. The Saints' emergence, and their players' sense of civic duty, have united a city that splintered under the weight of greed, corruption and infighting of the long rebuilding process.
With the franchise's first No. 1 seed and fresh off a 45-14 whipping of the Arizona Cardinals, the Saints ain't the ``Ain'ts'' no more.
``Obviously it is a lot different football team now,'' Favre said. ``They are playing outstanding in their place.''
Even folks in Hattiesburg and throughout southeastern Mississippi are having trouble deciding which side to take. The fact that the team has had only nine winning seasons in 43 years, and no Super Bowl appearances, just makes these fans even hungrier to see a winner.
``I guess it is kind of fitting,'' Scott Favre said. ``Everybody down here has been hoping for this all year. They wanted the Saints to play the Vikings and they got their wish.''
But Scott isn't having any difficulty choosing sides.
``We've always liked the Saints,'' he said. ``But it's not going to be hard to root against them now.''
Brett Favre knows what he's up against, which just makes it that much more fun for him.
``I don't think too many people down there will be compassionate that I am with the Vikings coming in,'' Favre said. ``They've waited a long time for it. That's going to be a factor that we have to handle obviously. I think it goes without saying how happy I am that we have this opportunity.''