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QBREES9 01-23-2010 09:05 PM

Saints safety Darren Sharper is a hazard for Vikes
NEW ORLEANS -- During his final meeting with reporters Friday before a hugely anticipated NFL weekend, Saints coach Sean Payton summed up perfectly the importance of the four quarterbacks in each of Sunday's two conference championship games.

``They can fly you safely to your destination,'' Payton said. ``Or they can take you right into a mountain.''

In this case, as Vikings quarterback Brett Favre attempts to pilot his plane toward the South Florida runways where Super Bowl XLIV will be played in two weeks, the veteran will need to avoid one very familiar, very dangerous peak along his route.

Watch out for Mount Sharper.

Saints safety Darren Sharper, who spent eight of his 13 NFL seasons playing with Favre in Green Bay, has the potential to become the day's biggest story if the playmaker can cause his usual disruptions after Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff.

Much like Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis will target Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Sharper will be the man most capable of doing the same to Favre. This could be an epic matchup between two of the game's best.

``He's come up with a number of big plays to help us win games,'' Payton said. ``Certainly an important part of what we do.''

Dolphins' fans should be very familiar with Sharper already. It was Sharper who pulled the Saints to within seven points after Miami jumped out to a 21-point lead in October.

When a pass from quarterback Chad Henne bounced off Ted Ginn Jr.'s hands, Sharper somehow came up with the football and returned it for a momentum-changing (and perhaps even season-altering) touchdown.

``Darren Sharper has been the mainstay in our secondary,'' Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. ``He started off real hot early in the season and got hurt a little bit in the middle of the season, and he's right back to where he left off. It's great to have him.''

As if he needed it, Sharper's stage will be even brighter for many other reasons. He played for the Vikings for the past four seasons until Minnesota decided against re-signing him in favor of its young safeties.

Believing he was too old -- and getting only one interception out of him last season -- the Vikings moved on. So did Sharper. He signed with the Saints, and he's having one of the best years of his career.


Sharper has no ill feelings toward the Vikings, but his nine interceptions this season might be causing some regrets within the Vikings' team offices -- especially if the player they let go happens to be the player who spoils their season.

``I was a guy who was a free agent, so of course you are going to play the rookie, who played well when he played with me last year,'' Sharper said. ``So it was kind of an easy transition.''

Then, of course, there's his relationship with Favre. Not only is Sharper familiar with the rest of the Vikings, he is also familiar with their quarterback. Nobody could possibly be more familiar with this team than Sharper.


That's the biggest reason this has the potential to be a major game for a player who is tied with Ronnie Lott for sixth on the all-time interception list. Sharper, with 63 interceptions, is the league's active leader. And he no longer appears to be slowing down at all.

Paul Krause leads the all-time list with 81 interceptions.

``I see Darren and, I mean, he looks as good physically as he's ever looked,'' Favre said. ``His instincts, those are the things you can't coach. He makes a lot of plays.''

If he can make a few more of those plays Sunday, Favre might be wishing he had his old teammate back on the same sideline. The Vikings might also be wishing the same.

``You're playing against someone that you know, so it's always going to be extra motivation,'' Sharper said. ``You want to beat them because you know the guy that is right across from you.''

So watch out, Favre. Mount Sharper is within your sights.

Saints safety Darren Sharper is a hazard for Vikes - Miami Dolphins & NFL -

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