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Jan 25, 2010 2:49 PM by Letitia Walker

Saints Kicker Predicted Ending

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The phone rang at 2:15 a.m., and Garrett
Hartley's father wondered why on earth his son would be calling at
such an hour on the day of the biggest game of his life.
      "I said, 'Dad, I have a feeling I'm going to hit a game winner
from 42 yards on the right hash,"' the Saints' second-year kicker
said. "It was funny, just the whole game how things played out and
I just kept thinking about, 'Is this really happening.' It was like
never-never land."
      Hartley wound up staring down the biggest 40-yard field goal try
in Saints history - yes, from the right hash - in overtime on
Sunday night. He didn't even see it go through, but he knew when he
put his foot to it that it was true, and the Saints outlasted
Minnesota 31-28 in the NFC championship game.
      "I just turned around and, I guess, put my hands up in the air
and hugged (Mark) Brunell, just knowing that this team's headed to
Miami now."
      Suspended for the first four games of the regular season for
using a banned stimulant, Hartley eventually won back his job in
December.
      Hartley then overcame his nerves - not to mention bad memories
of a missed 37-yarder that could have spared the Saints an
embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay - and split the uprights, lifting
New Orleans.
      While he was mobbed by teammates, the Louisiana Superdome
erupted in earsplitting cheers, then watery-eyed fans hugged one
another and somewhere in east Texas Hartley's father Bill had to be
smiling.
      For coach Sean Payton, the Super Bowl berth that the kick
ensured was a reward for the patience the coach showed with his
kicker.
      "I just told him there's a little fleur de lis up there right
between both uprights and I said, 'Why don't you see if you can hit
this fleur de lis dead center," Payton said, referring to the
symbol of both the team and the city on the facade of the second
deck of the stadium. "He has just been real consistent for us."
      Hartley signed in October 2008, seemingly solving a run of
problems in the Saints' kicking game by making all 13 of his field
goal attempts during his rookie season out of Oklahoma.
      During the summer, however, Hartley tested positive for use of a
banned stimulant and said it was because he used Adderall to stay
awake on a long drive from Dallas to New Orleans.
      The Saints then signed veteran John Carney, who held the job
through the first 11 games of the season, but put Hartley back on
the roster as soon as his four-game suspension ended.
      Hartley finally saw his first action against the Washington
Redskins in early December - a game that ended with Hartley winning
it with a short field goal in overtime. Hartley came into the NFC
title game 10 of 12 on field goals this season, making all but one
attempt under 50 yards.
      As for Carney, the Saints released him, but rehired him as a
kicking consultant to work with Hartley.
      Carney was instructing him on 50-yard kicks during warmups on
Sunday night, and Hartley made several with ease, unable to know
then just how big a role he'd play not only in this game, but in
the history of the franchise that never had a victory of this
scale.
      Carney reflected back to the miss against the Buccaneers, and
said that in some way it might have been beneficial.
      "All kickers sooner or later go through growing pains," Carney
said. "You learn from them and you become better and stronger
mentally and emotionally. And next time you have an opportunity,
you've made your corrections and you're excited about having that
opportunity arise again, and you come through in the clutch - and
that was what Garrett did."

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