Saints alive, win in OT
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NEW ORLEANS -- They sure ain't the Aints anymore.
The New Orleans Saints are heading to their first Super Bowl after battering Brett Favre and beating the Minnesota Vikings, 31-28, in overtime Sunday night on unheralded Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal.
Favre threw away Minnesota's best chance to win, tossing an interception deep in New Orleans territory in the closing seconds of regulation. Then the Saints won the coin toss and soon it was over.
The team that had no home five years ago after Hurricane Katrina ravaged its city and the Superdome overcame a slew of mistakes in the biggest game the Big Easy has ever seen.
"This is for everybody in this city," said coach Sean Payton, the architect of the Saints' turnaround. "This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet. It's not wet anymore. This is for the city of New Orleans."
Forget the paper bag masks and that long history of losing that started in 1967. Moments after Hartley's kick, they were toasting their hometown winners on Bourbon Street.
And in the Superdome, once a squalid refuge after Katrina, they boogied in the aisles as confetti covered the field.
"It's a moment I've been waiting for for a long time and obviously we're not done yet," said Drew Brees, Payton's hand-picked quarterback for the Saints' renaissance.
The Saints (15-3) will meet Peyton Manning and the Colts (16-2) in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Miami. Indianapolis opened as four-point favorites.
It's the first time the top seeds in each conference made the big game since the 1993 season.
"Brett prepared us, but now we've got another challenge in Peyton," safety Darren Sharper said.
There were nine fumbles and two interceptions, and the biggest mistake belonged to Favre.
A penalty for 12 men on the field as the Vikings set up for a winning field-goal attempt by Ryan Longwell from the Saints 33, took Minnesota out of range and forced the Vikings to instead try for a first down.
Favre's ill-advised throw across his body was intercepted by Tracy Porter, and the Saints ran out the clock to send the NFC title game into overtime tied, 28-28.
Flushed from the pocket in the final minute, he seemed to have room to run to set up a field goal. But hampered by a left leg injured in the third quarter, the 40-year-old quarterback threw cross-field and was intercepted by Porter at the 22.
That finished off Minnesota's chance for its first Super Bowl trip in 33 years -- and opportunity to win it for the first time after four defeats.
New Orleans won the coin toss, Brees guided it to the Minnesota 22 after converting a fourth-and-1 on Pierre Thomas' leap over the line, and Hartley -- suspended at the start of the season for using a banned stimulant -- split the uprights 4:45 into overtime.
"Just helping my team get to Miami," Hartley said. "Just doing my part."
Minnesota, meanwhile, lost its fifth NFC consecutive championship game.
First Published January 25, 2010 1:10 am