The victory puts the Saints at 15-3 for the season and sends Payton's squad to the first Super Bowl in the 43-year history of the franchise, which leaves four current NFL teams — the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans — on the outside looking in, as far as the NFL's big game is concerned.
The Saints are now a 5½-point underdog to Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who earned their 16th victory against two defeats by beating the New York Jets 30-17 on Sunday in the AFC championship game. The Saints will scrap with the Colts on Feb. 7 in Miami.
Payton, the Saints' fourth-year coach, met with the media on Monday afternoon. He looked like he hadn't had much sleep — much like the throng of reporters at the press conference — and allowed that he and his family stayed at a downtown hotel on Sunday night. He planned to return to his home north of Lake Pontchartain on Monday night.
"It took a long time, to get to the hotel," Payton said. "It was interesting, exciting. I was with my family, my in-laws, and it was pretty special. ... We're excited about the win. What it did was it gave us an opportunity to play in this next game, which when you get into coaching, or playing, your goal is to someday win a Super Bowl championship.
"You understand this is a great Indianapolis team. It's been a long time since you look at the Super Bowl, and here sit the two No. 1 seeds. The two teams that were unbeaten for 90 percent of the season, until the end. Here they are with an opportunity to play for the championship, so that's exciting."
Payton said Saints kick returner Courtney Roby "dinged his knee" but should be in good shape physically to prepare for the game. Pierre Thomas, the Saints' leading rusher, filled in for Roby on the 40-yard kickoff return to start the overtime, which helped the Saints give Garrett Hartley the chance to be a hero.
Hartley, the Saints' second-year kicker from Oklahoma, delivered, drilling the kick right through the middle of the uprights and sending the city, as well as the entire Gulf South region, into delirium.
"I just told (Hartley), 'You belong here.' I don't know if he heard me," Payton said. "I told him there was a little tiny Fleur de lis, at the top of the stadium. I said, 'Why don't you to hit it?' He hit it solid and true."
Payton said the Saints' Pro Bowlers — quarterback Drew Brees, offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, guard Jahri Evans, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, center Jonathan Goodwin and free safety Darren Sharper — will leave for Miami before the rest of the team to participate in Pro Bowl festivities before Sunday's all-star game at Sun Life Stadium.
The NFL rescheduled the Pro Bowl and moved it to the same site of the Super Bowl last year during league meetings.