SAINTS SAGA - V
First 1,000 yd Rusher

Chuck Muncie, California
Chuck Muncie, California

Chuck Muncie, Saints
Chuck Muncie, Saints

Tony Galbreath, Saints
Tony Galbreath

Chuck Muncie, Chargers
Chuck Muncie, Chargers, with his trademark goggles

It is perhaps the most infamous game in Saints history.

  • On Monday night, December 3, 1979, the Saints blew a 35-14 second half lead to lose to the Oakland Raiders in the Dome, 42-35.
  • Lost in the devastation was the fact that Chuck Muncie gained 128y to become the first Saint to amass over 1,000y rushing in a season.

Harry Vance "Chuck" Muncie brought a unique combination of size and speed to the NFL.

  • New Orleans chose him with the third overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft out of California.
  • Chuck reached Berkeley via a circuitous route. Born and raised in a Pennsylvania coal mine town (Uniontown), he played high school football until an injury cut short his senior season. Also adept at basketball, he got a scholarship in that sport to Arizona Western Junior College.
  • Once he got there, the football coach persuaded Muncie to try out for football. Chuck ended up playing football, not basketball, for one year before Cal offered him a scholarship.
  • Muncie set six school records as a Bear, including most TDs and most rushing yardage in a single season. He finished second in the 1975 Heisman Trophy voting to Archie Griffin of Ohio State.

Hank Stram paired Muncie with another rookie RB, Tony Galbreath, to form the "Thunder and Lightning" combo.

  • Both were excellent pass receivers and contributed greatly to the outstanding O led by QB Archie Manning.
  • Chuck racked up these numbers in his four full seasons with the Saints.
Year
Rushing Yd
Receiving Yd
Total Yd
1976
659
272
931
1977
811
248
1059
1978
557
233
790
1979
1,198
308
1,506
  • In addition to his yardage record, Muncie also set the franchise record for most TDs rushing in a season with 10 in 1979.
  • He made the Pro Bowl following the '79 season for the first of three times.

After four games of the dismal 1-15 1980 season, the Saints traded Muncie to San Diego.

  • He had asked to be traded before the season, citing the racist atmosphere in the Crescent City.
  • Not publicized at the time, Muncie had developed a cocaine problem that would limit his career.
  • He had another excellent year with the Chargers in 1981, gaining 1,144y on the ground and leading the league with 19 rushing TDs to again make the Pro Bowl.
  • Chuck played only 9 games in '82 because of injuries but somehow made the Pro Bowl again.
  • He dropped to 886y in '83, then played in only one game in '84 before retiring.

Muncie's drug use caught up with him.

  • He spent 18 months in a California prison for cocaine distribution.
  • After release, he dedicated himself to community service, forming the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation.

Chuck will be remembered as one of those players that every sport can cite as not fulfilling his great potential.

Dazzling Debut: Marcus Dowdell

QB Bobby Hebert, Saints
Bobby Hebert

WR Eric Martin, Saints
Eric Martin

QB Jim Everett, Rams
Jim Everett

K Morten Andersen, Saints

On Sunday night, October 11, 1992, the Saints hosted the Los Angeles Rams before 68,591 in a game televised on TBS (the first network to broadcast Sunday night NFL games before ESPN and NBC). The game epitomized the Jim Mora era in New Orleans, as summarized in the Picayune's headline the next day:

SAME OLD SCRIPT - BIG D, LITTLE OFFENSE ENOUGH FOR SAINTS

  • The Saints dominated the 1st half statistically: 14-5 edge in first downs, 215-87 in yardage, almost 2:1 time of possession advantage.
  • Yet they led only 10-3 at the break. It was their first halftime lead of the season.

As happened so often in those years, the Saints O scored an early TD.

  • QB Bobby Hebert mixed the pass and the run beautifully, completing four passes for 51y in a 12-play 84y drive. Bobby threaded the needle on a 5y TD pass to WR Eric Martin with 7:15 left in Q1. "It came through a bunch of hands," said Eric. "I think someone tipped it. Somehow, it got to me."
  • A short while later, 1y from going up 14-0, Hebert wasn't so lucky. He rolled right and tried to force a pass to Hobie Brenner in the EZ. It bounced off the TE into the hands of LB Leon White who returned the ball to the 39. RB Vaughan Dunbar, who was open in the rear of the EZ, ran down White to prevent an even longer return.
  • The Rams then drove for their only points of the first half - a 30y FG by Tony Zendejas with 1:53 remaining.
  • The Saints used the remaining time to set up Morten Andersen's 26y FG with 0:03 on the clock.

The Saints O did little the second half, allowing LA to tie the score.

  • Earning only one first down in Q3, the Saints saw the Rams score their only TD of the evening on a 1y plunge by Cleveland Gary with 1:53 remaining in the period. The drive was Saint-like, 75y in eight minutes.
  • The Saints D kept QB Jim Everett's O from reaching midfield the rest of the evening. OLB Ricky Jackson spearheaded the evening's effort with three sacks. DBs Toi Cook and Reggie Jones batted away four passes and Gene Atkins got an INT.

The Saints finally broke their second half scoring drought thanks to a surprise contribution from rookie returner Marcus Dowdell.

  • Dowdell, a tenth-round pick from Tennessee State, had looked good in preseason but made only the development squad for the first five games. An injury to Louis Lipps gave him his chance against the Rams.
  • Dowdell returned a Q4 punt 34y to the LA 37. Three consecutive runs by TB Dalton Hilliard for 7, 8, and 7 moved the pigskin to the 15 where the drive stalled. So Anderson rammed home the winning 30y FG with less than 3 minutes left.
  • Jones batted down a third down pass to Anderson as the Rams tried to get into FG range. LA punted, and the Saints literally ran out the clock, with Ironhead Heyward making a crucial first down.

Post-mortems:

  • Hebert finished 15-of-24 for 166y. Martin caught six balls for 103y.
  • Everett completed 11 of 20 for 165y, including a 44-yarder to Saints nemesis Flipper Anderson on the Rams second possession.
  • Mora: "I'm running out of things to say because these scripts are very similar week to week."
  • OL Joel Higenberg: "Didn't you seem some inkling of the O breaking loose? It's coming. Wait and see." N.O. had scored two TDs in only one game so far in the season.

The Saints moved to 4-2, one game behind the 49ers in the NFC West.

The River City Relay

Leave it to the Saints to win the ESPY for the NFL Play of the Year and not win the game with it.

  • Jim Haslett's 7-7 club visited Jacksonville on December 21, 2003, needing a win over the 4-10 Jaguars to stay alive in the race for a playoff berth.
  • New Orleans fans figured they had seen the height of wackiness the week before when Joe Horn hid a cell phone in the goal post and pretended to talk on it after scoring a TD in the 45-7 romp over the Giants in the Sunday night game.

The Saints played three quarters of excellent D.

  • John Carney's 33y FG at the 4:19 mark was the only scoring in Q1.
  • Seth Marler's 43-yarder tied the game a minute and a half into Q2. Then rookie RB LeBrandon Toefield from LSU scored on a 14y pass from QB Byron Leftwich to give the Jags a 10-3 lead with 6:54.
  • The Saints answered with a 2y scoring toss from QB Aaron Brooks to TE Boo Williams. Carney maintained his perfect record for the season by kicking his 35th PAT to tie the score with 2:55 left in the half.
  • Fred Taylor's 1y plunge with only 21 seconds on the clock sent the home team into halftime with a 7 point lead.
  • Carney (38y) and Marler (35y) traded FGs in Q3.
  • Neither team threatened in Q4.

After receiving a punt on their 25, the Saints had seven seconds left to pull off a miracle. They accomplished 6/7 of the task.

  • Brooks took the shotgun snap and threw down the right sideline to Donte Stallworth who caught the ball at the 50, escaped two tacklers, and began running across field. As a defender closed in, Donte flipped an overhand lateral to Michael "Beer Man" Lewis near the left sideline at the 32.
  • Lewis advanced to the 25 before almost handing the ball to Deuce McAlister behind him. Surrounded by the pursuit, Deuce ran to the 20, then turned and desperately passed the ball to Jerome Pathon who caught it in stride near the middle of the field at the 21.
  • Getting a key block from Brooks, Pathon raced untouched into the EZ to make the score 20-19.
  • A long video review ensued, and after referee Gerry Austin determined all the passes were legal laterals, the teams lined up for the extra point.

The River City Relay TD
Jerome Pathon dives over to complete River City Relay.

Watch video.

The 49,207 watching in the stadium (or at least those who didn't leave thinking the Jags had won) and the TV audience got ready for OT. But one unbelievable play was followed by an equally bizarre event.

  • Carney had missed only five EPs in 408 tries in his 14-year career. So the PAT was an after-thought.
  • The snap was fine, the placement sure, but Mr. Automatic pushed the kick to the right. As Jim Henderson asked on WWL radio, "Oh my God! How could he do that?"
  • Carney stared at the ground in disbelief. Haslett squinted into the sun — yes, that really did happen.
  • The Jaguars, despondent just moments earlier, stormed the field as though they'd won the Super Bowl.
  • My reaction as I watched on TV was to burst out laughing. "Of course! Why am I not surprised? How Saint-like. They'd lost in OT anyway."

Eddie Pells wrote in his AP article: "It will surely go down as one of the most twisted, cruel moments in the 37-year history of the starstruck franchise."

  • "This seems to be, as far as kickers are concerned, as bad as it gets," Carney admitted.
  • "This is awful," said Lewis. "I can't explain how it feels to go from one emotion to the other."
  • Earlier in the season, Haslett said he trusted Carney so completely, he would stake his life on him. Reminded of that statement after the game, Jim said, "Then, I'd probably be dead right now. He's one of the great all-time kickers. I never would have guessed this would happen."
  • "The only thing missing was the band," first-year Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said, recalling the ending of the famous 1982 Stanford-Cal game, a play eerily similar to this one.

The Saints finished the season with a 13-7 home victory over Bill Parcells' playoff-bound Cowboys to end 8-8.

Saints QB Aaron Brooks
Aaron Brooks

Saints WR Donte Stallowrth
Donte Stallworth

Saints WR Jerome Pathon
Jerome Pathon racing to EZ

Saints PK John Carney
John Carney after missing the PAT

Watch video of the play.

Saints Saga: First Division Championship

QB Bobby Hebert
Bobby Hebert 1991 SI

PK Morten Andersen

LB Pat Swilling

LB Vaughan Johnson
Vaughn Johnson

RB Dalton Hilliard
Dalton Hilliard

WR Floyd Turner
Floyd Turner

The 1991 Saints season resembled a roller coaster ride.

  • As was the norm with Jim Mora's teams, they got out of the gate fast, winning their first seven before losing to the Bears 20-17 in the Superdome.
  • Two more wins followed, including a 10-3 triumph over perennial NFC West power, the 49ers.

The 9-1 Saints led the West by an amazing four games.

  • Never had an NFL team that enjoyed that big a lead failed to win its division.
  • The Saints proceeded to imperil that record by dropping four straight. In every case, N.O. led going into Q4.
    • @San Diego 21-24
    • Atlanta 20-23 OT
    • @San Francisco 24-38
    • @Dallas 14-23
  • A major reason for the tailspin was the absence of QB Bobby Hebert, who had been hurt in the loss to Chicago.
  • N.O. was now tied with the Falcons at 9-6 and only one ahead of the 49ers.

Finally, Mora's crew ended the downfall by blasting the L.A. Raiders 27-0 in the Dome.

  • Hebert returned to action to the cheers of the Monday night throng. The welcome contrasted sharply with the prolonged booing he heard opening day after his year-long holdout.
  • The Falcons and 49ers both won as well.
  • Since Atlanta held the tiebreaker thanks to one more win within the division, Dallas had to knock them off on the final Sunday, and the Saints had to win at Phoenix.

When the Saints arrived for their first ever game in Arizona, PK Morten Andersen discovered that the tongue of his kicking shoe was ripped.

  • This was not just any kicking shoe but a $5,000 custom-made special.
  • Fortunately, he was able to find a local shoemaker who repaired the valuable item by game time.
  • Cost of the repair? $5

The Saints-Cardinals game started at 3 pm while Atlanta's game was a noon kickoff.

  • The Saints were down 3-0 when the PA announcer gave the score from Dallas: Cowboys 31 Falcons 27.
  • "We heard the score over the loudspeaker," said Hebert. "We were in the huddle, and me and Stan (Brock) looked at each other and said, 'We can win this thing. We've gotta do it.'"

The Saints dominated the rest of the way.

  • Andersen's refurbished shoe tied it with a 27y FG in Q2. The score was set up when one member of the Dome Patrol, Pat Swilling, sacked Chris Chandler, causing a fumble that fellow Patroller Vaughn Johnson recovered on the 10. It was the 17th sack for the league-leader, who had earlier been named to the Pro Bowl along with Johnson and fellow LB Sam Mills - the first time three LBs from the same team had ever made the post-season game.
  • Dalton Hilliard, who had also missed action during the four-game swoon, scored from the 2.
  • Andersen added a 39-yarder with 21 seconds left in the half.
  • DB Gene Atkins personally made sure the Cardinals would not come back by intercepting three passes in the second half.
  • After his second INT put the Saints in business at the 12, FB Buford Jordan plunged over from the 3.
  • Atkins's final INT set up a 19y TD pass from Hebert to Floyd Turner to make it 27-3.
  • As the final seconds counted down, even the stonefaced head coach broke into a smile. The Saints had won their division for the first time in history!
Gene Atkins INT
Gene Atkins returning one of his three INTs vs the Cardinals

The Falcons had the last laugh, however, upsetting the Saints in the opening playoff game, 27-20.

Reference: New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort, Christian Serpas (1992)
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Emeril Helps the Saints - I

Saints GM Mickey Loomis
Mickey Loomis

Drew Brees after Shoulder Injury
Drew Breesafter shoulder injury

Saints Coach Sean Payton
Sean Payton

Drew and Brittany Brees
Drew and Brittany Brees


Renowned chef Emeril Lagasse played a special role in the rebuilding of the Saints in 2006 as they prepared for their return to the Superdome after Katrina. His first involvement came during the courtship of Drew Brees.

In Part I, we trace the background story that will set the stage for Emeril's appearance in Part II.

  • Saints GM Mickey Loomis recalls:

In our minds, Drew Brees was the best free agent on the market. ... Just to get him to come visit and kick the tires in New Orleans was an important message to all of the free agents and their agents. It said, "You know what? New Orleans is still viable."

  • The Saints were the only team that considered Brees "the best free agent on the market." A severe shoulder injury in his last game with San Diego threatened his career. The #1 surgeon for such injuries, Dr. James Andrews, operated on Drew in Birmingham on January 6, 2006.
  • Facing months of rehabilitation, Drew wasn't surprised when the Chargers made him an offer that befitted a backup QB. After several weeks of fruitless negotiations, Brees decided to test the open market.

He visited the Saints in early March.

  • New coach Sean Payton drove Drew and his wife Brittany to the north shore (across Lake Pontchartrain) where Sean's family had found a house. After returning to the south shore, plans went awry. Payton:

Somehow ... I took a wrong turn. I was still new to the area, and I got lost. Here I am driving Drew and Brittany around and trying to show him why he should play for me and the Saints, and I'm lost. It wasn't really how I had planned things out.

  • Brees remembers:

Sean was driving and talking, looking at street signs, and it seemed to be taking quite a while to get back. ... I relaxed and just took in the scenery. But gradually the scenery started taking a turn for the worse. We drove into neighborhoods where the houses were off their foundations. There were boats in yards and cars halfway into living rooms. ... There's no way words can describe the scope of the wreckage we saw that day.

  • After calling Loomis for help, Sean finally got the couple back to the Saints facility.
  • From there, they went to the airport to board the private jet of Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga to fly to Miami to talk to the only other team that showed an interest in Drew.

Brees experienced a very different welcome in Miami.

  • His first appointment the next morning was with the Dolphins team doctor at his office.

There they required me to go through extensive physicals on my shoulder. They hadn't prepared me for this, and my agent had no idea it was coming either. ... I saw a neurologist to determine if I had any nerve damage. ... Then they did an MRI, where I was injected with a solution that shows more detail than a normal MRI would. It was a two-hour process - and quite painful. ... I felt like I was at a cattle show. ... I got the feeling that Dolphins were looking at me with a sense of doubt. ... It almost felt like I'd be stepping into the same situation I had just exited in San Diego.

  • Drew and Tiffany returned to Birmingham where they lived with her parents while Drew rehabilitated. Despite their exhaustion, the couple stayed up and talked about their visits to the two cities.

If leaving New Orleans had been information and emotion overload, leaving Miami was pure frustration. I was so disappointed. I had been hoping for so much more from Miami. But as Brittany and I reflected on all that had happened in the past week, we had to admit there was something special about New Orleans. ... We couldn't quite explain it, but it was almost like New Orleans was calling to us. We prayed together that night as we do every night, and we asked God to continue to show us what direction we should go. ... We couldn't ignore the irresistible feeling ... that God wanted us in New Orleans. ... Where some people might look at the city and see disaster, we saw opportunity.

To be continued ...

References: Patron Saints: How the Saints Gave New Orleans a Reason to Believe, Alan Donnes (2007); Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010)

Emeril Helps the Saints - II

After returning to Birmingham from his visit to Miami, Drew Brees talked to his agent, Tom Condon, about the competing offers.

  • Tom predicted what the Dolphinswould do.

I've seen this before. Here's what's going to happen: Miami will call tomorrow. They're going to say that the physical didn't turn out as they had hoped. They're going to threaten to pull the offer. I can pretty much guarantee it.

  • Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. After Condon got the word from the Dolphins, Drew wanted to make one more call before finalizing his decision - Nick Saban.
  • Brees: "Coach, I heard that my medical reports came back and your doctors didn't like what they saw."
    "Right. Well, you know, our doctors have given you a 25 percent chance of coming back and playing. ... We'd still love to have you but that number we talked about earlier might have to change."
    "Coach, I know what your doctors believe about me. My question is, what do you believe? Do you believe that I can come back and be better than I was before and lead your team to a championship?"
    "Well, Drew, I would still love to have you, but I have to trust what our medical people are saying."
  • Drew adds: "I had all the information I needed. I had made my decision." So he told Saban, "I appreciate your interest. I appreciate the visit and the invitation to come down there. I'm going to New Orleans."
  • Drew: "I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that maybe I belonged in New Orleans, that God was opening doors there for a purpose. ... I was trying to rebuild my shoulder and my career, the organization was rebuilding its reputation and reestablishing itself, and the city was restoring not only the homes but also the lives of its people. ... What I kept coming back to when I processed all the issues was the fact that the Saints wanted me."
  • Brees called his agent and told him to get the deal done with New Orleans.

Drew and his wife Brittany returned to the Crescent City to sign the contract.

  • The Saints brought them to Emeril's for dinner. Drew:

... There was a book at my place at the table. It was one of his cookbooks. Emeril wasn't there, but he had put the book there. Inside there was a note: "If you sign with the Saints, I'll be cooking your first meal for you in your house in New Orleans." That was pretty cool, because he's a legend not just down here but also throughout the country and the world. It was neat, a nice welcome to the city.

  • Emeril:

I was in New York taping my show when they held the press conference announcing he would join the Saints. Toward the end of the conference, Brees said, "Emeril, I'll take you up on that dinner!"

Fast forward several months. GM Mickey Loomis and new coach Sean Payton prepared for the 2006 NFL draft.

  • New Orleans had the #2 pick after Houston. It was widely assumed the Texans would select Reggie Bush.
  • The Saints looked at a number of players for their first pick. "We had kind of prepared for the possibility that Houston might pass on Reggie," recalls Mickey, "but we really didn't expect that to be the case."

The night before the draft, the Saints brain trust had dinner at Emeril's.

  • Loomis:

I'm there with Coach Payton and all the guys from our scouting department - and all our phones start ringing simultaneously. Sean has a lot of sources in the national media, and so do I. His guys are telling him that they think Houston is no going to sign Mario Williams, the great defensive end. Meanwhile, my guys are calling me and telling me that, no, Houston has a deal done with Reggie Bush and that we would be on the clock.

  • Payton:

Mickey and the scouts, they all had BlackBerrys and things like that, but I'm pretty low-tech. I just had my cell phone. My guy is pretty well connected in the media, and he's telling me that Houston is not taking Reggie, that they've made a deal with Mario Williams. My guy was positive that that was a done deal.

  • Loomis:

We had just assumed that Houston would take Reggie, but now we had to consider the option. ... Our real need was on defense. How would we feel if Reggie Bush is available? It was unanimous. We all said, "Look, we've got to take him. We just can't pass up this guy."

  • During the discussion, Sean said, "I'll bet each of you twenty dollars that we get Reggie Bush." Then he went to the men's room.
  • Loomis:

All our phones start ringing like crazy again. This time all our sources are saying that Houston has made a commitment to Mario Williams, and that we're on the clock. If we want Reggie Bush, we have the opportunity to take him. We all start high-fiving each other; we were all really excited.

  • Sean:

I got back to the table, and there was a stack of twenties at my place. It was great, really great. Suddenly, it seemed that the whole place knew. Even Emeril came over to the table and congratulated us.

The next day, the Saints picked Bush and arranged for him to fly to New Orleans immediately. Emeril:

They called and said, "We need a table in about four hours. We're bringing home Reggie Bush." When Reggie walked in, the whole restaurant jumped to their feet and started chanting "Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!" He thought the Saints had set it up.

The night before the 2007 draft, the Saints staff reserved the same table at Emeril's they occupied the year before with the same food.

References: Patron Saints: How the Saints Gave New Orleans a Reason to Believe, Alan Donnes (2007); Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010)

Tom Condon
Tom Condon, Drew Brees' agent

Nick Saban, Dolphins
Nick Saban

Chef Emeril Lagasse
Emeril Lagasse

Drew Brees and Mickey Loomis
Drew Brees and Mickey Loomis on signing day

 

Reggie Bush Saints #1 Pick
Reggie Bush

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Profile - Boy Owner I

John Mecom, Racing Car Owner
John Mecom Jr., racing car owner

Bedford Wynne with other Cowboys Officials
Cowboys founders clockwise from the top left - Clint Murchison, Jr., Bedford Wynne, Tom Landry and Tex Schramm

John Mecom with Pete Rozelle
26-year-old John Mecom Jr. with Pete Rozelle when Saints were born

Punter Ron Widby, Tennessee
Ron Widby, punter from Tennessee

Coach Tom Fears
Coach Tom Fears

The January 11, 1965, Sports Illustrated had an article entitled "The Big Itch They Call Little John." The subject of the article was John Mecom, Jr. "Fullback-sized" Mecom fils was dubbed "Little John" to differentiate him from his 6'2" 225 lb pere, "Big John."

  • The Mecoms originally earned their fortune of $200,000 in the oil and gas business.
  • Little John began working for his father at age 16. By 20, the college dropout negotiated oil deals in the Middle East.

Jack Olsen wrote in the article:

Nothing is more irritating than other people's possessions. ... If this be true, then the most irritating single American has to be a blandly handsome young Texan named John Mecom Jr.

Here's a partial list of the 25-year-old son's possessions.

  • 15 cars, including Ferraris, Corvettes, Mustangs, Fiats, half-tracks, full-tracks, and jeeps.
  • 10 airplanes and helicopters (owned jointly with his father)
  • Two ranches in Colorado and 780,000 acres on the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana
  • 75 pets including lions, zebras, kudus, ostriches, and llamas on a "lavish layout with asphalt landing strip on the Mexican border in Laredo TX"
  • Several mansions in Houston
  • Three hotels and a permanent suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York City
  • A string of racehorses and polo ponies
  • A fleet of boats
  • A collection of 300+ rare guns

Little John indulged his love of sports in a variety of ways.

  • He played football in high school and briefly at Oklahoma before an injury ended his career.
  • The Mecom Racing Team ranked in the top three in the country at the time of the SI article, with Roger Penske and A. J. Foyt among its drivers. (Many years later, Little John sponsored Danica Patrick in her transition from a 15-year-old kart driver to a professional driver in 1998.)
  • John Jr. got behind the wheel himself for a few races until papa nixed the idea.
  • He also played polo, the quintessential sport of the rich.

Olsen's article made no mention of young Mecom's ambition to own a professional football team. However, a December 9, 1968, SI piece traced Mecom's entry into the NFL.

  • In that article, Edwin Shrake wrote about Little John:

For several years he was spoken of as a potential franchise holder. If the conflict with the AFL had continued and the NFL had ever decided to expand into Houston, Mecom would most likely have been selected as the representative to stand up against Bud Adams and the Oilers. That was when Mecom seemed to be highly favored in Pete Rozelle's court.

  • Mecom enlisted two men to help him obtain a franchise.
    • Bedford Wynne, an attorney and one of the original minority owners of the Dallas Cowboys;
    • George Owen, John's "right hand man" who had once been a partner with Wynne and Mickey Mantle in a Dallas nightclub.
  • John paid $8.5 million to the NFL for the New Orleans franchise, announced on November 1, 1966.

The new owner set up a committee to run the operation - himself, Wynne, and Larry Karl, former assistant GM of the Cowboys. The triumverate didn't survive the first Saints training camp.

  • Mecom complained about the bills flooding in, including a $50,000 bonus to a punter, Ron Widby. Widby was cut but later picked up by Dallas, where he became one of the best in the league.
  • After a disagreement with Coach Tom Fears, Wynne departed the organization. Several months later, Karl followed suit.
  • Mecom brought in Bert Rose as GM at Rozelle's request. Rose, former GM of the Minnesota Vikings, had worked for Rozelle when the commissioner was GM of the Los Angeles Rams.

Rose looked for ways to trim the budget.

  • He decided to do without several employees, one of whom was Owen.
  • Mecom decided he would rather do without Rose.
  • Former chief scout Vic Schwenk replaced Rose in March, 1968. Unfortunately, Fears and Schwenk did not get along well.

It didn't take Mecom long to get himself in hot water with the rest of the NFL owners.

To be continued ...

Profile - Boy Owner II
Owner John Mecom Jr. of the brand new New Orleans Saints quickly put himself in the league's doghouse.
  • The source of the irritation was the trade that Mecom made for Dave Parks, a fine receiver who played out his option at San Francisco at the end of the 1967 season.
  • Under the rules in effect, the Saints had to pay some sort of compensation to the 49ers. When the clubs could not agree, the matter was turned over to Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
  • Rozelle ordered N.O. to give up its top 1968 draft choice Kevin Hardy plus the No. 1 draft choice for 1969.
  • Pete's decree raised screams that he was punishing Mecom for the treatment of Wynne, Rose, and Karl.
  • The owners, who didn't appreciate Mecom raising the ante for resigning free agents, turned a cold shoulder to the newest member of their exclusive club. (You must remember that free agency was in its infancy in those days.) From Edwin Shrake's SI article (12/09/68):

One NFL owner had been particularly chummy with [George] Owen [Mecom's right hand man] and Mecom. Suddenly he stopped calling. "When we played them, I saw him on the field before the game and asked what was wrong," Owen says. "He turned around and said, 'George, from now on our relationship is strictly business.' The only owner who invited us out to dinner this year was Bill Ford at Detroit."

Shrake continued his article sarcastically:

Although he would prefer to be liked by the NFL's inner circle, Mecom no doubt will be able to struggle through life somehow and keep having fun. He has built excellent practice quarters for his Saints out near the New Orleans airport. The executive offices are downtown at Lee Circle in a three-story brown building with two floors of black iron-lace balconies. The building is next door to another building, which is covered with ivy except for the doors, windows - and turrets. A sign in front of that building says: U.S. OIL OF LOUISIANA, INC. That is another Mecom company, and the two buildings are connected by passageways.

Mecom involved himself with his team on the field more than any other owner.

  • Having lost 40 pounds through hypnosis - "a state he can induce himself by snapping his fingers" - John often worked out with his players and, at 6'4" and over 200 lbs, was often mistaken for one.
  • Mecom played the role of the third-string QB in the movie "Number One," which cast Charlton Heston as an aging Saints QB. [This writer recalls attending a Saints game at Tulane Stadium during which action scenes from the movie were shot.]
  • Head coach Tom Fears was not happy with the owner hovering around but suffered in silence.
  • Two of the original Saints, Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung, regularly attended parties on Mecom's yacht, referred to as "John's Island" by players and coaches.
  • RB Chuck Muncie (1976-80) also enjoyed attending parties on the yacht. "He would have movie stars and actresses and players and coaches on that boat. He knew how to have a good time."

Another action that widened the gulf between Mecom and the other owners occurred during a game at Yankee Stadium in the Saints' maiden season of 1967.

  • Saints LB Steve Stonebreaker instigated a bench-clearing brawl at the end of a 27-21 loss to the Giants.
  • Mecom waded into the fray, throwing several haymakers at New York players. In fact, his arm was thrown out of place during the scuffle.
  • "I know I shouldn't have been there," Mecom told The New York Times. "Somebody threw a punch at me ... I got emotional and lost my cool."

Mecom finally sold the team for $70 million to Tom Benson and Associates in 1985.

  • The Saints never achieved a winning season during John's ownership.
  • They did break even (8-8) in 1979 under Dick Nolan before collapsing to 1-15 the following year.
  • Bum Phillips returned the Saints to .500 in '83 before sliding back to 7-9 in '84.

Dave Parks, Saints WR

Saints Coach Tom Fears
Tom Fears

Charlton Heston in "Number One"
Charlton Heston in "Number One"

Saints LB Steve Stonebreaker

"We Sucked."

 

 

Morten Andersen, Saints
Morten Andersen

Ironhead Heyward, Saints
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward

Dalton Hilliard, Saints
Dalton Hilliard

 

 

Al Davis, Raiders
Al Davis

The year after making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Saints entered their October 23, 1988, game with the Los Angeles Raiders on a six-game winning streak.

  • Jim Mora's team lost its opener 33-24 to the defending NFC West Champions, the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Four of the next six games were on the road but no problem.

@Atlanta 29-21
@Detroit 22-14
Tampa Bay 13-9
Dallas 20-17
@San Diego 23-17
@Seattle 19-17

  • The Raiders sat at 3-4 but were coming off a 27-17 win over their archrival, the Kansas City Chiefs.

66,249 gathered in the Superdome to watch the Black and Gold clash with the Black and Silver.

  • The Raiders moved into FG range on their opening possession but Chris Bahr's 50y attempt was short and right.
  • Later in the period, Morten Andersen didn't miss on a 51 yarder to put the home team on the board in the opening period.
  • L.A. took the lead in Q2 on an 85y pass from Jay Schroeder to Mervyn Fernandez. Jumpy Geathers blocked Bahr's conversion attempt to keep the score 6-3 at the half.
  • Bo Jackson started at RB for the Raiders, gained 25y on his first carry and 20 on his second. Then he went to the sidelines with a pulled hamstring muscle.

The Saints D completely stifled the Raiders in the second half while the O put 17 on the board.

  • On the first play of the second half, 260 lb first-round draft choice "Ironhead" Heyward broke loose on a 73y TD run in Q3 to put the Saints ahead for good, 10-6. As Craig hit the hole at LG he was hit almost immediately by LB Linden King. Heyward ran through that tackle, then carried CB Ron Fellows on his back for 4y before breaking into the clear and outracing the rest of the Raiders to paydirt.
  • Later in the period, Dalton Hilliard ran in from the 7.
  • In the final period, Andersen booted a 25y FG to make the score 20-6.
  • After Schroeder completed only 5-of-20, Steve Beuerlein took over at QB. He did a little better, 5-of-11 for 85, including a 49-yarder to Fernandez that put the Raiders at the Saints 9 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
  • On the next play, however, LB Rickey Jackson intercepted a ball thrown behind Steve Strachan to end the Raiders' best threat of the second half.

The final stats favored the Raiders.

  • 16-14 in first downs
  • 367-317 in total yards
  • As you can usually expect, L.A. "won" another crucial stat: 3-0 in turnovers thanks to 2 INTs and 1 fumble.
  • Marcus Allen gained 102y on 20 carries for the visitors, while Heyward rumbled for 107 on 10 carries, the first 100y rushing day for a Saints RB this season.

After the game, Baton Rouge reporter Jim Engster visited the Raiders' locker room where he encountered owner Al Davis.

Davis was pacing. Unlike most NFL quarters, the room was deadly quiet because the Raider players could see their volatile boss stewing and talking to himself. On this day, Davis was attired in an all white outfit rather than his customary black garb. After about a half hour of players whispering answers to reporters' questions, a retired [Jim] Plunkett bravely asked Davis what he thought about the performance as I reached to place my microphone in the owner's face. "We sucked," Davis growled to end the conversation and put the game in complete perspective.

The 1988 Saints lost five of their last eight games to finish 10-6 and miss the playoffs. The Raiders limped in 7-9.

 

Coach Jim Mora, Saints
Jim Mora

Jumpy Gaethers, Saints

Ricky Jackson, Saints
Ricky Jackson

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Reference: "Statistically Speaking," Jim Engster, Tiger Rag, October 18, 2011

Profile - Bobby Hebert I

Bobby Hebert was born in Baton Rouge in 1960.

  • Bobby grew up in Cut Off, "true Cajun country."
  • He led South Lafourche to the 1977 Louisiana AAAA state championship. He also played basketball for the Tarpons.
  • Bobby went to Northwestern State in Natchitoches where he threw for 3,798y and 30 TDs. His 364y in one game was a school passing record.
  • Intent on a pro career, Bobby had to obtain food stamps his senior year to feed his wife Theresa and their newborn daughter.
  • Four broken ribs his senior season perhaps diminished the interest of NFL teams. He later admitted, "It was really discouraging, and I said, 'God, are you telling me just to graduate from school and get a real job and forget about this football fantasy?'

The Michigan Panthers of the new United States Football League drafted Hebert in the third round of the 1983 draft and signed him to a contract that ended his financial woes.

  • "The Michigan Panthers basically guaranteed my contract, and I said, 'I can't afford to wait for the NFL. Here's a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the bank.' I said, 'Theresa, there might not be that many Cajuns in Michigan, but we're going up there.'"
  • Bobby set the USFL record for most TDs in a game with five on June 26, 1983. He threw for 3,568y for the season with 27 TDs against 17 INTs.
  • He led the Panthers to the championship, defeating Jim Mora's Philadelphia Stars 24-22. Hebert was named MVP of the championship game and the Sporting News Player of the Year.
  • Michigan didn't defend its championship the next season, but Bobby had a good year: 3,758y, 24 TDs, 22 INTs.
  • With the USFL struggling to survive, the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders with Hebert as signal caller. He gained 3,811y with 30 TD and 19 INT in leading the team to the title game. This time Bobby lost to Mora's Baltimore Stars 28-24.

Hebert's contract with the Invaders expired on July 15, 1985.

  • The Seattle Seahawks showed interest in him.
  • When Louisiana state senator Leonard Chabert learned of Hebert's intention to sign with Seattle, he asked Bobby's father to tell his son to delay his decision until Chabert could enlist the help of Governor Edwin Edwards.
  • Edwards arranged for Hebert's agent to meet with new Saints owner Tom Benson. The result was that the Saints signed "The Cajun Cannon" on August 6.
Continued below ...

Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort, Christian Serpas
"The Cajun Cannon," http://lafourche.com/sports/hebert.htm

QB Bobby Hebert, Michigan Panthers
Bobby Hebert, Michigan Panthers

Bobby Hebert, Oakland Invaders
Hebert with Oakland Invaders

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Profile - Bobby Hebert II

Saints QB Bobby Hebert

 

Tom Benson and Governor Edwin Edwards
Tom Benson (L) and Governor Edwin Edwards after Benson purchased the Saints

 

 

Saints QB Dave Wilson
Dave Wilson

 

 

 

Saints QB John Fourcade
John Fourcade


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Bobby Hebert fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams when he donned a Saints uniform in 1985. He arrived with or a season before three other important additions of the Saints family.

  • Tom Benson headed a syndicate that purchased the club for $70 million in June 1985.
  • Benson brought in Jim Finks as General Manager on January 14, 1986. As GM for the Vikings and the Bears, Jim had led both teams to Super Bowl appearances. The Saints would finally have a football man in charge of day-to-day operations.
  • Two weeks later, Finks hired Jim Mora as head coach. Mora was certainly familiar with Hebert since Jim had coached the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars to two USFL championships.
Saints GM Jim Finks
Jim Finks
Saints Coach Jim Mora
Jim Mora

With Bum Phillips still the head man in 1985, Hebert started the season riding the pine.

  • Dave Wilson started under C, but after five straight losses in mid-season made the record 3-7, Bum gave Bobby a shot against the Packers in Green Bay.
  • Bobby was an unspectacular 18-for-36 with 0 TDs but also with 0 INTs in the 38-14 loss.
  • The next game was against the Vikings in their new dome. Bobby hit 10-of-14 for 147y with 1 TD and 1 INT as the Saints won for the first time in seven weeks, 30-23.
  • Despite the victory, Bum resigned because he had decided he didn't want to coach another season and afford his son Wade, the D-coordinator, an audition as head man for the remaining four games of the season.
  • Hebert QBed the 29-3 romp over the Los Angeles Rams in the Dome in Wade's debut before the Saints returned to their losing ways to finish 5-11.

Bobby's first season under Coach Mora was marred by injury.

  • One of 14 former USFL players on the roster, Hebert beat out Wilson and started the first three games. However, Bobby broke his foot the third week in San Francisco. Wilson started the remaining 13 contests, with Bobby getting spot duty in two of them.
  • Mora's first year ended with a 7-9 record.

The stage was set for the breakthrough season of 1987.

  • Hebert began the season as the starter. The Saints split their first two games before a player strike cancelled all games scheduled for the third weekend.
  • The NFL resumed play on October 4 with replacement players filling the rosters. The Saints won two of their three games during the strike before the NFLPA settled with the owners.
  • Bobby took all the snaps in the loss to the 49ers 24-22 in the Dome. The Saints then went on a tear, winning their last nine games to achieve the club's first winning season (12-3) and first playoff berth. New Orleans had the second-highest victory total in the NFL. Unfortunately, San Francisco had the highest, relegating the Saints to a wild card berth.
  • Mora's squad wasn't ready for the intensity of the post-season. The Vikings quickly subdued the raucous crowd in the Superdome by bolting to a 31-10 first half lead on their way to a 44-10 shellacking. Hebert completed only 9-of-19 for 84y before giving way to Wilson, who did worse - 2-for-12.

1988 proved to be a frustrating season for Saints fans.

  • The Cajun Cannon started all 16 games in the season that produced no playoff appearance.
  • After opening with a 34-33 loss to the 49ers, the Saints reeled off seven straight wins.
  • Then they lost five of their last eight for finish 10-6.
  • Hebert completed 58.6% of his passes (280-of-478) for 3,156y and 20 TDs. Unfortunately, he threw 15 INTs.

The Saints won only 9 games in '89. (The phrase "won only 9 games" would never have been used before 1987.)

  • Hebert started the first 13 games. He won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award for October when he threw 10 TDs and only 4 INTs.
  • However, his production waned in November: just 2 TDs against 8 INTs.
  • During the 13th contest, a 21-14 loss at Detroit that pushed the Saints below .500 at 6-7, Mora benched the slumping Cannon and substituted John Fourcade, another SE Louisiana boy.
  • Pete Finney wrote in the Picayune that Hebert's "deterioration is obvious."
  • Fourcade started the remaining three contests, all victories.

Hebert, not happy at being benched, wanted out of New Orleans for 1990.

Reference: The Saga of the Saints: An Illustrated History of the First 25 Seasons, Wayne Mack (1992)

Profile - Bobby Hebert III

Saints QB Bobby Hebert hoped to play elsewhere for 1990.

    • He met with Coach Mora for 90 minutes in January before the February 1 expiration of his contract, which had paid him $650,000 in '89. His agent, Greg Campbell, announced it would cost any team that wanted to sign Bobby $2 million.
    • Hebert asked that he not be protected under what was called "Plan B." In this system, inaugurated in 1989, each team could preserve limited rights to 37 players for a season.
    • Bobby told the press, "Realistically, I don't think I'll be with the Saints next season. My position is, I don't want to play in New Orleans. I want a career change. I don't want to play in the area where I come from."
    • However, GM Jim Finks protected Hebert and instead announced that Bobby and John Fourcade would enter the 1990 training camp on an equal par.

Training camp came and went, and the season began with Hebert unsigned.

  • On the second Sunday of the season, CBS's pregame show reported that the Saints would send Hebert to the Raiders and bring in Dallas backup Steve Walsh.
  • CBS proved to be half right. The Saints did trade for Walsh, but Bobby remained unsigned for the entire season.
  • Steve led the Saints to an 8-8 season and a wild card berth in the playoffs. The Bears ended New Orleans' season with a 16-6 victory at Soldier Field.

Bobby met with the media in June 1991 to announce that he had rejoined the team for its Silver Anniversary Season. "I'm here to help the Saints win the championship."

  • Mora waited until the week of the first regular season game to announce that Hebert would start in the opener. "I just feel Bobby is the one I want to start this week - call it a gut feeling."
  • Thunderous boos greeted Hebert as he took the field against Seattle in the Dome. However, there was a quite different response when his second pass turned into a 50y TD to Gill Fenerty.
  • After the Saints jumped to a 20-7 lead, two Hebert INTs helped the Seahawks forge ahead 24-20.
  • Bobby made the fans forget about 1990 when he hit Floyd Turner in the EZ with 48 seconds left to pull out the W.

The Saints won their first five games, and Bobby made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

  • Providing ammunition to those who believe in the SI Cover jinx, the Eagles battered Hebert in the sixth game, a street fight in The City of Brotherly Love that the Saints won 13-6. Walsh finished the game after Bobby suffered a mild concussion.
  • Steve started the next week and presided over the 23-7 victory over Tampa Bay in the Dome.
  • Bobby returned against Chicago despite some pain and had a good day: 27-for-39 with 2 TDs. However, the Bears knocked the Saints from the ranks of the unbeaten. Hebert re-sprained his right shoulder and suffered from a bruised rotator cuff.
  • So Walsh ran the O for the next six games - two wins followed by four losses.
  • Hebert came back to direct victories in the last two games to clinch the Saints first NFC West championship. In the first game, a Monday night 27-0 romp over the Raiders, Bobby reaped NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
  • Still, as the #3 seed, New Orleans had to host a wild card game. The hated Falcons came to the Dome and continued the Saints' playoff futility with a 27-20 victory.

The Cajun Cannon started all 16 games in the 1992 season.

  • Hebert threw for a career best 3,287y.
  • The Saints matched their 1987 season record of 12 wins but finished two games behind the 49ers.
  • This time it was Philadelphia who came to the Dome and knocked the hometown heroes out of the playoffs.

On April 13, 1993, the unthinkable happened.

  • Unlike 1990, Hebert was an unrestricted free agent this time.
  • The Saints did not accede to the guaranteed four-year contract offering $3-4 million a year that the 33-year-old desired.
  • Instead, the team signed Atlanta's Wade Wilson to a three-year contract averaging about $2 million a season.
  • Nine days later, Hebert signed a three-year $10.4 million contract with the Falcons.

Hebert ended his pro career with four seasons in Atlanta.

  • He started only 25 games, including none in either '94 or '95 when Jeff George ran June Jones' O.
  • Bobby went 3-1 against the Saints as a starter, splitting two in '93 and winning both in '96.
  • Hebert retired with 21,683y gained passing, 135 TD and 124 INT in the NFL.

References: The Saga of the Saints: An Illustrated History of the First 25 Seasons, Wayne Mack (1992)
The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort Book 2, Christian Serpas (1992)

Saints GM Jim Finks
Jim Finks

Saints QB Steve Walsh
Steve Walsh

Bobby Hebert on SI Cover
Bobby Hebert

Falcons QB Bobby Hebert
Bobby Hebert with Atlanta


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CONTENTS

First 1,000 yd Rusher

Dazzling Debut: Marcus Dowdell

River City Relay

Emeril Helps the Saints - I

Emeril Helps the Saints - II

Profile: Boy Owner - I

Profile: Boy Owner - II

We Sucked!

Profile: Bobby Hebert - I

Profile: Bobby Hebert - II

Profile: Bobby Hebert - III

 

Saints Saga I

Saints Saga II

Saints Saga III

Saints Saga IV

Saints Saga VI

Saints Saga VII

Saints Saga VIII

Saints Saga IX - 1987

 

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