Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has been on a mercenary mission the last two seasons, while Saints signal caller Drew Brees, who was dispatched from San Diego, has been a steady guiding hand in New Orleans.
While long-suffering Saints and quarterback Drew Brees have united hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, the Vikings and their manipulative mercenary of a quarterback, Brett Favre, are decidedly less inspiring.
One team is led by an ancestral chant, stolen from early vaudeville and turned into a guttural cry that has become a Cajun heartbeat.
“Who Dat?” the New Orleans Saints fans scream this weekend, the two syllables echoing hope through the mist and cobblestone.
The other team is led by a tune rejected from “American Idol.”
“Pants on the ground!” Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre sang to his teammates last week, botching the words to the shallowest of songs.
As with most things in life, when trying to figure out today’s NFC championship game, just feel the rhythm.
Both teams would be great Super Bowl stories filled with personality and punch. But only one of those stories thumps real.
Having endured 42 years of the sort of football misery that once led fans to place paper bags over their heads, the Saints are playing for their first chance at a championship.
Having endured four Super Bowl losses that turned their fans away in droves, the Vikings are playing for Favre’s concocted chance at a championship.
The Saints have helped bond a city in its ongoing struggle to rebuild from the damage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Vikings have helped bond a state that wants to overcome a football inferiority complex to Wisconsin.
In New Orleans, folks use their hurricane relief money to buy tickets to fill up the Superdome.
In Minneapolis last season, the Vikings needed two extensions to sell enough tickets to avoid a TV blackout — for a playoff game.
The Saints speak as if they are performing not only a job, but a vocation.
“It’s a unique relationship that this team has with the city,” Saints Coach Sean Payton told reporters last week. “There was an obvious need or feeling to help out.”
The Vikings don’t speak as much as they cackle and howl at their good fortune.
“We don’t take too much too seriously,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said.
Through the din of car horns and old trumpets that fill the French Quarter this weekend, it is clear that the Saints are living for a dream.
Through Favre’s crooked smile, it’s clear that the Vikings are just living large.
That’s where the pulse of these two teams begins, in the quarterbacks, one a deeply appreciative castoff, the other a deeply manipulative superstar.
Funny, but even though Favre is from a small Mississippi town just down the road from New Orleans, the Saints’ Texas-born Drew Brees seems like much more of a native son.
He came to New Orleans in the spring of 2006 as a free agent after essentially being tossed aside by the San Diego Chargers. It had been less than a year since Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and caused immeasurable damage. He felt an immediate connection.
“I felt like it was a calling,” Brees said. “An opportunity to come here and not only be part of the rebuilding of the organization . . . but to be part of the rebuilding of the city. It’s been very special.”
So special that he’s not only helped the Saints build the league’s best offense, but he’s also part of the creation of the Brees Family Field, a multipurpose facility in a local neighborhood.
“We were able to kind of really form a bond and come together,” Brees said of the team and the city. “The bond is, I think, what’s helped carry us all through and given everybody hope and uplifted the spirits of everyone.”
The Vikings are built upon a different sort of bond. Favre was determined to return to one more Super Bowl, dadgummit, and he would do anything to make it happen.
“I’ve got another chance,” he told reporters last week.
A couple of seasons ago, he retired after 16 years and one championship with the Green Bay Packers, but only because he didn’t think they could win a title and he wanted to play for the Vikings.
When he realized the Packers would not release him to play anywhere else, he “un-retired” and forced a trade to the New York Jets, with whom he spent last season isolated in the locker room, hurt on the field, just waiting to join the Vikings.
After throwing the Jets out of the playoff race with eight interceptions in their last five games, Favre retired again, and this time he was released and allowed to go to Minnesota.
Has he been terrific there? Yes, his 107.2 passer rating ranked second in the NFL and he threw for four touchdowns in the divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Would his return to the Super Bowl at age 40 be a great story? Absolutely, as he could be not only the oldest Super Bowl quarterback, but also the first hired-gun quarterback to reach that game in his first season.
But make no mistake. Favre didn’t just saunter to the title game from a blue jeans commercial. He’s not just some bayou slinger with charming beard stubble.
He has thrown the Vikings out of some games with his stubborn belief that he can win them by himself. He has refused to come out of games, or even change plays, despite Coach Brad Childress’ suggestions.
Favre’s return to greatness has been methodically plotted and executed with a stiff arm to anyone standing in his way.
The Saints’ rise to greatness has been sometimes messy, sometimes magical, but always real.
“Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?”
Nobody, I hope.