NEW ORLEANS — In New Orleans, it's not just players and coaches who party on the field after a win in the NFC championship game. The nuns get down and bask in the glow, too.
Sister Mary Rose, a teacher at Cathedral Academy in the French Quarter, stood outside the Saints' locker room with her full habit still neatly in order after rushing from her seat into the pandemonium and black and gold confetti that fell from the top of the Superdome following the Saints' 31-28 overtime victory over the Vikings. She laughed in near disbelief thinking about the next two weeks leading up to a Super Bowl meeting with the Colts.
"We live in the French Quarter and we won't be sleeping for two weeks because of the noise," she said.
Perhaps Brett Favre can steer her toward a more useful set of ear plugs than the ones he and the Vikings used to try to drown out a determined, passionate and eardrum-shattering collection of fans Sunday.
The record crowd of 71,276 dealt with ups and downs, roaring until the very end and helping to create confusion for the Minnesota offense before really erupting when Garrett Hartley booted the game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime.
Hartley had missed a potential game-winner from 38 yards out vs. the Buccaneers in Week 16, but Saints WR Devery Henderson said the team didn't lose faith in him.
"Quarterbacks don't always make the perfect throw," he said. "We don't always make the catch. You live and you learn. I'm pretty sure (missing that kick vs. Tampa Bay) hurt him and he never wanted to feel that again. We had all the confidence in him in this kick and we knew if everything (with the snap) went right, he would nail it."
The kick was a thing of beauty in a contest that was not easy on the eyes for much of the time. The Vikings fumbled six times, losing three of them. QB Drew Brees was uncharacteristically inaccurate. RB Reggie Bush, who muffed a punt that was recovered by Minnesota inside the Saints' 10-yard line, called it the toughest game he has ever played.
But it was fitting. In a town where imperfections, a little grime and a grind-it-out attitude are welcomed, New Orleans was just fine with this kind of ugly.
"There's a great sense of accountability man-to-man in this locker room," said Pro Bowl ORT Jon Stinchcomb. "I don't think you can come across that team spirit in a professional level that's stronger than what we have here. Every time we get in that huddle, we look in each man's eye and we know that he's playing for you. I think that's really what makes this team so special."
This franchise has never made it this far in its 43-year history. Brees recounted just how far the city and the Saints have come in the four-plus years since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.
"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 where we are now," Brees said. "This city is on its way to recovery and in a lot of ways it's back better than ever."
A Super Bowl berth would have meant a lot in Minnesota, as it would in any NFL town. New Orleans would have kept on rebuilding, even in defeat, but there's no denying that it means more here. Tears of joy fell from some fans' eyes Sunday night after Hartley's clutch kick in the same building where rain fell on those who were packed into the crumbling dome, seeking shelter from Katrina.
"Four years ago there were holes in this roof," head coach Sean Payton said. "The fans in this city and this region deserve (this win)."
There's a love affair here between the team and the fans, and it's genuine. Just about every player went out of his way to reach out and show appreciation for the support.
"To all the people of New Orleans, we love you, we thank you and I'm proud to represent you in the Super Bowl," said LB Scott Fujita, who had a key fumble recovery at New Orleans' 10-yard line late in the first half. "It's amazing."
It's hard to imagine a more profound moment and wilder celebration than the one that began Sunday night in New Orleans, but there's still one more game to win for this group to achieve its ultimate goal.
"Walking around the street, (people just say) thank you for bringing life back into the city," FS Darren Sharper said. "Now we got one more game to bring a lot more life to the city."
Try as they might, the Saints just can't do that, even with a win over Indianapolis. This city couldn't be more alive.