"That is one weird ass name for a football team."
On November 1, 1966 NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced at the Ponchartrain Hotel in New Orleans that the city would be awarded the NFL's 16th franchise. There was much rejoicing. As majority stockholder and team president, John W. Mecom, Jr. was the de facto owner. Tom Fears would be named the team's first head coach soon after.
On January 9, 1967, the team would officially take the name "Saints" after much debate. A name that reflected the personality of the city was important, but this seemed to cut against the grain of the football mentality. Getting smashed in the mouth by a Saint? Man, that is crazy.
On September 17, 1967, the Saints would play their first regular season NFL game after a startling 5-1 preseason showing. They would open in style, with rookie running back John Gilliam returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. From there, however, the team had trouble establishing themselves as a winning presence on the NFL playing field. They would lose that opening game to the Los Angeles Rams and post a 3-11 record in their first season. That might look disappointing in the present day world of free agency and league parity, but three wins tied the record at the time for most wins in the NFL by a first year team. Their combined record of 7-20-1 set a record for the best two year start by a team in NFL history. It has since been shattered by more recent expansion teams.
The Saints weren't able to build on their "strong" start. A 5-9 record in 1969 seemed like the beginning of a powerful franchise, especially as the Saints won their final game over a strong Pittsburgh Steelers club. In 1970 the team slipped to a 2-11-1 record, a season in which the highlight was Tom Dempsey's record breaking 63 yard fieldgoal, a mind-blowing achievement considering Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot.
The 1970s was the era of Archie Manning and great things were expected by fans of the Saints. In 1970 they began to show why they were beginning to acquire the name "Aints" from their fans. They finished Manning's first NFL season with a mere 4-8-2 record, but amongst their four wins was a victory against the eventual Superbowl Champion Dallas Cowboys. Frequent coaching changes and an apparent lack of direction would haunt the Saints, who failed to post a winning regular season record until 1987, two decades after entering the league.
1975 would see the advent of the Louisiana Superdome, at the time the true state-of-the-art football facility. In its inaugural season the Saints would finish 2-12. Archie Manning, who might have worn multiple Superbowl rings had he played for a different team, would win the NFC MVP Award in 1978 despite his team slugging its way to a 7-9 record. Individual accolades coupled with poor team performance would continue to haunt the "Aints." In 1981, running back George Rogers would rush for the most yards in the league and set the all-time rookie running yardage record. All that for a team that finished 4-12.
The fortunes of the Saints would not turn until the 1985 sale of the team to Tom Benson and the 1986 hiring of Jim Mora as head coach. With such players as running back Rueben Mayes, linebackers Rickey Jackson and Sam Mills, immortal kicker Morten Andersen and quarterback Bobby Hebert, the Saints would begin a string of winning seasons. Their first winning season, in 1987, sent them to a wildcard game in Minnesota. A 44-10 loss would spoil the party for the Saints first trip to the playoffs. I had jumped on the bandwagon that year, always having a soft spot for the underdog, and felt the pain of Saints fans during that heart-rending loss.
The Saints would go on to prove they were not a one year wonder, but the playoffs would not be kind. Oddly enough, a 10-6 record in 1988 and a 9-7 record in 1989 would see them miss the playoffs, but they would sneak back into the playoffs in 1990 with an 8-8 record and treat them to a loss to the Chicago Bears in their second ever playoff game.
In 1991 things appeared to be turning in favor of the Saints. An 11-5 record would give them a home playoff game against the equally historically hapless Atlanta Falcons. The Saints appeared to have the game in hand, but it would slip away and end with a 27-20 Falcons victory. A 12-4 mark in 1992 would also raise expectations, but once again the team would fall apart in the playoffs, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 36-20 despite a 20-7 third quarter lead by the Saints. Victory just kept slipping away from the Saints.
The Saints would struggle to 8-8, 7-9 and 7-9 records over their next three seasons and in 1996 the team would plummet to a 3-13 finish. It was during this horrific season that head coach Jim Mora would give his infamous "We suck" speech and then quit. The team would then muddle through mediocrity before owner Tom Benson's 1999 speech to fans announcing he would do anything to make the Saints a winning franchise. That same year would see Benson and head coach Mike Ditka trade almost all their draft choices for the chance to draft running back Ricky Williams on Ditka's recommendation. After a 3-13 finish that season, Benson would fire Ditka and most of his front office and coaching staff. Ditka's idea that one player could turn around an entire franchise was woefully misplaced, especially on a player who had social anxiety issues, didn't get along with his teammates, and was constantly in trouble. The team once again needed a new start.
Jim Haslett would be hired as the 13th head coach in Saints history in 2000 and the team's big move was to acquire Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake. The Saints would begin the 2000 season, seen by many as the turning point for the long maligned club, 1-3 and then magic would happen and the Saints would set a team record with six straight victories. At the heart of the turnaround, and an impressive 7-1 record on the road, would be quarterback Aaron Brooks, an afterthought acquisition to back-up Jeff Blake. Injuries to Blake would thrust Brooks into the starting position and eventually the team would sign the future over to him.
On December 30, 2000, after nearly a quarter of a century in the NFL, the Saints would win their first ever playoff game, a 31-28 Superdome win over the favored St. Louis Rams. Although they would lose the following week in the playoffs, the team had finally overcome a major obstacle and would be ready for the future.
It would not be that easy. A disappointing showing in 2001 left the Saints out of the playoffs and it would lead to the trading of the man who was once heralded as the savior of the franchise, Ricky Williams, to the Miami Dolphins. Would the trade improve team chemistry, the explanation given by the team for making the trade, and bring the Saints back to the winning spirit of the 2000 season? Only time will tell.
The Saints won their first Superbowl on February 7, 2010.
I listened to the Saints losing to the Detroit Lions while writing this.
That is probably not a good omen.
Saints have this habit of only winning games they are the underdog in
and losing games they are "supposed" to win.
Updates to follow as needed.
The Saints moving was a ploy.
I bet my left leg it won't happen in my lifetime.
Facts and timeline researched at
NFL.com and other football related trivialist sites.