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Bitterness and Rage.

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It's only through great restraint and diligent commitment to Sunday Morning Quarterback's college format SMQ has managed to keep his intense lifelong passion for the New Orleans Saints under wraps in this space the last two months.

So here: congratulations and one million tons of gratitude, Saints, on a great season. Definitely the greatest, most exciting, fulfilling season in franchise history. We already knew this. Which is what makes today so horrible: the conference championship is an opportunity far, far too rare not to mourn.

General notions of "class" and "optimism" seem to demand SMQ be all giddy and forgiving over the fact New Orleans actually made it within a game of the Super Bowl, which is true in some deep, hidden, logical sense and by far the sentiment being expressed by the "Who Dat Nation" on post-game radio. But your host is at least a month away from seeing the forest for this huge, emotionally-bludgeoning tree. One of the delights of this season is how quickly the expectations of Saints fans adjusted to the reality of this fantastic squad, and just how solid a contender the Saints were by playoff time. To react in the sense of "Oh well, great season" immediately following an excruciating defeat like this afternoon's is a slap in the face to this team's success and legitimacy; that's happy just to be here, and only losers are happy just to be here. And SMQ did not think these Saints were losers.

The next two weeks will be a horrible, horrible time, filled with endless clips on every channel of Thomas Jones cutting against the grain for a meaningless touchdown, Adewale Ogunleye sacking/stripping Drew Brees, Fred Thomas getting turned helplessly around by Bernard Berrian, talking heads engaged in the most minute possible dissection of every agonizing snap to gain maximum insight into the overwhelming, eternal superiority of the Bears as Chris Berman barks irrelevant nonsense over irrelevant clips of the Bears and Patriots in Super Bowl XX. All of which will be completely unbearable, a repeated catalyst for the flinging of remote controls and other hopefully durable objects, and completely unavoidable. At least there will be no more talk of "America's Team" - America did not support the Saints when Rick Venturi was interim coach, Alex Molden and Mario Bates were first round draft picks, Billy Joe Hobert forgot his playbook or Aaron Brooks attempted a pass in the wrong direction, and therefore has no right to assume the role of "fan" in fatter times, regardless its reserves of sympathy.

Good luck, Bears, but SMQ likely will not be watching. Emotions subside, bitterness wanes, cynicism yields with time - we'll see. For now, mental reviews of countless possible alternate outcomes in light of more favorable officiating, hindsight decision-making and random bounces in the Saints' favor (final score says blowout, but the Saints outgained the Bears 375-340, in spite of the coming drumbeat of Chicago's defensive dominance, and were kicking to take the lead past the midway point of the third quarter) make it impossible to the extend the credit SMQ knows he will eventually concede to a very deserving victor. This sucks pretty hard.