When the Saints were undefeated in early December, quarterback Drew Brees didn't mind envisioning a certain game in early February in which he and Peyton Manning, his counterpart from the then-unbeaten Indianapolis Colts, met with the NFL title on the line.
What would have been an unprecedented matchup in Super Bowl XLIV didn't materialize, of course, when the Saints dropped their last three games of the regular season and the Colts finished with back-to-back losses.
But while both teams stumbled a little in the end, Brees still got his wish. His Saints (15-3) and Manning's Colts (16-2) will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night in Sun Life Stadium.
Brees certainly wanted the matchup, which was also highly anticipated by fans as the playoffs went on.
But when Super Bowl week finally arrived, Brees made sure to let it be known that he doesn't want it to be about him against Manning, who was named the league's MVP for a record fourth time this season.
"That's exactly the trap I'm not going to fall into, which is trying to keep up with Peyton," Brees said. "I know that Peyton is going to make his plays, and he's going to be Peyton. That just means that I need to be me.
"It's me and my offense against their defense and vice versa," added Brees, the consummate team captain and leader. "Certainly, I have a lot of respect for Peyton and what he's been able to accomplish. But it's not me against Peyton."
What Brees was trying to get across was that the Saints will need more than just him to beat the Colts. At the same time, they also have to make sure they don't fall into the trap of just being happy about being there.
That means the Saints will have to rely on the motto they adopted after losing so many close games one year ago and finished 8-8 following a 7-9 season in 2007.
All season, the players have worn T-shirts and bracelets that reminded them to "Finish Strong." Now, it applies to the final game, and the season as a whole.
"We're definitely not finished," defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said after the Saints advanced to the Super Bowl. "Even though we have made a lot of strides and did a lot of great things this year, we still have one more goal."
"We'll have to put one of our best games together again like we've been doing all year," All-Pro guard Jahri Evans said. "We've got to stay calm, keep our composure, and just handle the game as it comes to us."
SERIES HISTORY: 11th all-time meeting, all in regular-season play. The teams split the first 10 matchups with the Colts ripping the Saints in the last two games. The Colts rolled to a 55-21 victory in the Superdome in 2003 and then took an easy 41-10 win in the RCA Dome in the 2007 season opener. Prior to that, the Saints had won five straight in the series.