METAIRIE, La. (AP) — When Randall Gay saw middle-aged men exchange tearful embraces in the Louisiana Superdome, he could relate.
Gay grew up in Brusly, near Baton Rouge, in a home of Saints fans. Just about all his relatives loved the Saints, his friends loved the Saints, and so did he.
"When you get accustomed to something, which, everybody around here is accustomed to losing, you really get accustomed to it, so you never think it's going to change," Gay said, talking about Saints fans' reaction to reaching the Super Bowl. "It just shows the passion and how people really love this team and what they've been through all these years."
After playing in two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and winning one, Gay joined the Saints as a free agent in 2008 — but not without loved ones — even the die-hard Saints fans — trying to warn him about what he might be getting himself into.
"Coming home, people were like, 'You know, the Saints don't go to the playoffs,'" he recalled. "I was like, 'I've been in the playoffs every year.' They're like, 'You're not going no more.'"
Gay is one of three Louisiana natives who are regulars with what is now the greatest Saints team in the club's 43-year history, along with wide receiver Devery Henderson and cornerback Tracy Porter.
Two players on the practice squad, defensive tackle Marlon Favorite and defensive back Greg Fassitt, grew up in the New Orleans area.
As kids, they all saw embarrassed fans wearing grocery bags on their heads in the Superdome. They heard about how the lovable losers from New Orleans wouldn't win the Super Bowl until hell froze over.
As a kid in Port Allen, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Porter watched the Saints every fall Sunday. There were times while throwing the ball around outside that he imagined he was helping them win it all.
"You can always pretend," Porter said. "I wanted to envision myself ... helping the Saints reach the Super Bowl."
Then last Sunday, there was Porter wearing black-and-gold, on the floor of a raucous Superdome, intercepting Brett Favre in the final minute of regulation and rewriting what looked like the latest chapter in a tome full of Saints' heartbreak.
"To have that happen is unbelievable," Porter said. "It was big because not only was I playing, but because of the Saints."
Henderson caught a touchdown pass in the 31-28 overtime win.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Henderson said. "For a guy like me from the state, from LSU, always kind of been around watching the Saints, it's still kind of unbelievable, but it is reality. It's reality, so I've got to approach it that way and play my heart out."
Henderson, Gay and Favorite all won national titles with LSU, a team that hadn't won a national title since 1958 before Nick Saban arrived in 2000 and turned the program around. Saban's 2003 team won it all with Henderson and Gay, then Miles took over in '05 and his '07 team won with Favorite.
"What are the odds of this happening?" Favorite said, referring to himself, Henderson and Gay. "Being in the same state, winning a national championship with LSU, and then being in the Super Bowl with the Saints."
Favorite, a rookie, bounced around four other NFL teams this season.
Before the Saints picked him up, he was recording music under the stage name Big Fav with his hip-hop group, Black Vynm, which has gotten some local radio play.
He wrote some lyrics about the Saints 13-0 start, which led to the franchise's first No. 1 playoff seeding.
The opening verses went:
Who dat say they gonna' beat them Saints.
The who dat nation is in this place
Patrolling like an officer, you better get up off of us
It's Domeland security and gonna' be costing ya'
Blow the whistle. So official.
Our screaming fans. The 12th man.
Soon after, he got the call to join the Saints, who this week were given game jerseys with a Super Bowl patch sewn just below the left shoulder.
"To see that Super Bowl patch (on a Saints jersey), I'm still in awe right now," he said.
Gay, who has already won a Super Bowl with New England, was a little less awe-struck, but no less emotional about what it would mean to help bring a championship to the people with whom he grew up — people who never thought they'd even see the day when the Saints made it this far.
"I've won a Super Bowl and this one is that much more important, being a Louisiana guy," Gay said. "Born here, lived here my whole life, going to live here 'til I die. So I want to win this one real bad."
On the Net, a link to Favorite's song about the Saints: