By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Sunday night’s National Football Conference championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints evoked conflicting emotions.
Never has one game had such Mississippi ties.
Your humble scribe grew up in south Mississippi. Like many, the Saints are as much a hometown team for me as I guess I will ever know. There are no reports of an NFL team moving to the Jackson area, Tupelo or anywhere else in Mississippi.
So for me, for the most part, it always has been the Saints.
But I am also a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi.
There is no better known athlete hailing from my alma mater than Brett Favre. Heck, Favre, a Hancock County native, must have been a little conflicted himself Sunday night. After all, he grew up a Saints fan.
But I don’t think that was the reason he threw that final interception.
At any rate, many Mississippians must have felt the same emotions, wanting desperately to see the Saints finally make the Super Bowl by winning at the NFC championship game, but at the same time thinking it would be nice to see Favre once again reach that pinnacle of professional football success.
Favre brings out that kind of passion.
I have a friend, a Wisconsin native, lifetime Green Bay fan who for years had rare-to-obtain season tickets to Packers games even after moving to Mississippi. When Favre played for the New York Jets last year instead of the Packers, he was a Jets fan.
And this year when Favre signed with the Vikings – the bitter rival of the Packers – my friend did the unthinkable and supported the hated Minnesota squad. I saw him after the Vikings’ loss to the Saints Sunday and he was wearing a purple Vikings t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Favre.
On Sunday night, I found myself rooting for the Saints, but at the same time wanting Favre to succeed. When the Vikings were driving for what looked like it could be the winning points at the end of the game, only to have their effort squashed by that Favre interception, it was bittersweet.
But now it is over.
And to paraphrase the great Jim Henderson, the Saints’ long-time radio play-by-play announcer, at the end of Sunday’s game – pigs have flown and hell has frozen over, the Saints are going to the Super Bowl.
But lo and behold, they will be playing the Colts – quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, son of Archie.
The first I ever knew such a thing as college football existed was the 1969 Ole Miss-Alabama game, the first nationally televised night football game. Manning, in a losing effort, was spectacular.
I sat riveted to the television with my father – a memory I cherish to this day.
To a 10-year-old boy from Mississippi, at least to this one, Archie Manning was bigger than life – god-like. And if there has ever been an athlete whose off-field demeanor and civility matched his on-field talents, it is Archie Manning.
By the time he was drafted by the Saints, I thought it was a perfect fit – my favorite athlete playing for what I considered my hometown team. It wasn’t such a good fit.
There were countless disappointments, horrible teams and awful seasons, but for at least one south Mississippian, hope was never lost that the next game, the next year would finally be the one for Archie and the Saints.
Well, next year finally came – Sunday night.
The only problem is that it was against a true Mississippi legend, Brett Favre, and to reach that ultimate destination the Saints will have to do it against Peyton – son of Archie.
This could only happen to a Saints fan.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.