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Saints' Vilma wanted to face pals on Jets

Jonathan Vilma #51 of the New Orleans Saints

Jonathan Vilma #51 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates as he walks off the field after their 45-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals. (January 16, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

MIAMI - The memories are good ones for Jonathan Vilma. He sat there with the "C" and four stars on his New Orleans Saints jersey, talking about the way it was not very long ago with the Jets.

This is home for Vilma, where he grew up, where he graduated from the University of Miami. And Sunday, this is where at age 27, he will face the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

He's made it. The Saints have made it. The only way it might have been better were if the Jets had made it, if the Jets had beaten the Colts, and not vice versa, and come in to play the Saints.

"I was hoping that," said Vilma, "but not for bad reasons. I still have a lot of friends with the Jets, being with those guys only two years ago. I felt like they were playing real good ball at the end, good defense especially. I would have been excited for them."

Vilma was the Jets' first pick in the 2004 draft, No. 12 overall, a linebacker of speed and agility who was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. But fate and philosophy conspired against him, not necessarily in that order.

Eric Mangini's arrival as coach in 2006 meant switching from a 4-3 defense, where Vilma's skills as middle linebacker were best utilized, to a 3-4, where they were not. Then in October 2007, Vilma tore up his knee. Four months later, he was sent to the Saints.

"I just felt it was part of the business," Vilma said about leaving the Jets. "It was a situation where I didn't fit the system, whatever anyone could speculate. It didn't really bother me because I knew I was coming [to New Orleans]. I was wanted down here, and I was coming to a situation that was good. But I had a real good time up in New York."

Vilma's parents emigrated from Haiti in the 1970s. He has been active in the post-earthquake relief effort, raising money with sales of a T-shirt on which is written: "Department of Domeland Security," linking the U.S. agency and the Saints' covered stadium.

"That was my idea," he said immodestly. "The saying, the logo, everything about the shirt . . . It was something I felt like we needed, and it really helped [the proceeds] going to the Haiti relief effort. I can't do anything else besides that at the moment."

Vilma and tight end Jeremy Shockey have had parallel experiences. They were teammates at Miami, went to NFL franchises in New York - Shockey, of course, with the Giants - were injured and then were sent to New Orleans.

"He got hurt," Vilma said. "I got hurt. He got traded. I got traded. And we've been making the most of it since. It felt like we were a little slighted. I know that he had more controversy coming from New York. We won a national championship at Miami, and when we said, 'We're back at it again.' But it's only special if you win."

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