Playing the opening game of a new NFL season is reason enough to be excited, but getting to play it in historic Lambeau Field is an even bigger treat for the New Orleans Saints.
While they would like to have played in the Superdome, as they did last season as Super Bowl XLIV champions, the Saints are looking forward to Thursday night’s regular-season opener against the reigning champs: the Green Bay Packers.
In addition to being sort of a mini-Super Bowl, part of the allure of playing the Packers in Lambeau is it takes on a college campus atmosphere being nestled next to a neighborhood with tree-lined streets.
“I think it’s one of the best road venues though to experience for fans,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who interviewed for the Packers coaching job in 2006. “This is one of those venues where there’s such a great appreciation and history for the game.
“The best way to describe it as you drive into the stadium, it’s a lot like you’re arriving at a Big Ten stadium in a neighborhood,” said Payton, who grew up in the Chicago area. “It could be Iowa or Illinois, but it has that type of feel when you arrive there. When you study the history of the team and the history of Lambeau Field, there’s none other like it in our league.”
Saints linebacker Scott Shanle, who played at Nebraska, agreed.
“There’s so much great football that has been played there and so many memories,” he said. “Every time you turn on the TV there are memories of the top games in the NFL, and a lot of them take place in that stadium. So that’s cool. … It’s a special place to play.”
A quarterback rarity
The Saints-Packers game will not only match the past two Super Bowl winners, it will also feature the most valuable player from those games: Saints quarterback Drew Brees and counterpart Aaron Rodgers.
It will mark only the fifth time in NFL history — and the first since 1993 — that Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterbacks have opposed each other in a regular-season game.
The others were Len Dawson and Joe Namath in 1974, Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett (1982), Phil Simms and Zachary native Doug Williams (1988) and Troy Aikman and Mark Rypien (1993).
Moore to sit out
Both teams issued their final injury report Wednesday, and it was no surprise to find that Saints wide receiver Lance Moore will be held out of the game.
Moore suffered a groin injury two weeks ago and hasn’t practiced much since then, missing Monday and Tuesday’s work as well as Wednesday’s light walkthrough.
Kicker Garrett Hartley (hip) also will not play against the Packers and will likely miss several more games. Wide receiver Adrian Arrington (knee) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson (calf) are questionable.
For the Packers, linebacker Frank Zombo (shoulder) and cornerback Davon House (ankle) are out; and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) is questionable. Tight end Jermichael Finley (ankle) is probable.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy opened his memory bank for a few minutes this week when he was asked about his five years as the Saints offensive coordinator from 2000-04 under Jim Haslett.
“I thought I grew a lot as a person and as a football coach in my time down in New Orleans,” McCarthy said. “When I look back on past experiences, organizations where I’ve had the opportunity to work, the first things you think about are the people and the relationships that you had.
“The Gulf Coast region, I think it’s a unique area, blue-collar people, and it’s something that I enjoyed personally,” he said, also mentioning owner Tom Benson and General Manager Mickey Loomis. “It’s a place where I was given an opportunity to really grow as a coach.”
Saints running back Pierre Thomas will likely get the start tonight, which is good news for him because he’s healthy after missing 10 regular-season games and a playoff game with an ankle injury a year ago.
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait,” a wide-eyed Thomas said when asked if he was ready. “I’ve been waiting too long to get back out there and get back on that field. Last year was devastating for me. I hate being out and not being able to help my teammates, so I can’t wait for this game.”
The Saints are 9-15 against reigning Super Bowl champions. Their record includes two wins in 2000 — one in an NFC wild-card game — over the Super Bowl XLIV champion St. Louis Rams. … Payton is 0-2 against Super Bowl champs, falling to Pittsburgh (38-31) in 2006 and Indianapolis (41-10) in the 2007 Thursday night season opener. … Deuce McAllister will represent the Saints in a pregame ceremony in which a former player from each franchise will hold his team’s flag while forming a chute at each end of the field. The flags will later be displayed at each team’s home stadium.