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1986 - Contrast in Owners
As the Saints prepared to host the 49ers in an NFC West clash November 2, 1986, a storm was gathering over the San Francisco franchise in the person of owner Edward DeBartolo.
  • Eddie D. always looked forward to the annual trip to play the Saints. His family had significant business interests in Louisiana, including the Louisiana Downs race track and the New Orleans Centre. To him, beating the Saints meant more than just bragging rights in the division.
  • However, the disappointing result would cause volcano DeBartolo to erupt after the game.

Unfortunately for Eddie's hopes, the Niners, less than two years removed from their second Super Bowl victory under Coach Bill Walsh, entered the fray missing some significant players.

  • QB Joe Montana, who had undergone shoulder surgery in the off-season, had not played since the opening game against Tampa Bay when he rup­tured a disk in his lower back. That led to another operation and a headline in a Bay Area newspaper that proclaimed, IT'S 50/50 THAT HE'LL EVER PLAY AGAIN.
  • To make matters worse, Joe's replacement, Jeff Kemp, who had compiled a 3-2-1 record as a starter, sustained a hip injury that put him out for three weeks.
    One of Kemp's victories came at the expense of the Saints 26-17 September 21 at Candlestick Park.
  • Walsh was stuck with Mike Moroski, a journeyman backup, whom he coached up into a 59% passer who led San Francisco to a 31-17 victory over the Packers in Green Bay the week before the Saints game.
    Moroski had been cut by various teams six times in his NFL career.
  • Two defensive backs, S Ronnie Lott and CB Eric Wright, were out of action, and RB Wendell Tyler was fresh off the injured list.
  • In all, SF starters had missed a total of 33 games, and 49ers who had been on the active roster so far in the season had missed 65 games.
    OLB Milt McColl had an explanation for the rash of injuries that had plagued not only his team but the whole league. "I think the game is rougher because of all the blitzing. The game is being played faster. In the old days, the alignments were tight, and guys ran into eah other from a shorter distance. Now they are spread all over the field, and there is a lot of blitzing, which means more contact at higher speeds and a more violent collision."
  • And now they would have to compete on the hard artificial surface of the Superdome.
  • Still, you throw away his first season in San Francisco (1979), when he lost both contests to the Saints, as well as the strike-shortened '82 campaign, and Walsh was 10-1 against New Orleans.
  • Walsh: "We've had a number of injuries, and each day they keep piling up. We're not going into this game making excuses. The 49ers have never done it in the past, and we won't do it now."
  • Despite being banged up, the visitors were a six-point favorite.
The Saints were under new management
  • Tom Benson bought the team in June, 1985, and, after observing what he had for one season, cleaned house.
  • He brought in Jim Finks as General Manager, and Finks in turn hired Coach Jim Mora from the USFL for the '86 season.
  • The Saints were 3-5 with victories over the Packers, Colts, and Bucs.
  • They had their own injury issues. Wade Wilson would start under C in place of Bobby Hebert, who had been injured in the game in Frisco. Two O-line starters were out, and rookie RB Rueben Mayes, who had averaged 5.6 ypc, was questionable with a sprained foot. If he couldn't go, another rookie, Dalton Hilliard from LSU, would bear the load. "Dalton doesn't have the same speed as Rueben," said Wilson, "but he's got great vision and cutting ability to get the extra yards."
  • Mora's basic philosophy would not change. "We feel like we've got to estab­lish a running game every week and try not to make it a one-dimensional game.
  • You could almost hear DT Jim Wilks licking his chops as he prepared for Moroski. "Moroski's not going to go anywhere. He'll stay in the pocket a little longer. He's not going to hold on to the ball very long. If his receivers are covered, he'll dump the ball off."

53,324 spectators watched the Saints finally put together a total game.

Quarter 1

  • After the defense forced a three-and-out on the 49ers' opening possession, Eric Martin returned the punt 28y to give the Saints excellent field position at their 48. Four plays later, FB Buford Jordan, one of 10 former USFL players on the Saints roster, made a one-handed grab of Wade Wilson's pass in the flat, broke the tackle of LB Jim Fahnhorst, and gained 26y to the 6. Two players later, Jordan delivered the block at the point of attack that allowed Mayes to knife into the EZ on a sweep from the 4. Morten Andersen booted the PAT. Saints 7 49ers 0 (11:55)
    After another 1-2-3-punt by the Niners, Wilson led a 52y, six-play drive on the first offensive series. Rueben Mayes, who seemed at 100%, took a pitchout and started around the right side but, seeing the 49ers' excellent pursuit, reversed his field and, aided by a block from his QB, headed down the sidelines for a a 27y TD run. Saints 14 49ers 0 (7:32)
    Mayes: "I got the pitch, and I saw a lot of bodies flying. Instinctively, I just cut it back, and there were only two guys there. Dave got one of them, and then it was just a matter of taking the ball into the end zone. ... Sometimes they overflow to the right side. I've got enough speed to get back around the other way."
    Wilson on his block: "I just went for his knees. He was kind of pushing back at my arms to make it look like holding. It would have been bad to get that call, but I think the offensive line would have liked it ... in a way."
    San Francisco had found themselves in a 14-0 hole the week before against Green Bay but had rallied to win. So there was no reason to panic now.
    The 49ers blew an excellent chance to cut the lead in half when WR Jerry Rice beat CB Johnnie Poe but dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Moroski at the goal line. The visitors had to settle for a 50y FG by Ray Wersching. Saints 14 49ers 3 (2:33)
    Rice: "The ball seemed to get caught up in the lights, but that's no excuse. I should have caught it."
    Wersching's FG was the first by a Saints opponent in the last seven attempts.
    During the quarter, SF NG Michael Carter had to leave the field with a sprained ankle and spent the rest of the game on crutches on the sideline.

L-R: Eric Martin, Morten Andersen, Johnnie Poe
Quarter 2
  • Fahnhorst picked off an underthrown pass by Wilson intended for TE Hoby Brenner and returned it 45y to the 1.
    Wilson was hit as he threw the pass. "They obviously had scouted that play well. Fahnhorst just stopped covering John (Tice). With enough pure time, I would have gotten it over him, but as it was, I didn't."
    On first-and-goal, S Antonio Gibson, another USFL veteran, threw Joe Cribbs for a 2y loss, but Moroski then rolled right and tossed a 3y TD pass to TE John Frank. Saints 14 49ers 10 (11:43)
    Wilson admitted afterward that "there was a little panic in the guys' eyes" when the Niners pulled within four. "Nothing was going right for us in the second quarter. The running game bogged down, so did the passing game. There was some panic there."
    But while some of the Saints might have been concerned, LB Ricky Jack­son wasn't worried. "Once they (the offense) got 14 points, I didn't care if they didn't get no more points. I just didn't want them to give up no points. That's been the problem in the past."
    With their defense stifling the Saints, the Niners were quickly in scoring range again, but Wersching shanked a 32y FG attempt. However, a defensive holding penalty on the Saints gave SF first-and-goal at the 9. But Moroski & Company muffed a great scoring chance again. First, G Randy Cross was called for holding on DT Tony Elliott. Two plays later, WR Derrick Crawford cut inside, and Moroski threw the ball outside. Gibson intercepted and ran it out 43y.
    Crawford: "We didn't expect that kind of coverage. Gibson stayed outside, so I turned around and hooked inside. Mike was looking for me to run out."
    Gibson: "Moroski eyed the receiver down the whole time. He expected the receiver to break into the flat, and I just read the ball. He was looking to hit people in the flat the whole game. ... I don't think he had very much confidence in himself, throwing the ball downfield."
    The 49ers had still another chance to take the lead before the half, but veteran RB Wendell Tyler fumbled, and Jackson recovered at the 13.
    LB Alvin Toles caused the fumble from behind. "I got my hand on Tyler's wrist and pulled on it."
    The Saints ended the half with only 9y of total offense after its first two possessions. HALFTIME SCORE: SAINTS 14 49ers 10

L-R: Hoby Brenner, Antonio Gibson, Alvin Toles
Quarter 3
  • On the 49ers first possession of the half, CB Dave Waymer fell down and a safety blew his assignment. That left both WR Dwight Clark and TE Russ Francis wide upon. Moroski threw to Francis for 52y to the 5. But three plays later, Jackson smashed right through FB Roger Craig to throw the QB for a 12y loss. So the 49ers lined up for what seemed like a sure FG. But Poe blocked the 32y attempt.
    Jackson: "I tried to rattle Moroski all day. I wanted Craig to think the QB was still inside (the pocket), but he was outside. When Craig ducked his head, I knew I had him."
    The Saints then marched to a FG of their own. The key play was another Wilson-to-Jordan swing pass. Buford rambled down the sideline, then cut inside behind Brenner's block for a 37y gain. Shortly afterward, "Mr. Auto­matic" Andersen booted a 45y FG. Saints 17 49ers 10 (2:22)
    Highly displeased with his team's performance, San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo left the visiting team suite and watched the final period in his club's locker room .

Quarter 4

  • Mayes gained 14y on the first two plays of the Saints' next possession to start a drive that bogged down at the SF 33. So Anderson boomed a 50-yarder through the uprights. Saints 20 49ers 10 (11:32)
    With the defense throttling the 49ers, a 10-point lead seemed insurmount­able.
    When New Orleans got the ball back, they ground out a 66y drive. The big gain was a 29y pass from Wilson to Eugene Goodlow on 3rd-and-11 to the SF 44. Mayes added an 18y run to the 24 with a personal foul penalty moving it halfway to the goal line. Shortly afterward, Andersen's 23y FG added icing to the cake. Saints 23 49ers 10 (3:07)
    The 49ers' 52y rushing was their second-lowest total since Walsh became the coach in 1979.
    FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 23 49ers 10

    Tom Benson boogies after Saints beat 49ers.
    The two owners unwittingly provided quite a contrast. Tom Benson came down from his suite late in the game and did his newly-patented boogie on the sideline to celebrate the victory.
    Near the end of the game, DeBartolo, who was undoubtedly inebriated, threw a glass at the TV monitor, sending shards of glass flying all over the locker room. One reporter said Eddie looked as though "his eyes might rocket out of his skull ... Eddie D. was seething, and he suddenly noticed one of the 49er public relations men…. Eddie grabbed the guy from behind and wheeled him around and started yelling at him. You would have thought Eddie D. owned the guy." Eddie also berated a team doctor. But that was just the warmup for the main event. As the players straggled in, covered with sweat, blood, and rug burns from the Superdome's artificial grass, their owner started yelling at them. When Walsh arrived, he pulled his boss into the head coach's office and told him he wouldn't allow him to talk to the team that way. That set off a screaming contest between the two. One witness remembered it as "fuck you this and fuck you that." Eddie finally ended the confrontation by telling the coach to have his lawyer call the owner's lawyer in the morning to talk about terminating his contract. Then he stomped out with his entourage in pursuit. Bill stepped into his office to gather himself for a few minutes before facing the press.

Postgame

Saints

  • Mora: "I had a good feeling about it, going in, but you've still got to play on Sunday. A lot of crazy things can happen in this game. We beat a good football team, and our guys are getting better, too." He praised Rueben Mayes, who ran for 128y on 28 attempts. "It makes a lot of difference having Rueben in the lineup. He's a very talented football player. He can make things happen. He's got that ability, that quickness and speed, more so than our other backs. Guys with talent make big plays, and big plays win football games."
  • Johnnie Poe explained to San Francisco writers the difference between this team and their predecessors. "Things were pretty lax here under Bum (Phillips). He was a good ol' boy, and he had a father-son relationship with his players. Mora has that, too, but the father's always in charge. If it takes four-letter words, he lets you know what you're doing wrong."
  • T Stan Brock explained why the team didn't buckle in the second half. "At the half, coach told us to relax and catch our breaths. We settled down in the second half. I think this was our best game as a team."

49ers

  • Walsh met the press in the hallway. "These are tough times for our football team. ... We're in the middle of the division race, and we aren't about to concede anything. ... Injuries and the replacements they require throw the timing off everything you do."
    Moroski disagreed with his coach. "I don't think we were that much out of sync. We played well and had them off balance at times. We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities we worked hard to create."
    Craig: "I'm sick of these injuries and not just mine. Injuries take away from the whole game. They take the fun out of it because you can't perform the way you know you can. We've got a lot of character and a lot of talent on this team. But it's going to be a test, a real challenge."
    G Randy Cross didn't use injuries as an excuse."We should have won today. We've got the depth, the experience, the ability. ... I don't mean to be a wise-ass, but all this (loss) means is that we won't be 13-2-1. We're a quality team. We're going to win this division, whatever it takes. ...We've got some people like Montana who will come back and make an impact."
    After his press conference, Walsh retreated to the visiting coach's office. A San Francisco Chronicle writer looking through the glass door into the office described Walsh as "a tired, deflated, white-haired figure slumped in a chair, his eyes on the floor. It was as though, with his speech to the press completed, he had wandered back into that room, sat down, and hit rock bottom."
    Years later, Walsh recalled that two days after returning to San Francisco, owner and coach "got back together on the phone to smooth things over, reminding each other how hard we had worked to get where we were, and that we could deal with bad times like these."

Postscript

  • Tom FitzGerald of The San Francisco Chronicle sensed that these were not the same old Saints. "Somebody has been loading steroids in the New Orleans Saints' jambalaya. Either that or coach Jim Mora is a candidate for genius of the year. In years past, teams knew that if they played the Saints tough, the Superdomers eventually would turn into the Maids of Orleans. Yesterday, when the 49ers finally figured out the Saints' running game, you expected the Saints to fold up their tents. But this is a different New Orleans team. Even if Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott had played, the 49ers probably would have had a struggle. 'We kept the rope tight on them, and we didn't let go,' LB Rickey Jackson said." The Saints finished Mora's first season 7-9.
  • Montana returned to action for the last seven games to lead the 49ers to the NFC West title by a half-game over the Rams. But the Giants blasted the Niners 49-3 in the Division Playoff round.

Edward DeBartolo


Mike Moroski vs Green Bay


Jim Mora


Wade Wilson


Jim Wilks


Buford Jordan


Jim Fahnhorst


Rueben Mayes finishes 27y TD.


Jerry Rice


Ray Wersching


John Frank


Ricky Jackson


Tony Elliott after Moroski


Dalton Hilliard collared by Tom Holmoe


Dave Waymer


Russ Francis


Eugene Goodlow


Stan Brock

Return to Football Magazine

Saints Saga Archives - I

First Draft
Dazzling Debut: Archie Manning
Dazzling Debut: John Fourcade
The Sad Tale of Russell Erxleben
Could've, would've, should've
Profile: Billy Kilmer
"Shut that music off!"
Record Setter: Seven INTs
Profile: Morten Andersen
Memorable Game: Aints No More
Mascots to Fit the Team
Saints Get Moore from Lance

Saints Saga Archives - II

Bobby Hebert's Terrible Year
Memorable Game: Rams 10/23/94
Bum Takes Over
Dazzling Debut: Aaron Brooks
The Longest Boo
Profile: Tom Dempsey
The Love Affair Started Early
Record Breaker: 12 TD Passes
Firsts: Andersen Points, OT Victory
The Great Pizza Revolt

Saints Saga Archives - III

Profile: Ironhead Heyward
"One of the Oddest Two-Play Sequences in Saints History
"The Man Belongs in the Hall of Fame"
Profile: Michael Haynes
Ditka's Regime
First Victory
Memorable Game: Raiders 1979

Saints Saga Archives - IV

Streak Buster:Tampa Bay 1977
Dazzling Debut: Deuce McAllister
First 2-0 Start
"The Case of the Purloined Playbook"
Profile: Danny Abramowicz
"Black Sunday"
Dixon's Quest
Record-Setting Punt Returner
Profile: Bum Phillips
Memorable Game: Bears 1977

Saints Saga Archives - V

First 1,000y Rusher
Dazzling Debut: Marcus Dowdell
River City Relay
Emeril Helps the Saints I & II
Profile: Boy Owner I & II
We Sucked!
Profile: Bobby Hebert I, II, & III

Saints Saga Archives - VI

Hank Returns to KC
Streak Buster: Lone 1980 Win
Say Two Hail Marys and Beat the Saints
That Penalty Hurt!
Record Setter: Sam Mills 1992
Unlikely Victory
Big Plays Win It
First NFL Game in Mexico
Payton-Brees Regime Begins

Saints Saga Archives - VII

Take Me Out to the Brawl Game
Profile: Don Reese I and II
Memorable Games: Vince's Redskins I, II, III
Dobler Returns to the Dome I and II
Saints in Blue and Gold?
Walter Payton Gets the Record
Saints-49ers Shootout

Saints Saga Archives - VIII

Record-Setting Performance: Joe Horn 2003
Not So Dazzling Debut - Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson
Memorable Game: Pearl Harbor Day Disaster 1980
Memorable Game: Saints-Eagles 2007 Playoffs
Record-Setter: George Rogers
He looks funny in white pants
Profile: Monty Stickles

Saints Saga Archives - IX

Season in Time: 1987


Saints Saga Archives - X

Biggest Margins in Saints History
Firsts: Seven Wins, NFC Player of Year - 1978
Streak Buster: 1980 Opener
Profile: Jim Finks I

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