In case Brett Favre needed any extra motivation entering his 20th NFL season, watching the New Orleans Saints raise a championship banner should provide it.
After the Saints eliminated Favre's Minnesota Vikings in overtime of the NFC title game en route to their first Super Bowl victory, the 40-year-old quarterback has returned and hopes to spoil New Orleans' party at the Superdome on Thursday night.
Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints claimed the Lombardi Trophy with a 31-17 upset of Indianapolis, sealed when cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning and ran 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining.
Brees was named MVP of the game after throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns, but he expects the Saints to face a different challenge in 2010.
"We haven't been down this road before as defending champs, but the fact of the matter is we all know this is a new season and everybody has the same hopes and aspirations," Brees said. "There are 32 teams that believe this can be their year. ... We know that we are going to get everybody's best shot. We know we have to put our best foot forward every time we step on the field."
Favre returns to make his record 286th consecutive start after another offseason in which he contemplated retirement.
He said he didn't expect to return when he walked off the Superdome turf following a 31-28 defeat in January when the Vikings fell painfully short of their first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years.
"Believe me, when I left New Orleans, a big part of me was - I don't want to say done - but the fact that we lost that game, how hard it is," Favre said last month.
Favre became a grandfather in April, but he's coming off one of his best seasons, throwing 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions.
In the NFC championship, Minnesota outgained the Saints 475-257 and got three rushing touchdowns from Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings lost three fumbles and Favre threw two interceptions - including one to Porter in the final minute of regulation.
That was the last time Favre touched the ball, as New Orleans won the coin toss in overtime and got a 40-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley.
"It's not like we were shut down offensively," Favre said. "We went into a hostile environment and were extremely productive on offense but yet it proved costly (with) the turnovers. So do I think we'll face the same style of defense this week? Sure."
Favre suffered various injuries in the game, including a sprained ankle that required offseason surgery, and Vikings coach Brad Childress said he felt many of New Orleans' hits on the veteran were late and dirty.
"I understand a quarterback's going to get hit, people are going to get hit," Childress said. "It's football. I don't have any illusions about that. What I hate to see are late hits or attempts to hurt anybody. I don't think there's a place for that in the game."
Saints coach Sean Payton has defended his defense, which forced 39 turnovers in 2009 - second in the NFL to Green Bay.
"I think that we play with an attitude and a swagger and a confidence level that is within the rules and I like the way we play," Payton said.
There will be one major void in that unit, with All-Pro safety Darren Sharper out for at least six games following offseason microfracture knee surgery. Sharper was tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions last year, helping the Saints go 13-3.
His substitute, second-year pro Malcolm Jenkins, expects to be targeted by Favre.
"I'll just have to hold my own," Jenkins said.
Jonathan Vilma's status is less clear. The Saints' leading tackler injured his groin during the preseason and missed the final game.
Minnesota will be without its top receiver as Sidney Rice recovers from hip surgery, but Percy Harvin is expected to play despite preseason problems with migraines.
Peterson remains the focal point of the Vikings' attack after leading the NFL with 18 touchdowns and ranking third in scrimmage yards last year - a big reason Minnesota went 12-4 and claimed the NFC North crown.
Brees is back to anchor the Saints' top-ranked offense, which led the league in total yards and touchdowns in 2009 and retained virtually all of its major weapons.
"He started out (with the Saints) at a super-high level and it's hard to get better, but he finds some way to do it," receiver Marques Colston said of Brees. "The thing he's really done well is communicate to us what exactly he wants, and that's what makes the offense click the way it does."
New Orleans is going for its first win over the Vikings in the regular season since 2001. Minnesota has won the last four meetings, including three at the Superdome.
Each of the last 10 Super Bowl champions have opened its title defense with a victory.