NEW ORLEANS - They sure ain't the Aints anymore.
"Just helping my team get to Miami," said Hartley, who was suspended at the start of the season for using a banned stimulant. "Just doing my part."
Brett Favre threw away Minnesota's best chance to win, tossing an interception deep in New Orleans territory in the closing seconds of regulation. Then the Saints won the coin toss, and soon it was over.
"It was as loud as I have ever heard it in the dome," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "It feels so good to know we have given our fans an NFC championship. We have another championship to go after in two weeks."
The team that had no home five years ago after Hurricane Katrina ravaged its city and the Superdome overcame a slew of mistakes in the biggest game The Big Easy has ever seen.
"This is for everybody in this city," said coach Sean Payton, whose team will face the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV Feb. 7. "This stadium used to have holes in it and used to be wet. It's not wet anymore. This is for the city of New Orleans."
So it'll be Payton against Peyton - Manning - for the title. It's the first time the top seeds in each conference made it this far since the 1993 season. The Colts opened as four-point favorites.
"In reality, we had to lean on each other in order to survive and in order to get where we are now," Brees said. "The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways has come back better than ever. We've used the strength and resiliency of our fans to go out and play every Sunday and play with the confidence that we can do it, that we can achieve everything we've set out to achieve."
There were nine fumbles and two interceptions, and the biggest mistake belonged to Favre. Flushed from the pocket in the final minute of regulation, he seemed to have room to run to set up a field goal. But hampered by a left leg injured in the third quarter, he threw cross-field and was intercepted by Tracy Porter at the 22. That, along with Hartley's kick finished off Minnesota's chance for its first Super Bowl trip in 33 years.
The Vikings were undone by five turnovers, including three fumbles. "We really gave those guys the game," said running back Adrian Peterson, who scored three TDs and rushed for 122 yards. "Too many turnovers. It's eating me up inside."
"I've felt better," said Favre, who looked every bit his 40 years. "It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.
"I would have loved to represent the NFC," said Favre, who grew up in Mississippi a Saints fan. "But as I told Sean throughout the year when we talked, if it's not us, I hope it's you guys."