<span>Sitting quietly at his locker, Roman Harper eyed his buzzing cell phone and let out a small laugh. "It's crazy," he said of the phone that he said hasn't stopped ringing since the NFC Championship game ended.
"Non-stop," is how he described his phone. Harper admitted that the calls were mixed between people calling to congratulate both he and his teammates on winning the NFC Championship, and, as he put it, "to start the feeling out process of getting some tickets to the Super Bowl."
"But it's a great situation to have to deal with," he said. "I have pretty much told my mother that we're going to limit this to immediate family, because tickets are expensive and then you get into the hotel rooms and all that stuff and it adds up really fast. My big thing is I want to get everything put together and then just shift my focus to getting ready to face the (Indianapolis) Colts."
For the 6-1, 200 pound hard-hitting safety out of the University of Alabama, the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl game is the realization of a life-long dream. Harper said that his earliest Super Bowl memories came when he was watching his childhood idol, Deion Sanders and his San Francisco 49ers teammates pepper the San Diego Chargers, 49-26, in Super Bowl XXIX, which ironically enough was also played in South Florida, the site of upcoming Super Bowl XLIV.
Harper, who recalls watching the game with his older brother, Bryan, said that he remembers the flashing cameras and the pageantry surrounding the game and said that it has been a long-time goal of his to one day appear in the biggest game. "I have played football since the third grade and I think every kid that puts the pads on or even plays in his backyard dreams about being in the Super Bowl. So to that end, I was no different," Harper said.
The native of Prattville, Alabama was part of the Saints' 2006 Draft class that also includes starting running back Reggie Bush, Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans and leading receiver WR Marques Colston. Harper immediately moved into the starting lineup and despite suffering a season-ending knee injury early in his rookie season, has been a veritable mainstay in the Saints' secondary the past four seasons, amassing 361 tackles, six-and-a-half sacks, 24 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and three interceptions during regular season play. In two postseason games this season Harper has been busy, making nine tackles and forcing an Adrian Peterson fumble in the NFC Championship game.
"It's pretty amazing to look at it and say you've faced Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and now getting ready for Peyton Manning," he said. "I mean these are three of the best quarterbacks of our generation and guys that have earned all of the accolades that they have earned. Three future Hall of Famers, I think that says it all."
Harper admitted that he was floored at the reception he and his teammates received following the NFC Championship win over the Vikings. "A lot of the guys went out in the city after the game and despite the fact that it was late and everyone was pretty drained, it was unbelievable to see the pure joy everyone had," he said. "I mean people were just coming up to us saying, 'thank you for everything you have done for us and our city.' It's pretty overwhelming. To a degree we (the players) are pretty isolated and focused on what we need to do to get ready to play in these games, and then when you step out and are around the fans, you feel their passion and see and hear what it means to them."
"The thing that will always stick with me is the sight of our fans and the happiness they experienced when the (Halas) Trophy was being awarded on the stage. To look up and see Mr. Benson and his smile and guys like Drew and Darren and all our teammates and know that we are going to the Super Bowl is amazing. And to have the confetti and streamers flying and seeing guys like Anthony Hargrove acting like a kid with a smile a million miles wide—that's special and something that will stick with me forever."
"Now our attention turns towards getting ready to playing the Colts," he said. "I think it's fitting. The two teams that played the best in their conferences all season long and earned the top spots. Both teams have earned the right to go to the biggest game. It's going to be a heck of a challenge. But it's exciting. There are only two teams left."
Harper said that he has drawn increased motivation from the presence and words of Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, who spoke to the Saints team before the team's final preseason game in Oakland and also on the eve of the NFC Conference championship game.
"He's done it all in his career," Harper said. "I have talked to him because he played the position better than anyone and understands the challenges. He has been a great resource and it's an honor to get his insight. He talks about being special and being completely prepared and focusing on preparation and doing everything the right way. I can't think of a better person to hear that from than Ronnie."
"He talks about eliminating distractions and just getting ready to play," Harper concluded. "It's great advice to take, especially when there is so much going on right now."
The buzzing phones will have to wait. "I'm sure, or at least hope, they all understand."