More than a game for Saints fans

As big as today's game is for Vikings fans, what the NFC Championship Game represents to fans of the New Orleans Saints is perhaps more significant. For a team that has come to symbolize the rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Vikings may be facing much more than a 53-man roster and 70,000 fans.

Today's game between the Vikings and the Saints has significance for many reasons. From the time that the players involved first played Pop Warner football, their dreams of winning the biggest game on the biggest stage was ingrained in them.

For Vikings fans, getting back to the Super Bowl is a quest many of their fans have little to no recollection of. It's been 32 years. That is more than a lifetime for many or their most ardent fans. But for fans of the Saints, getting to the Super Bowl – much less winning it – seems like it was never a possibility.

When the kickoff to start today's game comes, the decibel level in the Superdome will be as loud as the Metrodome has ever experienced. Why? Because it will be the culmination of a five-year struggle for a city and a region trying to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the planet. Homes in the 9th Ward still bear the big red "X" signifying how many dead bodies were found inside. Hurricane Katrina is forgotten by most, but the scars remain for those who survived.

Saints fans didn't have a home game for an entire season in the aftermath of Katrina. When they did, it was a cause for celebration. In a city steeped in the tradition of death and voodoo, the Saints were a rallying point. For a legion of fans accustomed to substandard football, the Saints became a rallying point for a city sorely lacking in hope. The Fleur-de-lis – a symbol embraced by Louisianans long before the Saints joined the NFL – became a badge of honor.

As those Vikings followers who descended on New Orleans this weekend, the anticipation was one of disdain from Saints fans to the interlopers in their midst. Go to Philadelphia or Dallas or Chicago and there would be palpable hatred for Vikings fans. That wasn't present in New Orleans. Their fans may be as passionate as any in the NFL, but their allegiance is not based on negatives – like fans of the Packers or Bears hating the Vikings or Philadelphia fans hating everyone, including their own team. The allegiance Saints fans have for their team is hard to put in terms that can be translated to those who haven't experienced it.

For Vikings fans, a road win to get back to the Super Bowl will be a dream come true. 2009 has been a magical season that, with any luck, has two chapters yet to be written. But, if the Vikings fall to the Saints, what happens today won't be the end of the world for those who call themselves citizens of Vikings Nation. Life will go on. For Saints fans, a loss will carry a much heavier toll. The football team helped raise the spirits of the community brought to its knees by forces outside the realm of their control. As much as Vikings fans love their team, the bond between the Saints and the City of New Orleans goes much deeper.

Anyone who knows the NFL realizes it is a cutthroat business. What you did last week is history. If the Vikings beat the Saints, the thread that follows will be the matchup between the Vikes and the AFC champion. But, if the Vikings should lose, there can be some comfort in knowing that a city that lost so much would find a small piece of redemption.

It can be argued that Vikings fans deserve a chance to bear witness as the team hoists the Lombardi Trophy. If that doesn't happen, the love and loyalty of their fans won't waver. But, in this instance, if they don't get that chance, they couldn't lose to a more deserving adversary – or a more deserving fan base.

NOTES

  • WR Percy Harvin traveled with the Vikings to New Orleans and is expected to play Sunday as he recovers from migraine headaches that kept him out of action on Thursday and Friday. He was listed as questionable.

  • The Vikings are also expected to have their full contingent of defensive linemen today. Kevin Williams (knee) and Ray Edwards (knee) were both held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday and were limited on Friday. Pat Williams (elbow/foot) was all listed as questionable and held out of practice on Friday. He, too, is expected to play. Edwards' injury is thought to be the most serious of them, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be.


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