New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints Football
There are no two ways about it. The New Orleans Saints have been a bad NFL franchise for most of their history.
It took the New Orleans Saints nearly 30 years to notch their first playoff victory. Over the last two decades, though, the Saints have had their share of successes. In the Sean Payton era, the Saints are showing signs of becoming a yearly contender. No doubt, the addition of young talents like Reggie Bush and Marques Colston promise to make the Saints one of the most exciting teams to watch over the next few years.
NFL – New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints came to the NFL in a way fitting the Big Easy and Louisiana politics. In 1967, NFL commissioner was moving ahead with plans to merge his league with the AFL. To do so, the leagues needed the approval of the U.S. Senate. At the time, the Senate Majority Whip was Hale Boggs, a Senator from Louisiana. In a private meeting with Rozelle, Boggs agreed to support the merger, but only on condition that the NFL placed a franchise in New Orleans. Thus was born the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints had a disappointing start. They never won more than 4 games in a season during the 1960′s, and they went 2-11-1 in 1970. This was enough to give the Saints the 2nd overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, which the team used to draft Archie Manning.
Manning was an early prototype for the running quarterback, and his combination of deep passes and scrambling ability brought excitement to Tulane Field and later the Superdome. Unfortunately, Manning’s arrival did not bring many wins. The Saints would play ten seasons before posting a .500 record in any season, and 20 season before posting a winning record.
Saints Coaching Changes
The Saints made several attempts to reenergize their franchise. In 1976, the team hired future Hall of Fame coach, Hank Stram, to lead them. Stram had led the Kansas City Chiefs to three AFL/AFC titles and one Superbowl win, but proved unable to turn around the fortunes of New Orleans. Stram would last only two seasons. The low point was when the Saints lost to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were riding a 26-game losing streak.
In 1981, the Saints hired Bum Phillips as their head coach. Phillips had been the head coach of the Houston Oilers during their playoff runs of the late-1970′s. Once again, Phillips was not able to turn around the Saints, despite bringing in veteran stars like Kenny Stabler (1982) and Earl Campbell (1984).
The New Orleans Aints
Stabler was the replacement for Archie Manning, who was traded to the Houston Oilers in the same year that Stabler arrived. Manning’s legacy was that of a talent squandered, though he would later become the radio voice of the New Orleans Saints. His two sons, Peyton and Eli, would go on to greater NFL fame, winning the Superbowl in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
During these years, the Saints also drafted George Rogers, a Heisman Trophy winning running back out of Auburn. Rogers would only play 4 seasons for the Saints, spending the last year splitting time with Campbell. Rogers would go on to win a Superbowl as with the 1987 Redskins, though nagging injuries ended his career that same year.
In 1984, the Saints traded for Richard Todd, the star quarterback for the New York Jets. This was an indication that Stabler was finished. By this time, a percentage of the few Saints fans who watched football in the Superdome would appear with bags over their heads, calling themselves the Aints.
In 1985, Tom Benson bought the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, to keep another ownership group from moving them to Jacksonville. Benson would usher in the most successful era of Saints football to date, hiring Jim Mora in 1986 to take over the team and install a defensive philosophy.
The Mora-era Saints were led by star linebackers Sam Mills, Ricky Jackson, Pat Swilling and Vaughan Johnson. This group became known as the Dome Patrol. Local product Bobby Hebert was the quarterback, while RB Reuben James was the 1986 Offensive Rookie of the Year and the leader of the Saints running attack.
The Saints would compete for the playoffs in the 1987, 1988 and 1989 seasons, barely missing the event on all three occasions. The Saints improvement was dramatic enough that Jim Mora won NFL Coach of the Year in 1987, his second year on the job. Tom Benson became a mini-celebrity at his team’s games, often dancing on the sidelines after a Saints win. Fans began to bring "Who Dat" signs to the Superdome.
Mora would eventually lead the Saints to the playoffs for the first time, reaching the postseason three straight years in a row from 1990 to 1992. The team would lose their first playoff game every year, to the Chicago Bears in 1990, the Atlanta Falcons in 1991 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1992.
The New Orleans Saints would miss the playoffs in 1993, though they were still competitive. Age and free agent defections began to take their toll on the Saints roster, and the team began a slow decline in results. After a slow start in 1996, Mora would resign in mid-season.
In 1997, the Saints hired Mike Ditka to take over as general manager and head coach. There was much hope that the Hall of Fame player and Superbowl head coach would take the Saints to their first Superbowl. But Ditka made numerous iffy personnel moves, including the signing of Kerry Collins after his midseason release from the Carolina Panthers in 1998.
The most controversial Ditka move was at the 1999 NFL Draft, when Ditka traded the Saints entire draft for the right to move up from the 13th pick to the 5th pick to select running back Ricky Williams. Ditka also traded their 1st and 3rd picks the next year in the same deal. Mike Ditka predicted the Williams deal would bring a Superbowl title, though it soon became apparent the Saints didn’t have the team to surround Williams, who was often injured in his early years.
The Ricky Williams trade would hamstring the New Orleans Saints in the talent department for several years, and Ditka left after the 1999 season. Tom Benson hired Randy Mueller to be the new GM and Jim Haslett, the Defensive Coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to be the new head coach. Mike McCarthy, who is the current head coach of the Green Bay Packers, was the offensive coordinator.
The new leadership of the New Orleans Saints, without high draft picks, began to add talent through free agency. They signed Jeff Blake to be the quarterback and got a steal with the signing of little-known Joe Horn from the Kansas City Chiefs squad. In another unnoticed player move at the time, the team acquired Aaron Brooks, who was a backup quarterback on the Green Bay Packers roster.
The 2000 Saints squad began the season with promise, though Jeff Blake and Ricky Williams eventually ended the season on the IR. Joe Horn quickly became a star receiver for the Saints, a role he would fill for most of the first half of the decade of the 2000′s. Aaron Brooks was forced to take the field in relief of Blake, but his playmaking ability and running skills sparked the Saints’ playoff run late that season. The Saints would make the playoffs for the first time since the Mora years.
In their first playoff game of the Haslett era, the Saints scored a major upset, defeating the defending champion St. Louis Rams when Az-Hakim fumbled a late punt. This was the first-ever New Orleans Saints playoff victory, after 34 years of futility. Even a defeat to the Minnesota Vikings the next week did not spoil the fans’ enjoyment of this new Saints era. Aaron Brooks would be named the starting quarterback for the following season.
The Saints were not simply a collection of offensive skill position talent in the early Haslett years. They had several key Pro Bowl linemen, such as left tackle Willie Roaf, defensive end Joe Johnson and defensive tackle La’Roi Glover. This made the Saints a trendy pick of many preseason experts, though the Saints never achieved the consistency a playoff contender needs.
This lack of consistency was often blamed on Aaron Brooks, who largely became the scapegoat for later Saints losses. But the main culprit was an increasingly porous defense. While the Saints offense tended to put up decent scores, the defense almost always failed to hold the opponent. Aaron Brooks made this worse with untimely turnovers, though the pressure to outscore opponents no doubt led to many of these mistakes.
With Ricky Williams as an offensive star, many found it strange when the Saints spent a first-round pick in 2001 on Deuce McAllister. Subsequent events revealed that Ricky Williams was an unstable personality to build a successful NFL franchise around, despite his obvious talent.
Ricky Williams suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder and he was known to answer reporters’ questions while wearing his football helmet, which was fitted with a dark visor. Williams would be traded to the Miami Dolphins after one year of sharing time with McAllister, and would eventually retire abruptly from the Dolphins after two productive seasons, ostensibly due to a failed drug test.
Deuce McAllister, on the other hand, was a solid citizen and a fan favorite. Many have rated Deuce as the most popular New Orlean Saints ever, at least with the local fandom. McAllister has had his share of injury problems, though he brought a combination of tough inside running and big-play ability in his early years with the Saints.
Despite a solid collection of offensive talent, the New Orleans Saints under Jim Haslett missed the playoffs in 2001 through 2004, though in some of these seasons, the Saints barely missed the big show. In 2004, for example, the Saints missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker. Many expected big things for the Saints in the 2005 campaign.
Days prior to the start of the 2005 NFL Season, New Orleans suffered through the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The Superdome sustained severe damage, while it was also made into a shelter for the victims of the resulting floods. Saints home games were moved outside the city, first to opponents’ home fields (The New York Giants, for example) and finally to San Antonio, the hometown of Tom Benson.
The Saints were understandably distracted by this turn of events, which affected not only their practice schedule and gameday performances, but also their home life back in New Orleans. The Saints had an awful year, which ultimately cost Jim Haslett his job. Sean Payton would be hired to replace Haslett.
Sean Payton and Drew Brees
In the 2006 offseason, the Saints fortunes began to turn. First, the Saints hired Sean Payton, an assistant under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys. Payton was expected to bring a new, aggressive offensive strategy to the Saints. Then the Saints took a chance on free agent quarterback, Drew Brees. Brees was made expendable in the San Diego Chargers organization by the drafting of Philip Rivers, while he was made cheaper in free agency by lingering doubts about his shoulder, which had required offseason surgery.
Even more dramatically, the Saints acquired Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft. Bush was expected to go first overall in the draft, but the Houston Texans, who had the first pick, decided to take defensive end Mario Williams. The Texans’ new coach, Gary Kubiak, was a product of Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos organization, which had success running with a number of different RB’s. This may have affected Kubiak’s thinking on drafting a running back first overall.
The Saints were happy to draft Reggie Bush, even though it meant pairing Bush with another star, Deuce McAllister. This gave the Saints a solid one-two punch at running back, though Payton’s offensive schemes often called for both runners to be on the field at the same time, with Bush even lining up in the slot as a receiver.
Another major addition in 2006 was Marques Colston, a receiver out of the small college football program of Hofstra in New York City. Colston was a tight end in college and considered to be a tweener in the NFL, with no natural position. Too slow to be a wide receiver and too small to be a tight end in the National Football League, Colston fell into the 7th round of the 2006 NFL Draft. With an injury to Joe Horn, though, Marques Colston became Drew Brees’ go-to guy in his rookie season. Both Bush and Colston were candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
With this infusion of talent, the Saints made a big splash on national television with their first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. They hosted the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football in the second week of the season. Backed by big special teams performances and several big offensive plays, the Saints blew out defending division champ Atlanta in what was a coming-out party for the new-look New Orleans Saints.
The Saints won their division and gained a first round bye in the playoffs. In a hotly-contested Divisional Playoff game, the Saints defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears. The Saints lost in the cold and damp Chicago setting to the defense-minded Bears, but many viewed the Saints as the team-to-beat in the NFC in the coming 2007 season.
The Saints would endure a disappointing 2007 NFL Season. They lost their first few games, including a blowout loss to the defending champion Indianapolis Colts to open the season. The Saints slowly clawed their way into playoff contention in the middle portions of the season, but a late collapse led to the Saints missing the playoffs. Season-ending injuries to first Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush were a major factor in these losses. Despite the 2007 season, many consider the New Orleans Saints to be one of the top contenders in the NFC going into 2008.