New Orleans fans flock to Bourbon Street to celebrate the Saints' 31-28 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game.
Cheryl Gerber / AP Enlarge
METAIRIE, La. - Sean Payton still hadn't gone home yet when the New Orleans Saints returned to work the day after the biggest win in franchise history.
Drained after an emotional overtime triumph that set off celebrations all across the city, Payton joined family and friends for dinner downtown and then relaxed in a hotel.
"There was just so much emotion," Payton said yesterday at the team's suburban training center. "You know, when you finish with the locker room ... you just try to find your family. My son's concern is the confetti's going to keep us from being able to play catch on the field. That was his concern. It was just good to hug them and be around the family and enjoy the time. There never seems to be enough of it."
"For them to have a chance to be part of it I think it makes it really special," Payton continued. "Obviously, the same goes for this upcoming game."
The upcoming game happens to be the first Super Bowl involving the Saints in the franchise's 43 years of existence.
This is only the ninth winning season the club has had. The 31-28 overtime victory over Minnesota Sunday night marked the first time the Saints had hosted an NFC championship game. So when it was over, fans in the Louisiana Superdome and residents of a city that already acts on any excuse for a party spilled into the streets and toasted the Saints' success.
Bourbon Street was mobbed with revelers in Saints jerseys letting out high-pitched howls of delight and stirring up impromptu chants of "Who dat say dey gonna' beat dem Saints!"
Some exchanged watery-eyed embraces after watching their team pull out a high-stakes thriller that appeared to be going the Vikings' way before Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre's pass in Saints territory in the last minute of regulation.
"It was crazy. It was almost like Mardi Gras," said Porter, who would know because he grew up in south Louisiana.
Several players, including Porter and fellow defensive back Darren Sharper, said they wanted to go out on the town and join in the celebration, but were so tired they ended up just staying home and watching footage of the citywide party on the local news.
"When I got outside this morning, I saw the city was still standing so that was a good thing," Sharper said.
Saints defensive players were bound to be exhausted and sore. The Vikings had the ball for nearly 37 minutes and ran 82 offensive plays to the Saints' 55, including overtime, when only the Saints had the ball and ran 10 plays on their winning drive, which was capped by Garrett Hartley's field goal.
Hartley wasn't about to live a young kicker's dream without celebrating a little. He joined friends and stayed downtown for a while, shaking hands with countless appreciative fans.
"It was absolutely crazy. It was awesome," he said.
The team gathered yesterday for meetings, some light workouts, and treatment for players who were banged up. Payton said there did not appear to be any serious injuries. He said kick returner Courtney Roby's right knee was "dinged," that running back Lynell Hamilton's left ankle injury appeared minor, and tight end Jeremy Shockey did not have any setbacks with his bruised right knee.
Payton also gave players today and tomorrow off to rest before they return Thursday to prepare for the next biggest game in Saints history against native son Peyton Manning and the favored Indianapolis Colts.
If the Saints pull off the upset, that will mark their third win of this postseason. In the previous 42 years, the Saints celebrated a grand total of two playoff victories.
"That's a tough history to have," Sharper said. "That's part of the reason why they embrace it so much because they know it's hard to come by. They've been through so many tough times and now, it's a time for us to pretty much rejoice and appreciate us being at this point. We're going to make the most of it, believe that."