America's most popular sport, whose your team?

Geaux Saints

  • Dec 10, 2011
It was the muralist.

Allow me to explain. When my hometown Buffalo Bills hit financial dire straits and it became obvious they will be headed out before too long, the New Orleans Saints immediately popped into my football radar as a potential replacement. The recent success the Saints had been enjoying at the time with Sean Payton and Drew Brees certainly helped, but it wasn't the instigator. What caught my attention about the Saints and made them stand out was something I saw during a game between the Saints and the New York Giants in 2002. That game was a wild mismatch; the bad version of the Giants had shown up, then-quarterback Aaron Brooks had heaved five touchdown passes, and then-receiver Joe Horn had gotten into trouble for an elaborate celebration involving a cell phone after catching the second of those touchdown passes. While the Saints were a blast to watch that night, ESPN needed something to hold peoples' interest, and so their attention took a brief shift to a muralist the Saints had on their sideline, painting an abstract mural of a scene during the game. Apparently, this is a team tradition, and they have a muralist for every game. That's what got me.

Today, the New Orleans Saints are the most visible reflection of New Orleans's return from one of the worst natural disasters in American history. In 2005, the city was hit with Hurricane Katrina and flooded, and many of its residents were left stranded on rooftops if not trapped in the Saints's home field, the Superdome. The country rallied and pitched in to help lift New Orleans from the rubble. I suppose that's why the whole country now feels so close to the Saints - because everyone wanted to find a way to pitch in and get New Orleans back on its feet. Anyway, despite not having a real home, the Saints played football, often taking practice on high school fields and shifting their home to the Alamodome in San Antonio for three games, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge for four, and in one of the stupidest ideas the NFL ever came up with, they made the Saints the official home team for a Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium, painting "Saints" in one end zone and shipping in their cheerleaders. (The fans, of course, didn't buy it and were quite visibly rooting for the Giants.) The following season, the Saints were back in the Superdome new coach, new quarterback, and new life. They went to the NFC Championship that year for the first time in franchise history, and their rejuvenation was such a story that the season was considered a thumping success even though they lost the conference title to the Chicago Bears. Three years later, the Saints made up for that loss when they returned to the NFC Championship, beat the favored Minnesota Vikings (really the only team in the league which was capable of possibly beating them that year), and beating the favored Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl (although I'm mystified by the fact the Colts were somehow favored).

The Saints are a small-time team. We don't normally associate the Saints with a devoted fanbase, and it seems like even devoted Saints fans started to crawl out only in the Katrina aftermath. What we forget amidst all the hoopla is that before Katrina, there were very loud rumblings of a move out of New Orleans. That's one of the reasons San Antonio picked up that handful of Saints games - they've been almost begging for an NFL team since the mid-90's and wanted to show the league they're capable of handling it. Los Angeles was another popular talked-about destination. (Really, NFL: First of all, Los Angeles DOES NOT WANT A TEAM! They let TWO teams go in the 90's and haven't exactly been clamoring for replacements! Meanwhile, San Antonio is the eighth-largest city in the United States - and still growing pretty fast - and you keep giving them the shaft! Get over your obsession with Los Angeles and put a damn team in San Antonio! Put the Bills in San Antonio - they might still suck, but at least the fans would freaking care!) I understand there is devotion in small markets (Buffalo, ahem) but New Orleans never seemed to present its football team as a visible status symbol before Katrina the way Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay do their teams.

That could be because New Orleans has so much else going for it, as well as the fact that the Saints have spent so much of their existence tanking. Their all-time record as it currently stands is 299-394-5. They have winning records against only eight teams in the NFL - two of which are very recent expansion teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans - and even those are just barely so. The Saints were formed in 1967 and their first-ever play was to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. It wasn't a sign of things to come. In 1971, the Saints drafted their first franchise quarterback, Archie Manning. While Manning had a long career most football players would have been very proud of, Manning was never able to lead the Saints to the Super Bowl. Or the playoffs. Or even so much as a winning record. The best he could do was 8-8 in 1979, which was the first non-losing record in the team's history. After that season, the bottom fell out for the next several years until 1987 when, through the efforts of coach Jim Mora and the Dome Patrol linebacker corps, the Saints won twelve games and their division, at last making the playoffs after 20 years on the gridiron. They were thrashed by Minnesota 44-10 in their first playoff game, but the fans gave them a long standing ovation anyway. After all, they'd seen much worse.

The team did pretty well under Mora in that era. He led them to seven straight winning records before the Saints returned to being the Ain'ts again in 1994. Two years later, Mora resigned and the team hired Mike Ditka, the legendary, fiery Chicago Bears coach who had taken the Bears to many division titles and a victorious Super Bowl appearance in 1985. His ways simply didn't carry over to the Saints, and he won only 15 games during a three-year coaching tenure. His most dramatic moment with the Bears was winning it all with a 15-1 team in 1985 that absolutely killed everyone it rolled into. With the Saints, it was trading up in the draft to get the eccentric running back Ricky Williams before bolding stating the Saints were Super Bowl-bound. They finished 3-13 that season and Ditka was fired.

Their next coach was Jim Haslett, and the Saints even managed to find something resembling a franchise quarterback when Aaron Brooks replaced the injured Jeff Blake at the position. Williams was quickly traded and Deuce McAllister was drafted. The early millennium was a rickety period for the Saints. They had a few successes, a highlight being their first-ever playoff victory in 2001. But they were mostly known for being inconsistent until 2005, when they lost consistently because of the pressures Hurricane Katrina had put on the team.

Move whispers appeared, and it appeared the Saints were headed into the same old doldrums that got them nicknamed the Ain'ts. But the team shook itself up and began bringing in a number of the players who began forming what is now the core of the current Saints. They hired coach Sean Payton, an offensive mastermind, and grabbed quarterback Drew Brees in free agency after his former team, the San Diego Chargers, drafted a new franchise quarterback. In 2006, the Saints, inspired by the faith the people of New Orleans put in them to lift their spirits, morphed into an offensive dynamo and went to the NFC Championship. Although the team was disappointing the next two years, Brees's cool, confident running of the offense made them an exciting team to watch. In 2009 the Saints finally rebounded, went 13-3 - their best record ever - and hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time.

As they stand now, the New Orleans Saints are representative of the good that an NFL team can do. When New Orleans needed a symbol of hope to rally around, the Saints gave them one. The Saints said in the immediate aftermath of Katrina that profits they made from sales of their merchandise would be given to help the rebuilding of New Orleans. Six years after Katrina, the Saints are the great city's most visible sign of resurrection. And with Payton and Brees at the helm, a corps of fantastic receivers and running backs, and a great defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, they stand to be a fear-inducing terror to NFL teams for at least a few more years.

The Saints are known as one of the NFL's vagabond islands - they're known for taking castoffs with track records of failures and people who have been told they weren't good enough. Drew Brees was given the boot in large part because of an injury which was supposed to kill his career, which at the time wasn't fantastic - he was drafted by San Diego and a very bad pick for a few years. He got better and made the Pro Bowl, but after that got hurt and was put on waivers. Since going to New Orleans, he has set team records in almost every significant passing category, set the NFL record for pass completion percentage, become only the second quarterback to throw for 5000 yards in one season, and won the Super Bowl. At this point he's just adding bullet points to what is already a Hall of Fame resume. Is it any wonder he's the face of this franchise? Adding more weight to the team's misfit island image is (or was, rather; he's long retired) kicker Tom Dempsey, who was born with no fingers on his right hand and no toes on his right foot. Dempsey set the record for longest field goal at 63 yards in 1970. That record was equaled by Jason Elam in 1998 and Sebastian Janikowski in 2011 but never surpassed. As Elam and Janikowski are considered maybe the two best kickers in NFL history, Dempsey is in elite company.

The Saints wear black and gold as a tribute to the oil industry's contributions to the city's economy. (Oil is known as "black gold.") They wear the fleur-de-lis, the endearing symbol of New Orleans, on their helmets. With the highs the Saints are riding now, it's safe to begin asking if the team has undergone a long-term turnaround a la the Pittsburgh Steelers (who royally sucked for decades before turning around in the 1970's and shedding their loser image forever). But no matter what happens, one thing is for sure: These Saints will be there to serve as symbols of hope and inspiration for New Orleans for a long time to come.

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December 13, 2011
Your NFL write ups are pretty informative and I am really enjoying reading them...thanks much! You are teaching me a lot.
December 13, 2011
You're welcome. Please keep on reading!
December 12, 2011
Trust me, no true Saints fans here in Louisiana will ever forget the talks about moving the team. A running joke on a morning radio program that has been on in this area since the early 1980's was that the team was going to move to Los Angeles and be called the Diablos. To this day, that show (Walton & Johnson) brings up that old sore every once in awhile. It's odd having been a fan of the Saints all my life and now seeing people jump on the bandwagon. I used to get picked at by kids in school for wearing Saints shirts and caps when they were wearing Dallas and San Francisco attire (those being the big teams back then). Today, thanks to Facebook, I see many of those same kids all grown up with profile photos of themselves and/or their families draped in Brees and Colston jerseys with black and gold facepaint. Wow, it's amazing what a winning record can do to some people!
December 13, 2011
Dallas and San Francisco? Where are you from? Well, at least you're the one laughing now.
December 14, 2011
I live in southwest Louisiana. When I was growing up, San Franciso had players like Montana, Rice, and eventually Young playing for them and then Dallas had that big run with Aikman, Irving, Smith, etc. The northern part of Louisiana, particularly the northwest end, has a huge Dallas Cowboys fanbase. I'm sure it's primarily due to the fact that Dallas is just couple of hours away (much like Houston is from where I live), but I'm also pretty sure that a lot of those Dallas fans are now big Saints fans due to the team's recent success. The same thing happened after LSU won their last BCS championship. All of a sudden people were wearing more and more purple and gold. Now that the Tigers are making another run at the championship, the "die hard" LSU fans are coming out of the woodwork.
December 12, 2011
Well written !
December 13, 2011
More New Orleans Saints reviews
review by . December 15, 2010
posted in Awesomeness
Louisiana's Team
I've always been a New Orleans Saints fan.  When I was a young kid, the names of Dalton Hilliard and Reuben Mayes passed over my lips dozens of times.  I pretended to be Bobby Hebert and Morten Andersen in my backyard on countless occasions as well.  I wanted to be a part of the Dome Patrol with Pat Swilling.  I also wanted to run roughshod over defenders like Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.       As the years went by, a few other teams …
Quick Tip by . February 07, 2010
Cooking up a storm for #SB44 and can't wait til the Saints beat the Colts! Geaux Saints! You deserve a win for the city of New Orleans!!
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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The New Orleans Saints are a professional American football team based in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints play in the South Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL).

The Saints were founded in 1967 as an expansion team and played their home games at Tulane Stadium through the 1974 season. They went more than a decade before they managed to finish a season with a .500 record, two decades before having a winning season, and over four decades before reaching the Super Bowl. The team's first successful years were from 1987–1992, when the team made the playoffs four times and had winning records in the non-playoff seasons. In the 2000 season, the Saints defeated the then-defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams for the team's first playoff win.

Since 1975, the Saints' home stadium has been the Louisiana Superdome. However, due to the damage Hurricane Katrina caused to the Superdome and the New Orleans area, the Saints' scheduled 2005 home opener against the New York Giants was moved to Giants Stadium. The remainder of their 2005 home games were split between the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, and LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After a $185 million renovation of the historic stadium, the team returned to the Superdome for the 2006 season. The team played its 2006 home opener in front of a sold-out crowd and national television audience on September 25, 2006, defeating the Atlanta ...
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