METAIRIE — Other than a couple of hours each day on the practice field, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson and strong safety Roman Harper won’t be seeing much of each other this week.
Even though they’ve been friends and teammates for the past six seasons, winning a Super Bowl together just two seasons ago, their allegiance to their respective colleges is taking precedence this week in the Saints locker room, weight room and cafeteria.
At noon Sunday, all will be forgotten, and they’ll be friends once again as they join forces to help the Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But Saturday night, after meetings are over, they’ll be glued to the TV sets in their rooms in the team hotel watching No. 1 LSU take on No. 2 Alabama in the biggest regular-season game in Southeastern Conference history.
“Me and Devery won’t talk all week,” Harper, who played for Alabama from 2002-05, said last week. “There will be nothing for us to talk about. It’s not necessary for us to talk that week.”
But Henderson, a standout at LSU for current Alabama coach Nick Saban from 2000-03, figures there will have to be some good-natured jawing going on based on their past history.
“We go back and forth as we get a little closer to the game,” a smiling Henderson said, “but we don’t go at each other like some other guys do.”
For the last few seasons, LSU had an edge in the Saints locker room as Henderson and former Tigers cornerback Randall Gay made sure to let Harper know all about their alma mater.
This season, the dynamics have changed. Gay was released before training camp and Harper has been joined by rookie running back Mark Ingram, who won the 2009 Heisman Trophy at Alabama.
Ingram has been dealing with a bruised heel that’s forced him to spend a lot of time in the training room, leaving Henderson and Harper to talk some trash if they choose to do so.
Henderson noted last week, however, that Harper and Ingram had been a little quiet about the game.
“I doubt if they’re nervous about it or anything,” said Henderson, who has made small friendly wagers with Harper in the past. “You know, we’re very confident about our teams, and I think it’s going to be a great game.
“I’m anxious to see what happens, but it’s going to be a good game. It’s a good rivalry, and for them to be No. 1 and No. 2 at this point, the game couldn’t come at a better time.”
At least he and Ingram have some bragging rights.
Henderson was 3-1 in four games against Alabama, while Ingram, who entered the NFL draft after his junior season, was 2-1 against LSU. Harper was 1-3 against the Tigers, salvaging a win in his senior season of 2005.
But Henderson, who was a freshman in 2000 when LSU ended a long drought and beat Alabama in Tiger Stadium for the first time since 1969, said the game has taken on a much greater meaning since he left.
“I don’t think I hated any team, but the team we really liked to get after all the time was probably Ole Miss,” he said. “Maybe Florida and Auburn here and there, but it was Ole Miss when I played.
“Now,” Henderson said with a laugh, “I think those (LSU) guys would probably say Alabama.”
Harper, who didn’t play for Saban, saw things a little differently. He said the rivalry started to brew even before Saban made his way to Tuscaloosa following a two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins.
“I know that (former Alabama) coach (Dennis) Franchione and coach Saban almost got into a fight one time after a game, so I do remember that distinctly,” Harper said.
Henderson pointed to Saban’s hiring by Alabama in January 2007 as the thing that caused the temperature to rise a few degrees for the annual meeting of the two SEC Western Division teams.
“It’s a team we see every year, but you know, we can’t be mad at (Saban) for that,” he said. “Looking at the big picture and everything, you can’t be mad. He’s a great guy, great coach, and Les is a great guy and great coach.”
Harper said it’s the fans, not the players, who’ve made it the rivalry that will culminate with the showdown on Saturday night.
“Now that both teams are extremely good, and now that we have Saban, all the LSU fans seem to be mad like we took (him) from them,” he said. “It sounds like just a sad ex to me, and we got the new girlfriend.”