Did you feel it? Didn't it seem like we stepped into a time machine last week and traveled back to Jan. 24, 2010 — the day the New Orleans Saints took on the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game? At stake was a chance to go to the Super Bowl — and, for the Black and Gold, to clinch that opportunity on their home field.
The Saints didn't get that chance this season, but Super Bowl XLVII will be held in New Orleans in less than two weeks, and the NFC Champion playing in the game is tied to the Saints.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons reached this season's NFC Championship game, played this past weekend, with the winning team getting a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in our Superdome. For many years, the 49ers tormented Saints fans by winning the NFC West and becoming a thorn in the Black and Gold's side. New Orleans' move to the NFC South dissipated much of the dread associated with seeing San Francisco on the schedule.
Atlanta is a whole different story. The Dirty Birds are not liked — at all.
In two of the last three seasons, the Falcons have been the top seed in the NFC standings heading into the playoffs. In the 2011 playoffs, Atlanta lost to the Green Bay Packers 48-21, squelching the team's chanes for a world championship. This season the Falcons once again are top seeded with a 13-3 record and are just one win away from what could be two of the worst weeks ever in this city for sports fans.
The dread set in when Matt Bryant kicked the Falcons' game-winning 49-yard field goal against Seattle Jan. 13 to advance into the NFC Championship. A win by the Falcons would mean the Saints' most hated rival would be in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. That's a full two weeks of having vinegar poured into a wound still trying to heal from the Saints' disastrous 2012 season — and one week of Falcons stories to fill the bye week before Super Bowl.
Atlanta. In New Orleans! And as the NFC Champion, the Falcons would get to practice at the NFC team's facility — the Saints' training facility. Some locals are haunted by thoughts of Atlanta players tweeting pictures of them yucking it up on Saints practice fields, or postulated about what our city would look like with the Atlanta Falcons logo plastered all over it — on the Superdome, hotels, billboards, flags that line our streets — in addition to waves of red-clad Falcons fans all over the city.
And that's just the days leading up to the game. What if the unthinkable happened? The sight of Falcons hoisting the Lombardi on our turf could be too much for Saints fans to endure this season.
Last week, fans who called into my radio show, The Sports Hangover, or took to social media were talking like it was a Saints game week. We hatched contingency plans for how to deal with the unimaginable. Super Bowl week would be Black and Gold week: Saints jerseys, colors, flags flapping on cars, the works. Super Bowl media day, now open to the public, would rival a Saints home game.
In many ways, last week was like the seven days leading up to that NFC Championship game in 2010. While Saints fans were confident their team could win, they'd be lying if they said there wasn't some nervousness as the game drew closer.
Ever since the hometown season came to an end Dec. 30 with a 44-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it's been pretty simple for Saints fans: "Anybody but Atlanta." It's a battle cry simple in its meaning — and deeply rooted in Black and Gold passion.
— Listen to Gus Kattengell's The Sports Hangover every weekday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on 106.1 FM "The Ticket."