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Payton Saint

confetti showering down adulation in the Superdome.

For a change, joy flooded a city that water once did, and this time tears were in celebration not fear.

As you could tell afterward, the former Cowboys assistant coach had become overwhelmed in victory. Emotion kept choking back his measured words.

"It's hard to come up here and talk about the significance of that group of guys in the locker room and the significance of this win," Payton began. The best he could do a few minutes later when trying to put the victory into perspective was "Four years ago, there were holes in this (Superdome) roof . . . ."

His quarterback bailed him out. Drew Brees, the guy Payton took a chance on in 2006, coming off the shoulder surgery that scared away his San Diego Chargers and then Miami suitors, had this to say Sunday night of the momentous victory:

"It's unbelievable. I think you can draw so many parallels between our team and our city, but in reality we kind of leaned on each other in order to survive and in order to get to where we are now. The city is on its way to recovery and in a lot of ways it's back better than ever. For us as a team, we use the strength and resilience of our fans."

The Saints - Payton - sure did. Because if you remember, after that first season when Payton took the Saints to the NFC title game, the genesis for the book Patron Saint, written about what he did for the organization that initial season even though they wound up losing in the playoffs to Chicago, that miraculous coming-back season turned into 7-9 and 8-8 the next two years.

There was nothing to suggest any of this heading to training camp '09.

That is, not until reeling off 13 consecutive wins to start the season, that drive for regular-season perfection interrupted by the very same Cowboys who allowed Payton to make a name for himself as an offensive play-caller with head-coaching qualities. Yes, the Cowboys won that Saturday night, 24-17, but after experiencing the fourth-quarter bedlam when the Saints cut a 24-3 lead to 24-17 and driving, you just felt in your soul this was no place to return for a playoff game.

Sometimes your instincts know best.

Because as dominant as everyone claimed the Vikings were in the second-round 34-3 victory over the Cowboys, they, as the Cowboys did, found out how difficult it truly is to win on the road in the playoffs. The Vikings, who sacked Romo six times and hurried him another 10 playing in their friendly noise tunnel, would only sack Saints quarterback Drew Brees once.

And their own guy, the 40-year-old Brett Favre, took a merciless beating. Yeah, he wasn't sacked a single time, but I'm told by those witnessing him in the locker room, his body looked like one big welt from the number of times the Saints pummeled him just as or immediately after throwing the ball.

My gosh, a normal man would have waved a white flag. So don't come in here with some weak stuff about Favre turning into the same old Favre at game's end because of that interception. Without him, Minnesota doesn't even come close to sending this game into overtime, much less even make the playoffs.

And by the way, why the heck did the Vikings have 12 guys in the huddle, pushing them back to the 38 before the pick in the final seconds of regulation anyway? What, too much noise? Couldn't hear? The somewhat arrogant head coach had brain lock? You tell me. Payback is hell.

The road in the playoffs does matter.

And when that NFL road ends up between Poydras and Girod, where on Aug. 29, 2005, tens of thousands were forced to take what little refuge the Superdome afforded, it really matters. Understand most of those causing this place to shake for all the right reasons once again, and I'm told more so than in the fourth quarter of that Cowboys game, were left with only their souls intact after Katrina. That, and maybe their Saints.

The Vikings paid the price.

Maybe even if you consider all those strange fumbles, The Interception and nary one of the reviewed plays in overtime going against the Saints, somehow 42 years of these people's Black and Gold frustration was evened up all in one glorious night.

After all, and oftentimes these mysterious happenings take some time, but the NFL did grant this city its franchise late in 1966, on Nov.

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