Favre's hometown is torn this week
KILN, Miss. -- Until about six weeks ago, Brett Favre fan Albert Necaise never would have guessed a New Orleans Saints versus Minnesota Vikings matchup in the NFL playoffs would be possible. Both teams had enjoyed undefeated starts through Week 6 this season and looked to be the class of the NFC, but Necaise figured something -- anything -- would prevent the two franchises that divide his household and community from meeting when it matters most. Yes, he thought, a Saints-Vikings NFC Championship Game would never happen.
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Necaise found himself in a playful argument about that very game -- now a reality -- with his fiancée, Ninon Peterson. In the kitchen of their brick home off a red-dirt driveway in northwest Kiln, the couple disagreed about which team, come Sunday night, will be the NFC's representative in this year's Super Bowl: his Vikings or her Saints. No words were spared.
"I think it's going to be 34-14, 31-14, something like that," Necaise said, leaning on a gray countertop. "If Jared Allen and [Ray] Edwards play their ballgame, [Drew] Brees will get rattled."
"If Brett starts getting nervous, he's going to start throwing that ball away!" said Peterson, wearing a black No. 9 Brees jersey, her voice rising with each word. "Because Brees, he'll just look back. You'll see! He won't get nervous. Brett will be throwing the ball away!"
This week, Necaise and Peterson represent a house divided in Favre's hometown. On any other weekend during the NFL season, this sleepy community of a little more than 2,000 residents about an hour northeast of New Orleans is a haven for Favre fans and those who value the legendary quarterback's contribution to the league. But this NFC Championship Game -- and the choice between hometown roots or "Who dat?" loyalty -- has pitted friends and family against one another.
In January 1997, Kiln -- known by locals as "The Kill" -- became synonymous with Favre's first Super Bowl victory. Before Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans, hordes of NFL fans -- estimates run as high as 3,000 -- descended upon Kiln and turned it into a mini Mardi Gras before Favre led the Green Bay Packers to victory over the New England Patriots.
During the revelry, Necaise and Peterson met. Earlier, Necaise had killed a 300-pound boar and sought four ovens to roast each quarter of the hog for a Super Bowl party. Through a family connection, Peterson helped Necaise prepare one of the thick pieces of meat. They began to chat. Soon, the two started dating. Since July 1999, they have been engaged.
Necaise was born and raised in Kiln, and he considers his Favre ties very strong. Favre's father, Irvin, coached Necaise at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, where Necaise played left guard and noseguard from 1973 to 1976. As an underclassman, Necaise remembers a young Favre, no older than 5, wandering around the locker room with the older players, dreaming of the day when he would make a name of his own.
Necaise watched Favre grow into a legend, and remains true to whatever team he leads. Necaise calls Favre a "homeboy," and considers him a friend. This week, Necaise has dressed in wolverine and silver fox skins and has been walking with a 48-inch wooden stick -- his "rompin' stompin' stick" -- to resemble a Viking. When Saints fans start their "Who dat?" chant, he responds: "Kiln who? Kiln who? Kiln dat! Kiln dat! Go Vikings!"
"You just as well put your pistols on," Necaise said. "We are going to have a gun-slingin' shootout in Kiln this week."
Peterson presses on. Before high school, she moved to Kiln from Chalmette, La., and she considers this season the Saints' time. She is a Favre fan and has backed him through the years, but she said New Orleans' 43-year Super Bowl drought is long past due to end. She has called Necaise crazy for dressing up like a Viking, but considers his act in good fun if New Orleans wins. "Brett has been there," she said. "For the Saints, it has been how long? So I think it's time for them."
Estimates vary on the ratio of Minnesota fans to New Orleans fans in Kiln this week. Most residents agree it is either split down the middle or slightly favors the Vikings because of Favre. Many in town are calling the NFC Championship Game a win-win situation because they will have a rooting interest in the Super Bowl no matter which team prevails.
Some people who usually pull for the Saints have switched allegiances because of Favre's hometown connection. Others said they are standing firm with the black and gold despite having their local hero on the opposing sideline. "Aw, s---. We're already in the Super Bowl down here," said Stevie Haas, owner of the town's popular watering hole, The Broke Spoke, where Haas estimates 400 to 500 people will watch the game this Sunday, compared with the 60 to 70 people they typically get on a regular-season Sunday. "It's a no-loss situation here. We're already in the Super Bowl. I'm pulling for Brett and Minnesota, but if the Saints win, that's good for me, too, because I've been a Saints fan all my life."
Said Tim Ladner, who played center at Hancock North Central with Favre from 1984 to 1986: "I'm glad [Favre] made it, but he has a ring, and I've been a Saints fan for years. I mean, for years, man."
Because of his Minnesota loyalties, Necaise said he has received a fare share of ribbing from his fiancée and other Saints fans. On his cell phone, he saved a voice mail from Ladner that says: "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat? Who dat? Not Brett Favre!"
Necaise said he understands New Orleans fans' case that the Saints have enjoyed a special season and that it's their turn, after years of hardship, to savor a Super Bowl. But sooner or later, he said, Favre will retire. He said this is Favre's time too.
Necaise's loyalty to Favre also relates to Gulf Coast Mississippi values. Necaise said family ties in this area, many of which trace back to France, bind generations. In Kiln, he said, everyone is family, and family protects its own. In Kiln, he said, your word is your honor, and he considers Favre to have been raised that way.
"Brett gives our community hope," said Victor Antunica, Peterson's brother, who has lived in Kiln for about 32 years and watched Favre play high school football. "Yes, he worked very hard getting to where he's got. It wasn't just handed to him. He worked really hard at it. It just gives our little community hope, like the Saints do for the city of New Orleans."
That is why, when Necaise and Peterson watch the NFC Championship Game together Sunday night at The Broke Spoke, the experience will be more of a celebration than a slugfest. After the game, Saints and Vikings (Favre) fans will return to cutting up over beers on a dusty ledge. They will laugh. They will know full well that a small Gulf Coast town made bright by a star native son will rise again.
After all, the Super Bowl is only 16 days away.
"If Brett goes, the homeboy goes," Necaise said. "If the Saints go, it's the home team. We still go to the Super Bowl."
Andrew Astleford is a freelance writer. Check out his Web site at AndrewAstleford.com.
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