Mickles: NFC game has N.O. fans in quandary

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU --  New Orleans Saints fans cheer the Saints' 28-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- New Orleans Saints fans cheer the Saints' 28-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

By SHELDON MICKLES

Advocate sportswriter

OK, New Orleans Saints fans.

If you thought the crazy 2012 season, which began with three key members of the organization suspended and ended with your team out of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, was bad, think again.

It’s going to get a lot worse this weekend.

Here’s the conundrum you’ve been facing since the NFC Divisional Playoff round concluded Sunday and have, more than likely, been dreading for awhile.

With Super Bowl XLVII being played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in two weeks, who do you root for in the NFC Championship game — the hated Dirty Birds from Atlanta, for whom there is no love lost in the Big Easy, or San Francisco 49ers, an old nemesis from the 1980s and ’90s?

For many Saints’ fans who have been pondering this for days, it’s a case of going with the lesser of two evils.

It’s a tough call, to be sure.

But like it or not, one of the them — the Falcons or 49ers — will represent the NFC against the New England Patriots or Baltimore Ravens, who’ll play for AFC supremacy and the other berth in the Super Bowl.

In addition to reaching the Super Bowl, the Falcons or 49ers will use the Saints training facility in Metairie for their daily practices.

It’s much too much for Who Dat fans to fathom after the season they just experienced, especially since they have a serious dislike for both franchises.

The Falcons, who joined the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1966 — one year before the Saints — have always been bitter rivals from Day One because of the proximity of the cities.

Their twice-yearly battles as members of the NFC West from 1970-2001 and NFC South since 2002 are legendary in a series the Falcons lead, 46-41, despite the Saints holding an 11-3 edge since 2006.

Former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton experienced both sides of it after signing with the Saints this winter.

“When I was with the Falcons, I hated the Saints. … Now that I’m with the Saints, I hate the Falcons,” Lofton said before they met in November. “Both these cities hate each other and there’s no love lost.”

Bobby Hebert, who also played for both teams, thinks younger Saints fans will be rooting against the Falcons. On the other hand, he said the older generation of Saints fans don’t want to see the 49ers here.

The reason is the mighty Niners were 9-3 from 1987-92 against the Saints after they finally became consistent winners under Jim Mora.

The old 49ers always seemed to break the Saints’ hearts when it counted, like the 2011 divisional playoff game, won by the 49ers on a last-seconds touchdown.

“Some fans have told me that to make it disappointing, let the Falcons beat the 49ers and lose in the Super Bowl — have them choke again,” Hebert said of the Falcons’ loss in Super Bowl XXXIII. “That’s their approach.”

One will get here, sure, but there’s always a chance the AFC team will win. Right?