Deep in their heart of hearts, many Mississippians are torn by whom to root for this Sunday when the New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League’s NFC Conference Championship Game and the right to go to the Super Bowl.
The Saints and their loyal fans hope to blow the lid off the Superdome by outscoring the Vikings, who are led by none other than Kiln native and USM graduate Brett Favre. At 40, Favre is having a dream season and most pundits believe he is throwing the football as well as anyone in the NFL.
And then there is Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the suddenly red-hot New Orleans offense, which sputtered a bit while closing the regular season with three straight defeats. No offense spreads the ball to as many players as the Saints, as they have seven players who caught at least 35 passes this season.
But history is not on the Saints’ side, as the franchise is one of five NFL teams that have never played in the Super Bowl. In 2006, Brees and the Saints were one game away from the big game, but lost in the NFC title game to the Chicago Bears, 39-14.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have New Orleans favored by 3.5, according to the latest line.
One factor in the game may be which defense can stop the other’s offense. The Saints are not immune to giving up the big play, having ranked a paltry 25th in the regular season in yards allowed (357.8), yielding more than 400 in a game on six occasions. Stopping Favre and Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson won’t be easy.
The 5:40 p.m. game will be televised locally by Fox 40.
Here’s a sampling of opinions and predictions by some of the newsmakers of Mississippi business:
Perry Nations, Associated General Contractors of Mississippi – "My heart is with the Saints but it’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned, what with Brett Favre on the other side. Favre will have a good game but the Saints win 28-17."
Johnny Maloney, Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City – "With their hot offense, Saints all the way. I think it will be close but New Orleans will prevail 38-27.’
Bob Wilson, Main Street Mississippi – "It’s hard to go against a Mississippi hero like Brett Favre but I have to go with my Saints – I’m a long-time Saints fan! Saints 34, Vikes 17. And Peyton (Manning) will lead the Colts over the Jets 34-17 in the AFC game."
Margaret Ferriss White, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum – "My heart is torn between the Saints and pulling for Brett Favre. I will be happy however the game comes out. Saints 28, Vikings 17."
Ben Allen, Downtown Partners – "I am really conflicted about this game. I think the Vikings are going to win and Brett will have a banner day passing the football. Vikings 27, Saints 14."
Mike Chaney, Mississippi Insurance Department – "I’m fortunate enough to have two tickets to the game. My wife and I are gong down to cheer for the Saints. We lived in New Orleans in 1967, the year the Saints were born. Any questions about who we’re pulling for? I like Brett, but I’m black-and-gold, through and through. Saints 36, Vikings 24."
Ross Reily, Mississippi Business Journal – "Of course, I’m pulling for the Saints but I am conflicted by the fact that I got to know Brett Favre’s family when I lived on the Gulf Coast, " said Reily, MBJ editor and a former sportswriter. "I think the Vikings’ run game is too strong and their defense will stop New Orleans’ rushing attack just enough. In a shootout, Vikings 38, Saints 34."