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Saints persevere for dramatic victory

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Saints persevere for dramatic victory

Hartley hits 40-yard field goal in overtime to seal victory for New Orleans THE MANning Four-time MVP Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes and the Indianapolis Colts rallied from an 11-point, first-half disadvantage to beat the New York Jets 30-17. The Colts now head back to Miami for the second time in four years and their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. Story, page 3 0

sbrunt@globeandmail.com

This one will be remembered.

For moments of offensive brilliance and horrible gaffes, for long drives and six Minnesota Vikings’ fumbles, controversial calls and dramatic replay reviews (there really are such things), and especially for ancient Brett Favre making like Willis Reed, or Kirk Gibson, or Curt Schilling, except in a sport where the other side is allowed and encouraged to hit back, leading his team nearly to a comeback tie in regulation, then throwing a terrible interception in the closing seconds to rob it of a chance to kick for the win.

Those watching the National Football Conference game from afar experienced it one way, as one heck of an entertaining bit of football, won finally when Garrett Hartley hits a 40 yard field goal in overtime to seal victory for the New Orleans Saints, 31-28.

Those in Minneapolis and environs, with their own tortured gridiron history, surely felt it in a different way.

But here, inside the Louisiana Superdome and outside on streets gone silent for three hours plus, it was a mix of agony and ecstasy hard to translate, hard to compare. Like great theatre maybe, but only if you really had a personal stake in how Hamlet made out in the end.

Memories of the first half were a blur by the finale. It had finished in a 14-14 tie, but only after a Reggie Bush fumble on a punt return deep in his own end in the closing moments of the second quarter seemed to gift the Vikings with a lead at the break, until Adrian Peterson almost immediately fumbled the ball back.

For a few moments in the third quarter, with the game tied at twenty-one, the Vikings’ hopes appeared dashed when Favre – who had been beaten and battered all game – was hit simultaneously high and low by a pair of New Orleans’ linemen.

His pass was intercepted by Scott Fujita, but that was the least of the Vikings’ concerns: Favre lay prone on the artificial turf, rose only with great difficulty, and barely hobbled to the sideline, favouring an injured ankle.

He was examined and taped and though obviously fragile didn’t miss a series, leading the Vikings on a tying touchdown drive with 4:58 left in regulation, and then nearly leading them to the win, but for the fatal pick by Tracy Porter.

Then on to overtime, to a coin toss that seemed to have the weight of the world – or at least the psyche of a battered, proud, great city – hanging in the balance, to a replay review that felt the same, then a fourth down gamble with Pierre Thomas flying through the air, then another review, and who knows how they made that call.

And finally the kick – and how many couldn’t bear to watch? – the ball sailing through the uprights, and the feeling, the overwhelming feeling, half exultation, half blessed release.

This was a happy and nervous place the last two days, in many ways a small town writ large. There was plenty of the usual frat boy Mardi Gras stuff in the French Quarter.

But everywhere else, where it seemed nearly everyone wore the colours, hiding behind the smiles and brave predictions was an unmistakable tinge of fear. The anticipation of a possible first trip to the championship game mixed with the doubts bred of the Saints’ mostly inglorious history, the feeling that so much hung on the result, that it was about more than just football, that it really mattered to just about everyone, a true double-edged sword.

In the stadium, the crowd alternated between demonstrating just how loud, and how quiet, 71,276 people can be, depending on which team had the ball. And when the Saints scored, it danced as one and the building shook – literally – in celebration, to a song by the Ying Yang Twins called Halftime: Stand Up and Get Crunk! (you can look it up).

That song, like it or not, played long into the night, played into this morning, mixed with other music in this city of jazz, of rhythm and blues, of zydeco, where they know the sound of joy.

They are Aints no more these Saints. They are going to the Super Bowl, to face Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Apologies to the Vikings nation, but isn’t that a marvelous thing?

CTVglobemedia Publishing, Inc

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