Saints fans are well aware that their team is now only 2 more wins away from making another trip to the Super Bowl; but this upcoming Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff match-up at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis against the #2 seed Vikings has a much different meaning for the fans up in Minnesota.
That's because a rather large portion of Vikings fans haven't forgotten the last time that the two teams faced each other in the Playoffs, which was when the Saints defeated Minnesota 31-28 in the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome at the end of the 2009 season (Janauary 24, 2010), to advance to Super Bowl XLIV.
As most football fans are aware: the Saints won the 2009 NFC Championship that year on a field goal on the first possession of sudden-death overtime. The Vikings had advanced to New Orleans' 33-yard line with 19 seconds left in regulation and the score tied up at 28-28, but were penalized for having 12 men on the field before then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw an interception.
Afterward, some Vikings players accused Saints players of trying to knock Favre, then age 40, out of the game. Two years later in 2011, the NFL initiated the so called "Bountygate" investigation.
In 2012, the league ruled there was a system in place that paid Saints players bonuses for injuring opposing players. Coach Sean Payton and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who was fired) were both suspended for the 2012 season.
A sizable portion of Vikings fans are still pretty sour over the events of 8 years ago, and immediately after the Saints defeated Carolina 31-26 on Sunday night to officially make this coming Sunday's match-up official, Vikings fans have spent the past 48 hours on Social Media getting their fan-base stirred up for the upcoming contest.
On Facebook, Twitter, and all across the local Minneapolis sports scene (including this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which you can read by clicking HERE), Vikings fans are now getting themselves all wound up this week for a chance at "revenge".
— Big Takes (@Maiers_luke) January 8, 2018
Hey @Saints, prepare for a bloodbath Sunday. We haven't forgotten y'all play dirty and cheat #BountyGate to win. #Vikings fans don't want you here so don't feel welcome; You don't belong in the #BoldNorth. #DirtySaints #WhoDatNation #Skol
— Ryan Stegeman🗯 (@Rstegs) January 8, 2018
Which ironically is the very same "revenge" that they apparently couldn't manage to get in losses to the Saints since that time in the 2010, 2011, and 2014 regular seasons; or in their 2017 season-opening 29-19 win over the Saints back in Week #1.
This would be almost funny if Vikings fans weren't taking it so seriously, and yesterday the Vikings players and coaches themselves tried to distance themselves from such sentiment.
Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon told reporters that the only thing it gives the team with Vikings fans wanting revenge will be a decisive home-field advantage, if nothing else.
"If it gets our fans an extra reason to be that much louder, I'm for it," he said.
Sunday's game will actually mark the first time since that same 2009 NFC Championship game that the Vikings and the Saints have met up in the playoffs.
The only remaining players from the teams are Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees and punter Thomas Morstead.
"It will be more of a revenge game for the fans," Robison said to reporters yesterday, when asked about the "revenge" theme going around Minneapolis for the past day.
"That was eight years ago. There's very few guys on that team (remaining). There's only one on this team. Nobody here is going to remember that.
"I guess, in a way, yeah, you get an opportunity (for revenge), but we've got to treat it like any other game."
Robinson paused for a moment and then thought back to that January 2010 game at the Superdome that eventually led to the Saints' Super Bowl title win, but "heart break" for the Vikings and their passionate fans.
"I mean, you've seen the game,'' Robison said. "What were there, three or four personal fouls? So what do you think?''
Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright, who came to Minnesota in 2012, said he hears from fans that the Vikings have "a chance to get revenge." But he insisted the game eight years ago "means nothing" to the current players.
“I hear all the time that this is a ‘revenge game,’ that we get a chance to get revenge,” Wright said. “It means nothing to us. We just want to win a game. We’re just trying to go to the next level. We’re going to worry about just winning this game, and not worry about revenge, or whoever’s mad.”
"We just have to come out and play our game, regardless of who's mad at who for whatever reason".
Wright was then asked what he actually remembers about that 2009 NFC Championship Game (Wright was still a freshman at the University of Arkansas), and he said, "Just kind of they were out to hurt Favre."
The Saints were actually called for two personal fouls for roughing Favre, and had another for unnecessary roughness. Vikings radio analyst and former linebacker Ben Leber — who also played in that NFC Championship Game at the Superdome — said yesterday that he doesn't believe there was any malice on the part of the Saints.
"What's the one thing that you try to do to any quarterback, especially a guy that has limited mobility and is old? You try to hit him," Leber said.
"And because Favre was a little more stagnant, you had those opportunities for some later hits, some questionable hits. So, I had no issue with their approach. We tried to do the same thing to Drew, but Drew is a just little bit more elusive.
"I still even question some of the validity of the whole Bountygate stuff, even after all of these sort of ridiculous investigations. ... The NFL sort of botched that whole investigation. ... We did enough as a team to lose that game, more so than the Saints did to win that game. I look at it on us as missed opportunities.''
However, Leber isn't above "stirring up the pot" for Sunday's upcoming NFC Divisional Playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium, and yesterday he told St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Chris Tommason that he has received several text messages from former Saints players who were on the winning side of that 31-28 overtime game eight years ago at the Superdome.
"I was getting trash talk from some former Saints players," Leber said Monday. "I'm getting pumped up for this game."
Leber, who had five tackles in the epic defeat, wouldn't identify those who sent the messages except to say they were "prominent players" from the 2009 Super-Bowl winning team who had been invited to watch Sunday's victory over the Panthers at the Superdome.
Is Leber telling the truth? Or, is he simply trying to "add some more flavor" to this Sunday's game for his listeners?
Saints fans will have to make that determination for themselves, but it's unlikely that they'll be bothered with any talk about the events from 8 years ago or Vikings fans' unwillingness to simply move on from that fateful day.
This is still the "tail end" of the 2017 season; and one that Saints fans are hoping their Black and Gold heroes can punctuate with another run to a Super Bowl title.