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XLIV title bittersweet for ex-Saint

Can you imagine turning down the chance to play in and win the Super Bowl? Well, longtime NFL tight end Mark Campbell did just that. Kind of.

Campbell, a Saint from 2006 to '08, didn't know New Orleans would end up having a season for the ages. So when he received a call from the team last August to gauge his interest in playing for them after two tight ends suffered injuries, he said no.

"I don't regret my decision because who knows what would have happened if I did play. I could have been seriously injured," said the 10-year NFL veteran, one of the six original free agents new head coach Sean Payton signed in 2006. "Do I wish I was a part of a Super Bowl team? Of course. I knew [New Orleans] had a great team, but to put all those pieces together is just so hard."

Campbell is one of those blue collar guys who carves out a solid career in the NFL (Browns, Bills, Saints) without ever receiving much in the way of accolades or time in the spotlight. In his mind, he retired as soon as he hyperextended a knee in Week 12 in 2008, against Kansas City, and was placed on injured reserve. Enough was enough. After having seven surgeries over 10 years to repair a broken leg, torn ACL, hernia, herniated disc in his back, bone chips in his elbow and turf toe, he was done.

But then came the phone call in August.

"It was a tough decision. It was like I was a young player again, when you get excited that a team calls," Campbell said. "I talked to my wife about it. She was open to it but she thought it would be good for me to retire. We just really didn't want to get to a situation where I couldn't play with my kids."

So Campbell, who had already transitioned into a career with a medical device company and calling games for the Big 10 Network, made the difficult decision to say thanks but no thanks.

Once the Saints officially punched their ticket to the Super Bowl by beating the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, he had another tough decision: Should he go to Miami for the game to cheer on his former teammates, some of whom were his close friends? Or should he stay home in Rochester, Mich., to keep his envy to a minimum?

Campbell sucked it up and went, and spent a lot of time eating meals and hanging out with his former teammates. "It was definitely a little awkward at times," he said, "Not being able to go behind the curtain [the area designated players-only at hotels is often marked by a curtain] was a little weird. It was my first game all year and first time I wasn't a player."

But that didn't stop Campbell from quickly making the transition to fan once the game started. "I was like any other Saints fan there when [Tracy] Porter caught that interception," he said. "I was jumping up and down, hugging, high-fiving. If I wasn't going to win it, these are the guys I would want to win it.

"I'm not going to lie to you, though. I wish I was on the field. I wish I was a part of it. But at that point that wasn't a possibility. There is no award or reward for this, but I still feel like I was a part of it because I was there for three years and sweat, bled, and even had a back surgery with those guys."

Don't feel bad for Campbell because he certainly doesn't feel bad for himself. And with a beautiful wife, two healthy kids (another one on the way), and some hard-earned money in the bank, why should he? Just know that these are the type of real-life decisions dozens of players, not just guys like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, have to make every year in the NFL.

Now back to your mail after a one-month hiatus for the NFL postseason ...

Ross, I really enjoy your articles. As you know, the NFL is more popular now than ever. I cannot believe there may be a lockout, and possibly no football in 2011. I know you can't speak for the owners, who seem to not care what the fans think, but could you explain why the players are willing to alienate the fans and risk everything by possibly going on strike?--Bill, Laplace, La.

I will delve into this subject in-depth at a later date, but the important thing for you and everyone else to realize is that what is looming is not a strike on the part of the players, but rather a lockout by the owners. They opted out of the agreement, so I think it is incumbent upon them to explain why they pulled out during the height of NFL popularity.

Do you still contend that Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady or Joe Montana, now that he has lost the Super Bowl?--Jared, Concord, N.H.

I got about a million e-mails like this one regarding the column I wrote prior to the Super Bowl. If you read it, I wrote that Manning would be the best in my opinion if he won the game. He did not. Multiple Super Bowl championships are an important qualifier for me, so as it stands right now, no, I do not have him ahead of Brady and Montana. Even though Manning has taken the quarterback position to a new level, he still needs another ring to overtake those two.

What do you think about Polian blaming OL for SB loss?--@m00nno1 via Twitter

I don't mind Colts general manager Bill Polian speaking candidly regarding his observations of the game, but in this particular instance I don't agree with him. Joseph Addai averaged nearly six yards per carry and Manning was not sacked and barely even touched. I think Polian is referring to the third-and-one near the end of the first half that got stuffed and the third down run by Addai at the goal line in the final three minutes of the game. In both instances, I was more miffed by the play call than the performance of the offensive line.

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