NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The last time the Minnesota Vikings made the Super Bowl, Brett Favre was in elementary school. The next trip the New Orleans Saints make to the big game will be their first.
Are you experienced? Well, yes and no.
Granted, reaching the NFL’s title game has been elusive for the Vikings since 1977 and unattainable for the Saints forever. But appearing in the playoffs has been something of a ritual for some of their stars, from Favre to Steve Hutchinson to Ryan Longwell for Minnesota. And from Drew Brees to Darren Sharper to Jeremy Shockey for New Orleans.
So successfully taking that last step Sunday in the NFC championship game shouldn’t be an intimidating chore for either side.
The Vikings certainly are drawing from Favre’s past: two Super Bowls and one win, and the most victories for any quarterback in NFL history.
“When you have a quarterback that steps in the huddle and has that look on his face and the body language and the demeanor like, ‘Hey this is old hat, we can do this, this is nothing more than anything we practiced all week,’ regardless of the situation, it kind of builds confidence in the rest of the guys in the huddle and has the soothing effect,” said All-Pro guard Hutchinson, who played in six postseason games with Seattle and lost one Super Bowl.
That sure can settle the nerves. It’s something Sharper, who spent eight seasons with Favre in Green Bay (one Super Bowl defeat) and four years in Minnesota before landing in New Orleans this season has tried to do for the Saints.
“They don’t come to me,” Sharper said. “I give them the information that I have, any extra tidbits, tendencies, anything that I know. I always want to help any of our guys out on defense, offense and special teams.
“I think that is the main thing, a guy they have watched play for a long time, the younger guys. Having the experience factor, I think I’m a person they can look up to, can learn from, try to pick my brain, watch how I go about my day-in and day-out activities, how I prepare myself and just being a leader in that area. I think that’s the main thing that you see of guys that have been in the league for a long time.”
So while fans in New Orleans complain they can’t sleep in anticipation of Sunday, and Minnesotans hopefully look into flights from the frigid Midwest to balmy South Florida in early February, the players try to chill. It’s not easy.
There’ll be an edge to their emotions at kickoff time. Yes, it’s the biggest game of most of their careers, and it’s uncharted territory for dozens of them.
That makes the expertise of former Super Bowl participants more critical.
“I hope the little experience I have in these games, which is more than most, will help some,” said Favre, who could be missing Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, plagued by migraines on Friday. “But that’s not to say I don’t get nervous and stressed and all those things. But I try to keep not only myself but the other guys calm and relaxed.
“It’s OK to be excited … but we have to focus. Every play has to count, you have to focus extra. That’s really, in a nutshell, what I’ll address with the guys.”
Neither coach has been the head man in a Super Bowl. Minnesota’s Brad Childress was Eagles offensive coordinator in 2004, when Philadelphia lost to New England. Sean Payton went to the 2000 Super Bowl with the Giants, who got routed by Baltimore.
Typical of coaches, Childress and Payton are ignoring talk of a visit to the Miami area.
“No it’s business. We get into routines. We’re here at dark and get home at dark,” Payton said. “We’re a little sheltered at this moment to the game-planning. Our players are probably the same way, are into a routine. So these weeks all run together.”
But they want the routine to run for another two weeks, of course.
“I think Jared Allen made a good point,” Childress said of his All-Pro defensive end. “When you prepare like you usually prepare – I mean, are we overprepared? You have to caution against that, that there’s not too much volume; you’re not trying to stuff things in there. But our preparation is just about the same. We’ve got it down to a pretty good science right now.”