The New Orleans Saints are on a mission to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in eleven seasons; they’ll face a familiar foe to start their quest.
In 2009, a 30-year-old quarterback named Drew Brees helped lead the Saints to a 31-17 upset over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, earning the game’s MVP Award. Now at age 41, Brees is well past his prime and yearns to set off into the sunset with another ring.
His first step will be to host the Chicago Bears at home as the No. 2 seed in the NFC after achieving a (12-4) regular season record.
New Orleans has seen Chicago earlier this season, a game where the Saints won on the road in overtime 26-23, and has sparred against them in the postseason just twice before this weekend.
In 1990, New Orleans made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history, and had a dominating defensive unit nicknamed the “Dome Patrol,” with perennial Pro Bowl linebackers in Vaughn Johnson, Sam Mills and Patrick Swilling, and future Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson.
The Saints entered as the No. 6 seed in the Wild Card Round and faced the No. 3 seeded Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
The problem for New Orleans was its lack of offensive firepower to go along with its mighty defense, as Chicago held on to win 16-6. It wasn’t too close of a game as the Bears jumped to a 10-0 lead, and traded field goals with the Saints for the rest of the contest.
That game defined the franchise up until their first playoff victory in 2000, a 31-28 thriller against the St. Louis Rams.
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Before that, the Saints faltered down the stretch and could never get over the hump to be true postseason contenders.
But in 2006, the franchise was reborn, metaphorically and physically, as the city of New Orleans and much of southern Louisiana recovered from a traumatic 2005 hurricane season.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region and left the Saints’ future in New Orleans up in the air, but the team rallied and turned around from (3-13) in 2005 to (10-6) in 2006.
The Saints squeaked by the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 at home for just the second playoff win in team history and made the NFC Championship for the first time ever.
And waiting for them were the Chicago Bears, who looked to end the Saints’ Cinderella season and advance to Super Bowl XLI. At Solder Field, Cinderella had her glass slipper stolen, crushed and broken as the Bears trounced the Saints 39-14.
Chicago earned a huge 16-0 lead, and then New Orleans made it 16-14 to get back into it and fight its way to the team’s first Super Bowl berth. But then the Bears scored 23 unanswered points to end the Saints’ stellar 2006 season.
It wasn’t a huge disappointment for the Saints, as they exceeded so many lowly expectations after their dismal 2005 campaign, and helped bring New Orleans back to life.
Now in 2020, Brees is still at quarterback who remembers both that feeling of emptiness in Chicago after the 2006 NFC Championship and the inevitable fact that Father Time is catching up to him.
2020 will more than likely be the end of Brees’ NFL career, and he would enjoy trying to defeat an old playoff demon in the Bears to close out his storied legacy.