NEW ORLEANS --- Sean Payton's patience with second-year kicker Garrett Hartley was rewarded with the New Orleans Saints' first Super Bowl berth.
Suspended for the first four games of the regular season for using a banned stimulant, Hartley eventually won back his job in December, then wound up staring down the biggest 40-yard field goal try in Saints history Sunday night.
Hartley 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 to a 31-28 win over Minnesota in the NFC championship game.
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 they put Hartley back on the roster as soon as his four-game suspension ended.
Hartley 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 Sunday night, and Hartley made several with ease, unable to know then just how big a role he'd play.