Even now, 25 months later, the scar can be easily penetrated, the sting returning as fresh as ever. Maybe the Vikings never will attain closure on the 2009 NFC Championship Game, a 31-28 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints that still hovers like a ghost.

On Friday, the dejection snuck in again, this time linked to a bounty scandal in which an extensive NFL investigation revealed the Saints had spent the past three seasons offering cash incentives for injuring opposing players.

Suddenly, in the Twin Cities, here came those haunting NFC title game images again, a battered Brett Favre being helped off the Superdome field after a third-quarter hit from New Orleans' Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele. That shot left the quarterback with severe pain in his left ankle, part of an afternoon during which New Orleans walloped Favre the way a bull pummels a rodeo clown.

The Saints received three unnecessary-roughness penalties, two for shots on Favre.

McCray later was fined for that unpenalized hit that sent Favre hobbling to a trainer's table for treatment.

New details surfacing from the NFL investigation, including multiple reports that a $10,000 reward was offered for taking out Favre that day, suddenly begged the question: Did the Saints fairly earn their trip to Super Bowl XLIV?

Said Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: "This [bounty system] may have affected the end result of the whole season. I'm not saying we win that NFC championship if Brett didn't injure his ankle. Let's face it, we had five turnovers and 12 men in the huddle and all that. But when you get a quarterback who's hurt and can't move around, it changes what plays you call. It impacts the course of the game."

Favre didn't miss a play, mind you. After that McCray-Ayodele hit, he hobbled around and completed six of 12 passes for 87 yards in the fourth quarter. His interception with 7 seconds left in regulation might have cost the Vikings a Super Bowl trip.

Yet even as Vikings teammates and coaches questioned New Orleans' seemingly malicious intent, Favre shrugged off the beating.

He didn't complain after that game. He didn't gripe much before a rematch seven months later. And he expressed little fury Friday even as the Saints scandal rippled across the NFL.

"It's football," Favre told Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "I don't think anything less of those guys."

Kluwe proved less restrained.

"This is troubling to me as a human being," he said. "Football is a violent game. Guys get hurt all the time. But you want to be out there with the comfort that other guys aren't purposely out trying to injure you. At that point, you're not safe."

This past December, in a loss to New Orleans, running back Adrian Peterson took exception to the way the Saints went after him. Having missed most of the previous four games because of a high ankle sprain, Peterson grew particularly agitated following a 1-yard run in the second quarter when New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer kept tugging at his ankle.

Peterson jumped into Greer's face and voiced more displeasure after the game, saying Greer's tactics went "overboard."

Friday's news provided such complaints further legitimacy, also calling into question just about every tackle and hit the Saints have made the past three seasons.

A Vikings spokesman said Friday the team would have no official comment.

When reached by phone, former coach Brad Childress was measured with his reaction.

"It's pretty clear this is not part of the game," Childress said. "This is a competitive enough game as it stands without this mixed in."

Asked if he recalled his thoughts about the beating Favre took during that NFC title game, Childress replied: "Oh yeah, I recall. But I don't know if I'll share that with you. It's a long time ago. I'd prefer to look forward and hope it'll be a better game going forward."

That's certainly the NFL's hope. The league likely will levy severe punishment against the Saints.

Yet New Orleans' bounty program carried on for three seasons, including one that ended with a Super Bowl triumph.

That won't sit well across the league. It certainly won't sit well with some Vikings who lost to New Orleans 25 months ago.

"Just another twist of the dagger," Kluwe said.