By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - The last time the New Orleans Saints played at their home venue, the Louisiana Superdome, they won the NFC championship after battering and bruising Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

On Thursday, the Super Bowl champions return to action and, in the perfect piece of scriptwriting from the league's schedule-makers, they face a vengeful Vikings club and a 40-year-old Favre looking to restore more than just pride.

It is the perfect opening night - a packed stadium watching their hometown heroes and still basking in being the nation's 'feel good story' after their rise from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.

In Favre, the Saints will face a graying, veteran quarterback who simply cannot say goodbye to the game. Favre, who hails from nearly Mississippi, won a Super Bowl at the Superdome back in 1997 when he led the Green Bay Packers to a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots.

But he clearly burns with the desire for one more success.

Despite his exceptional ability, Favre's Packers never managed another Super Bowl appearance, his one season with the New York Jets was disappointing and last year, he got so near, yet so far.

The Vikings fell at the final hurdle as Favre threw an overtime interception that put the Saints in position for a game-winning field goal.

Favre had taken a number of hits during that game - some of them of a questionable nature - but he has been wary of fuelling too much of a discussion of that night's events.

"It's football. If you're able to get the opposing quarterbacks out, are there cheap hits that happen occasionally? In every game," he said.

"The ones on the quarterback are more obvious, people see them."

Favre was hit or floored 16 times by the Saints' blitzing defense and had to receive medical attention for an ankle injury in the third quarter. Two members of the New Orleans defense were later fined by the league.


"Yes, I would have to say that, yes," he said, when asked by reporters, this weekend.

Saints defensive tackle Remi Ayodele, who was part of the hit that injured Favre's ankle, denied the charge.

"A lot of people think our intent was to hurt Brett but, nah, it was just a physical game," he said. "If you watch all of our games, no matter who the quarterback is, we try to put a hit on whomever (it is).

"It's not like we're trying to hurt him. It's kind of a 'remember me' shot, that we'll be coming all day. That's what it was."

There is more than just the usual mind-games involved in this particular rematch, however. Favre's ankle required surgery during the off-season and he has taken injections for the injury during the pre-season.

But, even if Favre grew up just down the road, the partisan home crowd will have little sympathy for him, or his 'final fling' at a second Super Bowl success.

It took 43 years for the Vince Lombardi Trophy to be won by a franchise that during their woeful years earned the moniker, the 'New Orleans Aints'.

The long wait for glory ended with victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Miami in February but bragging rights in the NFL, do not last long.

If they lose on Thursday and the Saints will have lost some of their swagger.

And Brett Favre will start to dream again.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)