Saints and the Halas Trophy saga

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Late on the night of Jan. 24, 2010, in overtime, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley split the Superdome uprights with a field goal that sent the longtime lovable losers, the New Orleans Saints, to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. There, they face and, ultimately, defeat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts setting off Lombardi Gras in New Orleans.

As a member of the media, you are constantly reminded that cheering is not allowed in the press box. And throughout that game, through so many twists and turns, both the visiting Vikings press corps and the hometown press had done their best. So as Hartley was getting ready to kick, the Dome and the press box was eerily quiet. It was as quiet as it can be loud. As if in a dream, I turned to whoever was next to me at this point and asked, “So if he makes the kick, the Saints are in the Super Bowl?” “Yes, I think so,” was the disbelieving man’s response.

The kick went up and through the uprights, yet that silence remained as 70,000 Who Dats thought or asked aloud, “Really?” Then, as if we were all were answered at the exact moment, the Superdome erupted with cheers, cries, music and prayers aloud. The Saints were going to the Super Bowl!

My hand pounded the counter in front of me just to the right of my computer. I looked up sheepishly ready to apologize when Vikings media members told us it was okay to cheer. Those of us still in the press box stood and cheered, hugged anyone and everyone. I saw men crying before I realized I was, too! I DID NOT care!

I don’t remember how I got to the press conferences or what anyone said. It is all a merry blur.

About an hour after the game, I was on the field collecting black and gold confetti in a bag and then headed to Sean Payton’s celebration party in a tent under the stands. My friend, John Pollard, who manages a database of statistics that most sports fans don’t know exist, and I were joined by CBS Sports announcer and all around nice lady, Lesley Visser. The NFC Championship’s George Halas Trophy, which the team had accepted to much fanfare a short time ago, was being passed around and everyone was taking pictures with it.

Within half an hour of my arrival, the party was moving on. It seemed everyone was throwing one and I accepted an invite to one at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. John and Lesley were headed there too. But then the night took a legendary, at least for us detour.

We gathered up our stuff and I grabbed my bag on confetti and just as we started to leave the tent, Lesley asked John and me what we should do with this? This was the Halas Trophy!

The Saints executives had all left. Most of stadium security had left. We had the trophy and, God as my witness, had no idea what to do or who to give it to. While they had made so many plans to get the team to their first Super Bowl and Superdome security had planned so there’d be no riot, no plan was in place to secure the trophy.

Let me tell you, as cool as it seems, we didn’t want the responsibility or risk being accused of trying to steal it, though taking it home for the night crossed my mind a few times. Nobody at the Dome wanted that responsibility, either. Eventually, we asked a security guard to radio the highest ranking security staffer still there. He came, we gave him the trophy and sprinted to Lesley’s black Lincoln town car and her driver.

It seemed like two million people had suddenly arrived in town and it took us half an hour to get out of the Superdome and onto Poydras Street, by now part parking lot, part pedestrian mall and very much a dance floor. Our driver turned to us and asked, “You folks want to get there now, right? Yes,” we said in unison. “Okay, I am gonna’ get you there. Hang on!”

Before we knew what to do, he drove onto the sidewalk on Poydras Street, which oddly was much more empty than the shoulder to shoulder hysteria of the street. “Sidewalk is always faster,” he shouted between blowing the horn and shouting to those few on the sidewalk to get out of our way. And, oddly, they did.

We arrived at the lobby of The Loews Hotel, too stunned to say much, and headed into a party that I didn’t leave until 4 a.m. … and I don’t drink!

Just inside the Saints facility on Airline Drive, is a little museum of Saints memorabilia. Of course, the primary tenets of New Orleans Saints history is in the Saints Hall of Fame Museum in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It is a great visit and treat, one you should make sure you visit.

When entering the front entrance to the Saints facility, the first thing you encounter is the Halas Trophy, my Halas Trophy. Every time I see it, I burst out in laughter and then, via my memory, back to that night when the dreams of so many came true.

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