Sharper wanted showdown with team that let him go
Darren Sharper loves a good story, even more so when it involves him.
The NFL's active interception leader is on the cusp of the second Super Bowl appearance of his 13-year career. To get there, his Saints must beat Minnesota, the team that let him go after last season, and Brett Favre, who was once Sharper's teammate, then a rival, and still a friend.
He wouldn't want it any other way.
``You know, you get to Chapter 9 in a 10-chapter book, to make that ending a little bit more of an exciting end, you want to have some great story lines and this is a good one because of the relationships,'' Sharper said on Wednesday at the Saints' suburban New Orleans training center. ``You know, me playing (against) my former team, Brett returning - you could say it's his last hurrah.
``It just makes you not want to fold that book up in Chapter 5. You want to continue to read it until the end and that ending hopefully will be a good ending for us.''
The beginning of Sharper's story in the NFL dates back to 1997 when he entered the league with Green Bay. He went to his only Super Bowl in his rookie year, when the Packers lost to Denver. Favre was his teammate for eight years, then Sharper left for division rival Minnesota, facing Favre twice a year for three seasons and intercepting him once in 2006.
Sharper, however, was not a part of Minnesota's plans in 2009. The Vikings had young safeties in Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams, to whom they gave a big contract last year.
``That was an easy transition for them,'' Sharper said.
Sharper was interested in staying in Minnesota, a team he thought would be a contender, but the Vikings let him go in free agency after he had only one interception in 2008.
The Saints, by contrast, were looking for a savvy veteran to stabilize a defensive backfield that had been prone to giving up big plays. New Orleans already had the league's top offense, led by Drew Brees, but wound up only 8-8 last season, losing five games by three or fewer points in part because of defensive blunders.
Sharper, who turned 34 in November, made an immediate difference, proving that his paltry interception total a season earlier was not a sign of deteriorating skills. Rather, Sharper has had one of his best seasons in New Orleans, intercepting nine passes and returning three for touchdowns. His career interception total now stands at 63, tied with retired San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott.
Sharper also set an NFL record for most interception return yards in a season with 376.
``Physically, he looks as good as he's ever looked,'' Favre said. ``But his instincts, those are the things you can't coach. He makes a lot of plays. The thought is from people when you play a guy like Sharp is you can trick him to get big plays.
``In all honesty, you really don't see that this year.''
Sharper sat out practice on Wednesday in order to get some extra rest - typical of his schedule since midseason, when he began to have minor soreness in his left knee.
He has continued to look sharp in games, however, recovering a fumble in the Saints' 45-14 win over Arizona last Saturday in the divisional round. He also intercepted Warner once, making a difficult catch on a tipped ball, but the play was wiped out by a roughing-the-quarterback penalty.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Sharper has performed exactly as the Saints hoped. Vilma fondly recalled the club's effort to recruit him over dinner at one of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's restaurants, a meal attended by Vilma, general manager Mickey Loomis and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
``I told him he would be a perfect fit for us,'' Vilma said. ``He was the guy we needed to help lead our secondary and get us to this spot right now.''
The Vikings, of course, thought the exact same thing about Favre, who spoke to Sharper about his decision to return to the NFL with Minnesota.
``In talking to Brett, before he signed with Minnesota, I told him they had a good team and a team that was, if he went there, they were going to be in the running for getting to where they are now,'' Sharper recalled. ``He understood that. I believe that was part of his decision to return.
``Me coming here was the same thing,'' Sharper continued. ``We knew we had a good defense. It just needed a couple pieces, a guy on the back end to kind of solidify things a little bit, make the play when you had a chance to make it. So it is kind of ironic that we're facing off. I told him he had a Super Bowl-caliber team in Minnesota before he got there. I just hope I can renege on those words and make us the Super Bowl caliber team come Sunday.''
NOTES: TE Jeremy Shockey (right knee), WR Robert Meachem (left ankle) and CB Malcom Jenkins (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday. Coach Sean Payton said he was optimistic they would be ready to play by Sunday. ... The Saints announced RB Deuce McAllister, who retired on Tuesday, would once again be an honorary captain in the NFC title game.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report