Unexpected Hero
The 5-1-1 Oakland Raiders, sporting the youngest coach and the oldest player in the NFL, came to New Orleans to play the Saints November 7, 1971.
  • 44-year-old George Blanda was nine years older than his coach, John Madden. Blanda had enjoyed a miraculous season in 1970 when he personally kicked or passed Oakland to five come-from-behind victories. The old man had struck again the week before the Raiders made their first trip to New Orleans when he came in with his team trailing 20-10 against archrival Kansas City and tossed for one touchdown and booted an 8y field goal to gain a tie. Read about his exploits ...
  • Madden had become the Raiders' coach two years earlier. After starting 12-1-1 in '69, he had seen his record tumble to 8-4-2 in '70 despite Blanda's heroics.
  • Blanda would play no role in the game against the Saints except to kick extra points. Instead, it would be an opposing quarterback who provided the last minute heroics.

The Saints were having an up-and-down season.

  • The campaign began with great fanfare. QB Archie Manning, the #1 draft choice from Ole Miss who was born the year George Blanda started his pro career, led the Saints to an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams 24-20 in the opener. Read about Archie scoring on the last play of the game.
  • After two losses and a tie in the next three games, the Saints upset the defending NFC champion Cowboys 24-14. But two road losses followed to leave coach J. D. Roberts with a 2-4-1 record in his first full season after taking over the year before in time for Tom Dempsey's record-setting field goal. Still, Madden told the press when he arrived in the Crescent City: Here in Tulane Stadium, the Saints–inspired by their hometown rooters–upset the Rams and Cowboys. So we certainly can't afford to be complacent.
  • Manning was nursing a pulled thigh muscle but was expected to play. Backup QB Edd Hargett, who played most of the previous game against the Redskins, was ready if needed. Madden said his squad had been preparing for the quarterback option, the play that beat the Rams when Archie rolled out with a choice of keeping the ball or pitching out to a halfback.
  • One ominous pair of statistics for the Saints were the Raiders' 19 sacks and their own 37 sacks allowedtops in the league.

A crowd of 83,102 packed Tulane Stadium on a 61° afternoon to watch a flag-filled contest in which 18 penalties were stepped off.

1st Quarter

  • After forcing a punt on the opening possession, the Saints started smartly only to have a miscue prevent them from taking an early lead. Aided by a 35y scoot by RB James Ford, Manning & Company reached the 14. But when they lined up for a field goal, the snap skidded on the turf beyond the holder, Hargett. He alertly retrieved the ball and threw a pass to RB Hoyle Granger, who was stopped short of the first down marker.
    Again another Raiders' punt, Archie, running noticeably better than in recent weeks, again led the offense into enemy territory. But he underthrew a pass intended for Al Dodd. CB Willie Brown made a one-handed interception at the 16.

    George Atkinson intercepts Archie Manning's pass intended for Dave Parks.
2nd Quarter
  • The Raiders finally broke the scoring ice with a nine-play, 88y march that culminated in a 43y pass from Daryle Lamonica to Fred Biletnikoff. RB Clarence Davis cut down an onrushing lineman to give Daryle time to loft the pass. LCB D'Artagnan Martin leapt but missed the ball, which landed in Freddie's hands at the three, and he stepped into the end zone. Raiders 7 Saints 0 (10:28 remaining)
    When Oakland got the ball back, they moved into Saints' territory again before being stopped by Delles Howell's interception.
    Archie gained 10 and then nine for a 1st down at the 43. But on the second scramble, he was hit hard by several defenders and came up groggy. He left the game with a bruised elbow and a ringing headache. Edd Hargett did the signal-calling the rest of the way. He kept the drive alive until G Jake Kupp was called for holding. That led to Charlie Durkee's 47y field goal attempt into a stiff breeze that had the distance but not the accuracy.
    The Saints ended the half with a pathetic 14y net passing thanks in large measure to the subtraction of sack yardage.
    Hargett: Being able to run early in the game made it easier for us to get our passing game going in the second half. When you can run the ball well, it enables your offensive linemen to set up their pass blocking better.
3rd Quarter
  • After the fans enjoyed a super halftime show by the Southern University band, the Saints got a break when a personal foul penalty wiped out a Raider interception that would have put them at the N.O. 20. Instead, Hargett was in business at midfield. But then the breaks evened out two plays later when a 25y gain by rookie RB Virgil Robinson from Grambling was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty. Then a 19y Hargett-to-Robinson completion fell victim to an offensive pass interference infraction. Then things went from bad to worse when Hargett fumbled while being sacked, and DT Art Thoms recovered at the N.O. 24. Four plays later, Pete Banaszak ran for a 4y touchdown through the path cleared by G George Buehler. Raiders 14 Saints 0 (9:04)
    Overcoming the frustration of moving the ball well with no points to show for it, Hargett led the offense to a 1st down at the Oakland 22. But when three plays netted only 7y, Durkee missed a 22y field goal. But Drew Buie was called for roughing the kicker to make it 1st down at the 10. On the next play, Jim Strong followed T Don Morrison through a large hole untouched into the end zone. Raiders 14 Saints 7 (3:33)

4th Quarter

  • The visitors seemed to wrap up the game when they scored their third touchdown, going 52y in nine plays. On 2nd down from the five, Clarence Davis ran into the end zone behind G Gene Upshaw only to have the touchdown negated by a holding penalty back to the 20. Undaunted and under no pressure from the pass rush, Lamonica threw to Biletnikoff at the right flag behind Martin. RAIDERS 21 SAINTS 7 (9:49)
    Hargett then started the longest drive–in minutes–of the day. Starting from the 30, the Saints reached the 14 thanks to a 21y completion to TE Dave Parks to the 28 and another 3rd-down connection, this one 13y to Bob Newland. Edd threw to Parks, but SS George Atkinson knocked it down. But another flag hit the turf, this one for interference to place the pigskin at the one. LB Phil Villapiano, who had 12 unassisted tackles on the day, stopped Robinson cold on the next play. However, Virgil darted into the end zone on the next snap. Touchdown? No, the Saints were in motion on the play to move them back to the six. Three plays later, the home team was on the four when Villapiano knocked down a fourth down pass. But the Raiders were detected offsides and penalized to the two. This time, Bob Gresham went over for the score with no flag. RAIDERS 21 SAINTS 14 (3:09)

    Gresham scores.
    Lamonica said afterward that he was anxious to get the ball again. We were ready to really open up. They were starting to cover Drew Buie one-on-one, and I knew they didn't have the speed to do that. I was ready to go deep with him.
    Roberts decided against an onside kick, but the strategy still paid off. Don Highsmith gathered in the pigskin but fumbled. Greg Slough picked up the ball and tried to run but he too lost the ball, and Bob Newland recovered for N.O. at the 25.
    But the Raider defense stiffened and managed to avoid a penalty. Atkinson broke up passes before and after Hargett threw the ball away under a heavy rush. George left the game after colliding with LB Jack Tatum on the second incompletion. Finally, Thoms knocked down Hargett's 4th down throw at the line of scrimmage.
    In his 1996 autobiography, Tatum mentioned the collision with Atkinson.
    In one game we were holding a 21-14 lead over the New Orleans Saints. Late in the fourth period the Saints QB threw over the middle for his wide receiver, Danny Abramowicz, who was well-covered by our strong safety, George Atkinson. In my eagerness to assist, I blasted in from the weak side and creamed everyone. It was a double knockout. I got Abramowicz, but I got George, too.
    That appeared to seal the game with a little over two minutes left to play. Needing just one first down to run out the clock, Oakland couldn't get it. On 3rd down, Lamonica was hit just after he threw the ball to TE Raymond Chester, who dropped it at the 40.
    Chester: My arm was pushed forward just as I reached for the ball.
    Jerry Depoyster got off his best punt of the day, 56y to put the Saints on their 22 after a 7y return with 1:35 on the clock.
    With Atkinson out, Hargett picked on his replacement, Tom Maxwell. After two incompletions, Edd hit Parks over the middle for 20 to move the chains to the 42. When he threw again for Dave, Nemiah Wilson broke it up but was called for interference. 1st and 10 at the Oakland 49 with 1:09 left. Three plays later, Hargett found Parks in the center of the field again for 21y and a 1st down at the 27. At that point, N.O. used its last timeout to stop the clock at 0:36. After an incompletion, Hargett hit Robinson at the 10, but the rookie from Grambling fumbled, and Tatum recovered to seemingly end the Saints' hopes. But the officials came to the rescue again. One called pass interference while another ruled the ball dead before the fumble. So the Saints refused the penalty and took the ball at the 10. From there, Hargett connected with Parks on an out pattern to the right and Dave ran into the end zone with eight seconds left. Durkee booted the tying point. SAINTS 21 RAIDERS 21 (0:08)
    Maxwell was responsible for Parks but was not close to him. I think I was picked on the play. Asked if it was an illegal pick, Tom replied, I'm not sure about it. I'll have to see the films. MLB Dan Conners had no doubt that the pick was illegal.
    The Raiders threw one desperation pass that fell to the turf as time ran out.


  • The Saints held Oakland's 4th-ranked offense to 240y while gaining 373 on the #5 defense in the league. The home team also had the advantage on the visitors in first downs 26-15.
    Parks praised the defense. The way the defense got the ball back for us to even give us a chance to tie proves to me that this team is maturing. They know that if the offense gets the ball, it is capable of moving it.
  • Madden praised the Saints. Last week, we came from behind to tie, and this week they came from behind to tie us. You have to give them credit. They're people you'll have to contend with in the future. John also noted one bright spot about the tie. We were the only team in our division that did not get beat. So we gained on everybody.

George Blanda

John Madden

Archie Manning

Edd Hargett

James Ford runs against Raiders

Hoyle Granger

Delles Howell

Charlie Durkee

Virgil Robinson

Jim Strong

Bob Newland

Biggest Margins in Saints History

John North

Archie Manning

Sean Payton 2011

Leigh Torrance
The most points ever scored by the Saints or against the Saints in a single game is the same - 62. And the losers' score was the same in both also.

September 16, 1973: Atlanta Falcons 62 New Orleans Saints 7

  • Will Peneguy started his Times-Picayune article on the Saints' opening game of the 1973 season like this.

    There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the professional football season opened in New Orleans Sunday afternoon.
    Well, maybe it was a half-truth. The Atlanta Falcons opened up ... and how.
    Norm Van Brocklin's usually conservative Falcons drowned New Orleans' alleged Saints in an avalanche of points, scoring a 62-7 victory ...

  • Fortunately, the Tulane Stadium debacle was witnessed by only 66,248, the Saints' smallest opening game crowd ever.
  • Atlanta actually scored its points in just three quarters following a scoreless first period. But that fact is deceptive since the Falcons took over at midfield and the Saints 28 on their first two possessions and reached the 4 and 22 without removing the goose egg from the board.
  • John North's debut as Saints' head coach could not have gone more disastrously.
    The obviously embarrassed coach said afterward: This is real humiliation. I never thought we could be this bad. When you play like this, the Little Sisters of the Poor could beat you. I know it's my job to get 'em ready so we don't make those kind of mistakes, but we work day and night and obviously we haven't gotten a damn thing done. They call themselves professional football players? You've got to be kidding me.
  • As always happens in such a rout, turnovers played a major role. QB Archie Manning threw five interceptions, backup Bob Davis tossed one, and the Saints lost two fumbles.
  • The home team scored its touchdown in Q3 after the Falcons raced to a 31-0 lead. Manning connected with Bill Butler on a 5y scoring pass to culminate a 77y drive.
  • The total offense tally read: Falcons 496y, Saints 187y.
  • The final two Atlanta touchdowns were scored by former LSU Tiger Eddie Ray. The 240lb FB scored on runs of 8 and 1y.
  • North rallied his troops enough to win five games against nine losses for the '73 season.
  • John survived to keep his job for the '74 campaign and for six games of 1975. His final record was 11-23.

October 23, 2011: New Orleans Saints 62 Indianapolis Colts 7

  • Sean Payton had to wonder if he should coach from the press box permanently after his Saints clobbered the Colts in a Sunday night game at the Superdome. Sean had broken his leg in a fluke sideline collision the previous week at Tampa Bay.
  • Not only was the final score the same as the Saints' worst loss but, as in that game, New Orleans scored the first 31 points before allowing a touchdown with 1:56 remaining before halftime.
  • The team the Saints had beaten in the Super Bowl two years earlier was suffering through a miserable 2-14 season that Peyton Manning missed entirely because of neck surgery.
  • The Saints first nine possessions went this way: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.
  • The first three N.O. scores came on Drew Brees passes–to Marques Colston from the 14 and the four and then Darren Sproles from the six.
  • FB Jed Collins plunged over from the one before John Kasay booted two field goals sandwiched around the Indy score.
  • Then Brees went back to work, tossing 4y and 2y touchdowns to TE Jimmy Graham.
  • Sproles added a 16y rushing six before Leigh Torrence topped off the night with a 42y interception return.
  • With Payton high in the sky, QB Coach Pete Carmichael called every play of the 557y offensive explosion. The first down tally ended 36-11 in favor of the Saints.
    Payton afterward: I was real proud of how we played tonight and how we handled the practices (with him absent from the sideline). We had talked about now, at this point, playing our best football because we really felt like, although we were 4-2, we hadn't done that.
  • The 2011 Saints finished 13-3 to win the NFC South. They defeated the Lions 45-28 in the first round of the playoffs before losing in the last minute at San Francisco 36-32.
Saints Firsts: Seven wins; NFC Player of the Year - 1978
Under first-year coach Dick Nolan, who took over for Hank Stram, the 1978 Saints achieved the best record in franchise history to that point: 7-9.
  • Seven wins were two more than the club had achieved in any of the previous eleven seasons in the NFL thanks in large measure to the fact that the NFL expanded the schedule from 14 to 16 games that year.
  • When the Saints beat the Giants 28-17 October 29, they achieved their first winning record (5-4) during any season in franchise history.
  • The victory over NY in the Superdome also created the Saints' first-ever three-game winning streak.
  • Alas, the Saints then lost four straight including a 20-17 loss to the Falcons before the largest crowd to watch the Saints since the Superdome opened in 1975 - 70,323 - in the only home game among the four contests.
  • New Orleans copped two of their last three games to achieve the seven victories and run the franchise record for twelve years to 46-119-5.

The postseason brought another first when QB Archie Manning was named NFC Player of the Year for 1978 and also the NFC MVP by both The Sporting News and United Press International.

  • "Huck Finn in shoulder pads" (as he was dubbed at Ole Miss) put up the best numbers of his eight-year career that season: 3,416y passing, 61.8% completions (291-471).
  • Archie's 344y in the November 5 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers ranked as the NFL season high for any QB.
  • He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Manning recalled the '78 season fondly.

I was really crazy about Dick Nolan and his coaching staff. ... And I think you've got to give Hank Stram a lot of credit for this, our offense was kind of ready to go. We'd drafted Wes Chandler, we made a trade for Ike Harris, we had Henry Childs, and, of course, Hank had drafted (Chuck) Muncie and (Tony) Galbreath. And we picked up Conrad Dobler in a trade which really solidified our offensive line. So all of a sudden offensively we've got some weapons and we're scoring points. ... I really had great people to throw the ball to and to hand off to.

Highlights from the record-setting season:

  • Game 1: 31-24 victory over the Vikings
    Tom Myers ran back an interception 97y in Q4 to give the Saints a 14-point lead in Q4.
  • Game 4: 20-18 victory at Cincinnati
    John Leypoldt's 27y field goal as time ran out provided the winning points. The kick hit the left upright and bounced toward the stands as the referee's hands went up. The Saints trailed 18-10 with a little more than five minutes remaining.

    Wes Chandler runs against the Bengals
  • Game 7: 14-7 victory over San Francisco
    Nolan's "Flex" defense held the homestanding 49ers to only 175y and created six turnovers (four fumble recoveries and two interceptions).

    Manning follows Tony Galbreath and Dave Lafary at San Francisco.
  • Game 8: 10-3 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles
    For the second straight week, the defense forced six turnovers (3 fumbles, 3 interceptions), costing L.A. the victory despite a 342-118 advantage in total yards.
  • Game 9: 28-17 win at home against the Giants
    The Saints despite gaining "only" three turnovers (all interceptions). The home team scored 21 unanswered points the second half.
  • Game 14: 24-13 victory over the 49ers
    1978 first-round draft choice Wes Chandler snagged two touchdowns passes from Archie - 58y and 12y.
  • Game 16: 17-10 triumph at Tampa Bay
    Manning led a 55y, six-play drive that led to the winning touchdown - a 2y throw to Henry Childs, the TE's third reception of the possession. The Saints overcame a pair of holding penalties along the way. That's why Archie had four completions for 65y on the 55y march.
Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort - Book I,
Christian Serpas (1991)

Dick Nolan

Archie Manning

Tom Myers

John Leypoldt
Streak Buster: 1980 Opener

Bill Walsh

Eddie DeBartolo

Earl Cooper

Archie Manning leaving the field disconsolate in 1980

Dick Nolan

Russell Erxleben

Steve DeBerg

Tony Galbreath dives over for Saints' first touchdown.

Tommy Myers

Erxleben after missing final field goal.


Bill Walsh approached his second season as 49ers head coach with optimism.
  • Many questioned his hiring after San Francisco went 2-14 in his first season, the same record as the year before and tied for the worst mark in the league.
  • But owner Eddie DeBartolo had no such qualms. I provided the team with, in my opinion, the best football coach in the country, said Eddie D. to a reporter. It's just a matter of patience, just sitting back and waiting for the good times to come. And I think they will. I really do.
  • Eddie thought the team improved in 1979 and was much more fun to watch, especially on offense, Walsh's specialty. Using what would be dubbed the "West Coast Offense" with its short, ball-control passing game, the Niners scored 308 points, 91 more than the previous season.
  • The stats from 1978 and 1979 show the shift Walsh made in the offense.
    49ers Passing Rushing
    1978 190-435-1956y 585-2091y
    1979 361-602-3641y 480-1932y
  • The problem was the defense, which surrendered 66 more than the year before.

Walsh, who had control of player personnel, showed the eagle eye for talent that would help him make the Pro Football Hall of Fame by bringing in several players who would contribute for years to come.

  • Dwaine "Peewee" Board, a light but fast DE, was picked up on waivers from the Steelers.
  • DB Dwight Hicks, cut by the Eagles and out of football, would become an All-Pro FS.
  • Mike Wilson, WR cut by the Cowboys, would play for Walsh the rest of his tenure in San Francisco.

The 49ers also improved themselves through the 1980 draft.

  • DE Jim Stuckey from Clemson
  • RB Earl Cooper from Rice
  • Light but fast OLB Keena Turner from Purdue, who would become a defensive mainstay for a decade

Walsh considered the 1980 opener in New Orleans a strong test of how much his team had improved.

  • The Saints had beaten their NFC West rival twice in 1979, 30-21 and 31-20.
  • Those victories helped New Orleans to finish 8-8, their best in the franchise's 14-year history.

Excitement was at an all-time high in the Crescent City. The heart of the 1979 offense that ranked 4th in the NFL in yardage returned.

  • QB Archie Manning came off his second straight Pro Bowl season.
  • "Thunder and Lightning," otherwise known as RB Chuck Muncie and FB Tony Galbreath, returned after gaining almost 2700y from scrimmage as a combo in '79.
  • Third-year WR Wes Chandler snagged 65 balls for 1,069y while TE Henry Childs caught 51 for 846.
  • Coach Dick Nolan had a problem, however. Three of his offensive stars had missed the last preseason game because of injuries. Muncie nursed a bruised big toe, and Chandler suffered from a sprained knee. Childs would definitely miss the 49ers game with knee and groin injuries.
  • Nolan made what proved to be a crucial decision when he cut veteran K Garo Yepremian, a crowd favorite, and kept second-year K Russell Erxleben, a first-round draft choice in 1979 who had been injured most of his rookie season. Erxleben was expected to handle both the place-kicking and punting duties.

Nolan knew that matching 1979's success would require an improved defense.

  • I think our defense is better in many areas. We have to be a better team. Everyone in the division has improved.
  • On the SF passing attack: They've done well. What they do is throw percentage passes. They run their routes right and pick up their receivers well. They don't make foolish mistakes.

A crowd of 58,621 gathered in the Superdome to see if the Saints could win their third opener in team history.

  • Quarter 1
    49ers QB Steve DeBerg picked on the Saints' LBs all game long with passes to his RBs and TEs. The Saints countered by giving up their run-oriented "flex defense" in favor of a "4-3 Rush" technique designed to put pressure on the QB. But DeBerg responded by calling a running play when he saw the 4-3 defensive formation.
    A Saints' drive to the 49er 13 came up empty when Russell Erxleben's 30y field goal attempt hit the right upright.
    A later N.O. drive to the 30 stalled because of a holding call.
    END OF Q1: SAINTS 0 49ERS 0

  • Quarter 2
    Erxleben failed to connect on a 47y attempt. However, a good bit of acting resulted in a roughing the kicker penalty. That enabled the Saints to continue the march that culminated in FB Tony Galbreath diving over from the 1. Saints 7 49ers 0 (9:22)
    The Niners responded with a 69y drive sparked by the running of HB Paul Hofer and rookie FB Earl Cooper. The crucial play came on a 3rd-and-6 when DeBerg hit Cooper with a 15y pass. Cooper ended the drive with a 2y run. Saints 7 49ers 7 (5:23)
    Before the half ended, the visitors drove 55y to take the lead. DeBerg relied almost exclusively on Cooper who caught seven passes during the 11-play march, then ran 6y for his second NFL touchdown with just seconds left in the half.
    Saints S Tommy Myers: Cooper surprised me. He's a much better back than I thought he was.

  • Quarter 3
    The 49ers scored on their opening series on a 27y pass to RB Paul Hofer over a badly-beaten Reggie Mathis. The advance covered 66y in 10 plays. The Rickey Ray blocked the PAT try. 49ers 20 Saints 7 (9:55)
    Starting from their 26, Manning & Company roared back to another touchdown, Muncie doing the honors on a 7y sweep. But a high snap threw off the EP try. 49ERS 20 Saints 13 (5:28)

  • Quarter 4
    SF added a 37y field goal by Ray Wersching to start the period. 49ers 23 Saints 13 (14:52)
    It didn't take two minutes before Manning threw a 49y bomb to a leaping Wes Chandler. 49ers 23 Saints 20 (13:03)
    Tommy Myers intercepted DeBerg on the next series and four plays later Erxleben hit a 37y field goal to tie the game. 49ers 23 Saints 23 (9:47)
    Saints DE Elois Grooms: I felt we were getting ahead of them at that point. But we had them in a sitution where we had to control the ball, and we let them drive the field on us.
    The 49ers drove 61y to set up a 38-yarder by Wersching. 49ers 26 Saints 23 (3:37)
    Beginning from the 20, Manning led an 11-play drive, hitting a key 4th-down pass to Larry Hardy to put the pigskin on the SF 34. Along the way, though, New Orleans was charged with a timeout when T Bob Woods was injured with less than two minutes left, leaving them with just one more. On the next play, Archie completed a pass to Galbreath to the 16 with 25 seconds left. Manning decided not to use his final timeout despite the fact that his offense seemed confused as he frantically gestured them up to the line for the next play. The crowd began chanting, "Timeout! Timeout!" The result was an incomplete pass that ran the clock down to just 4 seconds.
    Afterward, Manning explained: I wanted to take a touchdown shot with a timeout left to protect the chance at a field goal. The problem was it just took us too long to get organized. If you call timeout at that point, then the only play you can run after it and still get a shot at the field goal is to pass into the end zone. When you're in that situation, they're going to have five DBs in the end zone. You have to force the ball in there, which means possibly a tipped ball or worse. So I'm thinking, "Run a play." Try to go into the end zone with a pass. If you don't score, you stop the clock. Or look for one of your backs short. If they don't get in, you can still kill the clock and kick the field goal.
    Nolan: Archie tried to move Wes to flanker and Ike to split end. He just took too much time.
    So Erxleben, already suffering from a miserable day, came in to try a 34y field goal to send the game into OT. He missed wide left and dropped to the turf and hid his face as the crowd booed.
    DeBerg said the 49ers were worried. Last year, we weren't a 2-14 team, but something crazy would always happen to us. If this had been last year, that kick would have been good.
Thus did San Francisco win their first road game after 18 straight losses. The last win came in the Superdome November 13, 1977.


  • Saints
    With Erxleben avoiding the press (Please, I have nothing to say. Please.), his teammates tried to absorb some of the blame for the loss. Myers: You can't blame a game on any one thing or one person. We all had a hand in it.
    Chuck Muncie on Erxleben: He's got to grow up. This came from someone who had some maturing to do himself.
    One teammate said of the kicker, Dammit, I'd rather see him kicking over benches. But maybe that's his way. Whatever it is, he's got to pull it together. I don't know why we ever let Garo Yepremian go. But that's water under the bridge. He's all we got.
    WR Ike Harris on the confusion at the end of the game. If everything had gone cleanly at the line of scrimmage, we could have run another play, called time out with 14 seconds left and had time for one more play with about six or seven seconds left.
    Nolan: I think we're a better team (than last year). We were able to come back. ... Penalties and the big plays killed us. I was pleased with the fact that we moved the ball, but penalties stopped our drives. On his kicker: There was no fault of the center on the missed field goals. Erxleben took his eye off the ball on his first miss. We expect him now to kick the ball higher and deeper. We expect him to conquer his problems.
    Chandler: The crowd noise really got to us. That was the only time I couldn't really hear the call.
    DT Derland Moore, an eight-year veteran: This is the most disappointing loss I have ever had as a New Orleans Saint. There are going to have to be a lot of changes - a lot more concentration, a lot fewer mistakes. We were supposed to be a real good football team this year. ... We stunk. They were smart and played a good game and all tat, but we just stunk.
    DE Elois Grooms: It just seemed like no matter what we used, they were able to hit us.
    CB Clarence Chapman: It's the same type of offense, he [Walsh] used against us last year. When you get a RB on a LB, you've got to expect the back to be able to get open. You can't stop it. You just try to limit it, knowing the percentages are against them, that they'll get tied up inside the 20 or make a mistake. But today we just couldn't get an edge on it.
    LB Ken Bordelon: Their offense is designed to pressure the LBs. They just did a good job of mixing their plays up. They kept us off balance. I don't think we did a bad job defensively. They had a couple of big plays, but we were not embarrassed.
    Myers was not as happy with the defensive effort. We didn't stop the passes to the backs all day long. Our responsibility is to stop the pass. Obviously we didn't do the job today.
    As Erxleben walked into a hallway and approached the door, he slumped back against the wall and sobbed.

  • 49ers
    Walsh: We were spirited, relentless, a very determined team.
    DeBerg threw 29 passes and completed 21 of them for 223y. 17 passes went to RBs Paul Hofer and Earl Cooper. They were doing a good job of covering our wide receivers, and we have the kind of backs I don't hesitate to throw to. If my wide receiver isn't wide open, I don't try to force the football. On Cooper, the Niners' first offensive draft choice of 1980: He's got great hands. We'll continue to use him. He might be the leading receiver in all of football this year. It's very likely that he could be at least the top receiving back. On the Saints' flex defense: The flex presents problems in the running game. But then it's weaker against the pass because the guys have a longer way to go to the ... QB. So that's the problem with the flex. They use it in running down situations. ... They were doing basically what they've been doing for the last three, four years. Steve expressed optimism about the Niners' chances in the NFC West. We do think that things are going to be very positive until somebody proves us wrong. And nobody yet this year has been able to prove that they're a better football team. Asked if Walsh was the reason for the 49ers turnaround: Yes. Also my maturity, the maturity of the whole offense and being under the system - maybe the best system in all of football - for two years. And don't forget those other players. On top of that is our defense and its progress over the past yeare. We're really in the running.
    Hofer on the passing attack: That's what we've done since Bill Walsh came to the 49ers. That's our offense. I'd hate to play defense against our offense.

The "Aints"
Follow up
  • The 1980 Saints would become the "Aints" as they lost their first 14 games - the last an OT defeat in San Francisco 38-35 - before beating the Jets to finish 1-15. Nolan lost his job after 12 games, and O-line coach Dick Stanfel finished up.
  • The 49ers would start 3-0 before losing eight in a row on their way to a disappointing 6-10 season. Along the way, DeBerg lost his job to a second-year QB named Joe Montana, who led the NFL in completion % (64.5). With another excellent draft and Joe under C from the start of the '81 season, the Niners would win the Super Bowl.
Reference: The Genius, David Harris (2008)
Profile: Jim Finks - I
No one in Saints history is more responsible for making the club competitive following two decades of futility than Jim Finks, who became General Manager in 1986.
  • A native of St. Louis, Finks played QB at the University of Tulsa. The Pittsburgh Steelers made him the 12th pick in the 1949 NFL Draft.
  • In 1952, when the Steelers became the last team in the league to convert from the single wing to the T-formation, Finks became the starting QB after playing his first three years as a DB.
  • That season he tied Cleveland's Otto Graham for the league lead in touchdown passes with 20 and earned a Pro Bowl invitation.
  • Jim retired after the 1955 season after completing 661 passes for 8,622y and 55 touchdowns.

Jim turned to coaching right after leaving the NFL but it turned out that his playing career wasn't over.

  • After coaching a year under Terry Brennan at Notre Dame, Jim joined the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
  • Following a year as an assistant coach and player, Finks became a scout and then the general manager for the 1958 season.
  • Showing a good eye for talent, Jim signed the players that made Calgary the winningest team in the CFL during the 1960s. The most famous player who joined the Stampeders on Jim's watch was QB Joe Kapp.

The Minnesota Vikings hired Finks as their General Manager for the 1964 season, the expansion franchise's fourth year in the NFL after winning only ten games their first three seasons.

  • Believing a team should be built around defense, his first draft pick in the NFL was DE Carl Eller, who became a perennial All-Pro who became enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Over the next few years, Finks complemented Eller on the D-line with the other three members of the famous "Purple People Eaters."
  • Other acquisitions included S Paul Krause (in a trade from Washington), OT Ron Yary (drafted).
  • Another key player he acquired was Joe Kapp, his QB at Calgary who would lead the Vikings to Super Bowl IV.
  • Most of all, Finks hired head coach Bud Grant, whom he knew as the coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 10 years in the CFL.
  • By 1968, Jim had built Minnesota into the "Black and Blue Division" champions. That started a streak of ten division titles in 11 seasons for the Vikings.

In 1974, Jim moved to Minnesota's NFC North rivals in Chicago after a dispute with the Vikings' principal owners over the location of a new stadium.

  • As Executive Vice President and GM, he worked his magic again in the Windy City with a team that had suffered through seven straight non-winning seasons.
  • His approach was to avoid the "quick fix" mentality and instead build for the long haul. As one member of his staff said, Jim Finks does not build teams. He builds organizations. Then the good teams follow naturally.
  • As in Minnesota, he hit the jackpot with his very first draft pick - RB Walter Payton from Jackson State. All he did was become the centerpiece of the Bears' offense. He gained 16,726y over his 13-year career and, like Eller, ended up in Canton.
  • Other Hall of Famers he drafted in Chicago were MLB Mike Singletary and DE Dan Hamption.
  • By 1977, Jim had Chicago back in the postseason for the first time since their championship season of 1963.
  • He left the Bears in 1982 following owner George Halas's hiring of Mike Ditka as Head Coach without consulting the GM.
  • Ditka won the Super Bowl three years later with a roster on which 19 of the 22 starters were acquired by Finks.

Jim next brought his talents to a different sport, baseball.

  • He was no stranger to that game, having played two years of minor league ball while with the Steelers.
  • The Cubs made him their president and chief executive officer near the end of the '83 season.
  • Was it a coincidence that the club won the NL East in 1984 for the first time? They fell one-game short of the franchise's first World Series appearance since 1945.
  • But once again his tenure ended with a dispute with management. He resigned when the team and then baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth undercut his promise of Chicago fans that Wrigley Field would not need lights.

Finks was working for a Chicago public relations firm when he was contacted by Tom Benson, the new owner of the New Orleans Saints.

Continued below ...

Jim Finks, Tulsa

Jim Finks, Steelers

Carl Eller

Walter Payton

Profile: Jim Finks - II

Tom Benson and Edwin Edwards announcing Benson's purchase of Saints

John Mecom, Jr.

Bum and Wade Phillips

Earl Campbell

Steve Sidwell

Jim Miller

Bill Kuharich

Bobby Hebert

Rueben Mayes

Jim Dombrowski

By his own admission, Tom Benson didn't know much about football when he put together a coalition to purchase the New Orleans Saints in May, 1985 from the team's original owner, John Mecom Jr.
  • Benson, a native New Orleanian who made his fortune through multiple automobile dealerships in Texas, admitted that he became interested in the Saints when Governor Edwin Edwards told him the club was on the verge of being sold to parties interested in moving the team to Jacksonville FL.
    Benson recalled in 2016: I wasn't a football fan. I didn't play football. I most probably didn't go to many games. But the big thing for me was the Saints were going to leave New Orleans. It would have been a disaster for us. I thought then, and I think that now. That's where it all started.
  • Almost three dozen people committed amounts ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $6 million to the $72M purchase price.
  • The new principal owner announced that he would run the team like a business, a radical change from the Mecom method which was epitomized by having a former astronaut, Dick Gordon, as Executive Vice President and General Manager from 1972-76.

The team Benson inherited had yet to have a winning season in its 18 years in the NFL.

  • The best New Orleans had done was 8-8 in 1979 and again in 1983.
  • Bum Phillips, the coach and GM since 1981, had been unable to build on the momentum of the '83 season as the Saints dropped to 7-9 the following season.
  • When Bum offered to resign so that the new owner could hire his own coach, Tom told him, "I need you to help me get this thing started." Bum acquiesced but said, "If it doesn't work out, I'll retire, and you won't have to tell me to."
  • It didn't work out, in part because Bum put his faith in over-the-hill RB Earl Campbell who had toiled so valiantly for him with the Houston Oilers.
  • When the '85 team won only four of its first 12 games, Bum resigned both his positions. He had decided to quit at the end of the season but did so earlier so that his son Wade, his defensive coordinator, could coach the last four games and perhaps earn the job full-time.

When the season ended, Benson decided to clean house.

  • He fired president Eddie Jones, PR Director Greg Suit, and Bum's pal Pat Peppler. Also gone was offensive coordinator King Hill.
  • Benson then began a search for a new GM, who would in turn hire the new head coach. Tom told the fans, "We're working to win," and, for the first time in Saints history, enlisted professionals to search for the men who would bring a winner to the long-suffering fans of the Crescent City.
  • Tom told the human resource manager for his business enterprises, Phil Osborne, to enlist the services of five nationally known people for the search committee - not GMs or coaches.
  • The Saints received applications from nearly 200 coaches and 25 GM candidates. The new owner set aside the coaching candidates and quickly reduced the GM number to five.
    Benson recalled, I believe that everyone should answer to the president and general manager, and I decided that I didn't want to run the team. I wanted to hire a man who would be in charge but keep me informed.
  • The United States Football League had just thrown in the towel (thanks in large measure to one of its owners, Donald Trump). Osborne arranged an interview with the GM and head coach of the Philadelphia Stars, who had the best record in the league: 48-13-1. Carl Peterson and coach Jim Mora discussed a package deal whereby they would assume the same positions with the Saints.
  • However, the search committee recommended someone else for GM - Jim Finks, one of pro football's most respected executives. Both New York Giants owner Wellington Mara and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell recommended Finks to Benson.
    Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, had pursued Finks for months to be his GM, but Jim refused the offer. I even wondered if I wanted to get back in the rat race again, Finks recalled.
  • Osborne invited Finks to come to San Antonio, the headquarters of Benson's car empire. Jim met with Tom for four hours in December, 1985.
    Finks suggested they draw up a contract. Benson recalled, There were some things I didn't understand, and when he asked me for a contract, I said, "Contract! In any of my companies, I don't give contracts. What the hell are you talking about?" So Finks drew up a written agreement that designated himself as president and GM. Since Benson considered Finks a good person who would do the right thing, the owner acquiesced.
  • Benson signed the contract January 14, 1986. For the first time in franchise history, a football man took complete control of the team.
  • During the press conference announcing his hiring, Finks told reporters, I've seen clubs with less material become a club and win, and I think that's the number-one objective here.

The next task was to hire a head coach.

  • Mora was also being courted by the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the St. Louis Cardinals. But Jim was more interested in the Saints.
    Mora recalled: I had serious opportunities in both places, but I had a feeling about this team (the Saints). I liked this team and felt this was the place I'd like to be.
  • With Philadelphia media reporting that Mora was close to signing with the Eagles, Finks hurried to The City of Brotherly Love and met with Mora for three hours.
    Mora was impressed. After I met with Finks ... I was really excited about being the head coach (in New Orleans). I really liked him, and I liked stepping into a situation where they had never won before and trying to produce a winner.
  • Finks was sold on Mora as his coach but had one problem. Benson preferred Wade Phillips, the interim coach from '85. But Finks pressed for someone who was not a retread ... and someone who had had winning head-coaching experience. Jim also felt that Mora's familiarity with USFL personnel would be valuable.
  • When Benson deferred to Finks, Jim met with Mora in Chicago and offered him a contract. Mora wanted to bring his entire USFL staff with him despite the fact that none had coached in the NFL. Finks suggested hiring a couple of NFL coaches for their knowledge of the league personnel. Mora held his ground and Finks gave in.
  • As it turned out, Mora did hire several assistants with NFL experience. When his defensive coordinator, Vince Tobin, joined the Bears staff, Jim hired an old friend, Steve Sidwell, with whom he had worked for six years at Colorado, and added Steve Walters as WR coach.

    Jim Finks, Tom Benson, Jim Mora at opening press conference
Meanwhile, Finks completed his front office staff.
  • Jim Miller, who was working for the NFL in New York administering the players' collective bargaining agreement, flew to New Orleans to meet with Finks during Super Bowl week and accepted an offer to become vice president of administration.
    Miller remembered: I was to meet Finks in the office at the Superdome on Super Bowl Sunday. So I went to the receptionist and said, "I'm here to see Mr. Finks." So this older guy walks out, and he looks kind of rumpled, and I'm wondering who he is. Then he comes over and says, "I'm Tom Benson."
  • Another key position, Director of Player Personnel, was filled by Bill Kuharich, son of former college and NFL head coach Joe Kuharich.

Finks and Mora engineered a significant overhaul of the Saints' roster.

  • Offense:
    QB Bobby Hebert, a native of South Louisiana, came from the USFL
    RB Dalton Hilliard was drafted in the second round from LSU.
    RB Rueben Mayes from Washington State was a third-round draft pick.
    T Jim Dombrowski was drafted in the first round out of Virginia.
  • Defense:
    LB Vaughan Johnson was acquired in the supplemental draft
    MLB Sam Mills came from the Philadelphia Stars with Coach Mora.
    LB Pat Swilling was a 3rd round draft pick out of Georgia Tech.
    Those three newcomers would team with Ricky Jackson, a six-year veteran, to form The Dome Patrol, arguably the greatest set of LBs on one team in NFL history.

The '86 Saints reflected their new head man, who was a hard-working, no-nonsense coach who stressed defense and ball control.

  • They started slowly, losing four of their first five games.
  • Then they won five of their next six to nose above .500 at 6-5.
  • But three straight losses ended any playoff hopes.
  • The final record was 7-9, two games better than the last pre-Finks/Mora squad.
  • But a comparison of points scored vs points surrendered shows the '86 Saints were considerably better than the previous year's club.
    1985 Saints: Points For 294, Points Against 401, -107 difference
    1986 Saints: Points For 288, Points Against 287, +1 difference
  • The difference lay in the '86 defense, which gave up 114 fewer points.

The foundation was laid for the breakthrough 1987 season.

Continue below ...
Profile: Jim Finks - III
The makeover that GM Jim Finks began in 1986 didn't take long to bear fruit.
  • The 1987 Saints compiled a 12-3 record, including a nine-game winning streak to end the regular season.
  • Although the 49ers won the NFC West with a 13-2 record, the Saints earned a wild card spot and entered the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's 21-year history.
  • Despite playing before a raucous Superdome crowd that just knew the visiting Vikings would be no match for the Crescent City juggernaut, the Saints lost the wild-card game 44-10.
    Read the full story of the 1987 season ...

Still, New Orleans looked forward to the 1988 season.

  • Finks built on the success of the '87 campaign to raise ticket prices by $4. He also moved the Saints training camp to La Crosse WI.
  • The Saints used their No. 1 pick on RB Craig "Ironhead" Heyward from Pittsburgh. Director of Player Personnel Bill Kuharich called him "a cross between a bull and a deer." Kuharich and his assistants felt that Heyward's tendency to overeat and engage in "mischievous" behavior could be controlled. That would prove to be a naive assessment.
  • The only other selection who would help the team was #2 Brett Perriman, WR from Miami. Particularly bad was the choice of DT Tony Stephens from Clemson in Round 3. He didn't even survive training camp but went home happy with his $150,000 signing bonus.
  • New Orleans had a successful '88 season, winning 10 and losing six. But three losses in a row down the stretch after a 9-3 start dropped them into a tie for 1st in the NFC West with the 49ers and Rams but they missed the playoffs by being on the wrong side of tiebreaker with Los Angeles.
  • Heyward played in 11 games, gaining 355y on 74 carries.
  • After the season, Finks admitted to a reporter, The drafting of Shawn Knight(in 1986) and Tony Stephens were big mistakes. Now, we've got to get our coaches better players.

Finks' job was made more complicated in 1989 by "Plan B."

  • This was a compromise with the Players Association that provided for a limited free agency.
  • Under Plan B, each team retained limited rights to 37 players each season. A protected player was not allowed to sign with another team without the old team getting the first shot at signing him at the same or better salary or getting compensation from the new club that signed him.
  • The Saints lost promising WR Robert Clark and record-setting return man Mel Gray as well as several second-line players.
  • The club acquired no impact players from Plan B.

For a while in the offseason, it appeared that the Saints might lose their GM.

  • Commissioner Pete Rozelle retired, and Finks was considered a strong candidate to replace him.
  • A six-owner search committee listed Jim as the only candidate for the job.
  • However, a group of eleven newer owners wanted more of a voice in the selection process. So they abstained from voting to prevent Finks from receiving the 19 votes needed to become commissioner.
  • Six months later, a second vote was held that resulted in a tie with 13 votes for Finks and 13 for Paul Tagliabue.
  • At a third meeting, the factions reached a compromise whereby Tagliabue would become commissioner and Finks, president in charge of football operations.
  • But Jim declined the position and stayed with the Saints.
The 1989 draft was only marginally better than the previous year's.
  • The #1 pick, DT Wayne Martin, would play eleven solid years for the Saints.
  • But the only other pick who had much of an impact was WR Floyd Turner, taken in Round 6.

The '89 campaign started 1-4.

  • The defense felt the loss of LB Ricky Jackson for the first three games. He had barely escaped death in an auto accident just before the start of the season. He needed some time to get back into playing shape when he returned.
    Jackson's 118 consecutive games streak ended.
  • The Saints regrouped and won five of their next six games to get back in the playoff race.
  • But a devastating loss to the Rams in OT after blowing a 17-3 lead with less than three minutes to play and an add-on defeat to the Lions dropped them back under .500 and caused Mora to bench Bobby Hebert in favor of John Fourcade.
  • The New Orleans-area native led the team to three straight victories to finish 9-7 - not enough to make the playoffs.
  • Heyward took part in all 16 games but carried only 49 times.

Finks's 1990 offseason was dominated by dealings with multiple holdouts.

  • Bobby Hebert was not happy with his contract, which expired February 1. He asked to be left unprotected under Plan B so that he could sign with another team. His agent said it would take a raise to $2M from his previous $650,000 to make him resign with the Saints. Finks refused to leave Bobby unprotected and announced that Hebert and Fourcade would go to camp as equals.
  • Fourcade, who earned $100,000 in '89, signed a contract for a $850,000 over two years. Hebert decided to sit out the 1990 season.
  • LB Pat Swilling also held out for a better contract but finally accepted a two-year deal nine days before the season opener.
  • Another holdout, OT Stan Brock, also signed just before the regular season began.

The draft produced two players who would contribute.

  • DE Renaldo Turnbull started a seven-year career with the Saints highlighted by 44.5 sacks.
  • DB Vince Buck didn't start until his second season when he registered five picks.
  • However, DE Frank Warren was lost for the season when he was suspended for violating the NFL drug policy.

The 1990 season started poorly but ended up producing another trip to the playoffs.

  • Fourcade started the first four games but was not nearly as effective as he had been at the end of the '89 season, throwing seven interceptions. The Saints won only one of his starts.
    After the 32-3 loss to the Vikings, a reporter asked Mora, Should the Saints be trying to sign Hebert? Jim answered: No. Hell no. Absolutely no. I don't miss Hebert. Hell no. I don't miss him.
  • So Finks acquired Steve Walsh from Dallas for the fourth game of the season. He compiled a 6-5 record as a starter.
  • The vagaries of the NFL were illustrated by the fact that the Saints finished 8-8, their worst record in four years. Yet they made the playoffs as a wild card only to lose to the Bears in Chicago.
Continued below ...

Craig Heyward

Paul Tagliabue

Floyd Turner

Bobby Hebert

John Fourcade

Steve Walsh

Profile: Jim Finks - IV

Bobby Hebert on cover of Sports Illustrated after Saints 7-0 start in 1991

Frank Warren

Vaughn Dunbar

Willie Roaf

Jim Finks
The Saints got several presents for their 1991 25th anniversary season.
  • The Prodigal Son, AKA QB Bobby Hebert, rejoined the team June 4 after holding out for the entire 1990 season. He proclaimed he was "ready to play football, with no ill feelings, and winning will take care of the fans."
    Bobby was part of a group of players filing a class action suit against the league that eventually won them free agency but damages as well. Many years later, he recalled: The Saints offered me something around $700,000. I wanted the going rate for a QB at my level, around $1.2 million. I remember Mr. Finks telling me, "We own you." ... I could have gone to the Raiders, but the Saints didn't want to trade me. They said they did, but that wasn't the case. The offer they made was one of those take it or leave it deals. They felt they held all the cards. They just wanted me to sit and rot. They thought I'd come around. ... Everybody thought I was crazy (for sitting out the 1990 season), but I had enough money put away to get by. I didn't feel I was taking a risk. I didn't have any bills.
  • DT Frank Warren was reinstated after missing a year after testing positive for drugs a third time.
  • GM Jim Finks acquired WR Quinn Early, DL Les Miller, and WR Patrick Newman via Plan B, the NFL's answer to free agency in an attempt to satisfy the courts while a collective bargaining agreement with the players remained in limbo.
  • The draft produced WR Wesley Carroll, RB Fred McAfee, and TE Frank Wainwright.
  • On the negative side, G Steve Trapilo suffered a knee injury that put him out for the season, and RB Rueben Mayes announced his retirement.
    Mayes would return for the 1992 season before retiring again.

Boos mixed with cheers greeted Hebert as he took the field for the opener against Seattle.

  • Because of injuries, Bobby played in only nine games. Steve Walsh started the other six.
  • The Saints started strong, winning their first seven games.
  • But after they defeated the 49ers 10-3 in the Dome to run the record to 9-1, their first division championship was being conceded to the Saints. They led the NFC West by a whopping four games.
  • Then they lost their next four games, during which the defense, with several key players out with injuries, gave up an average of 27 points an outing.
  • But the Saints rallied and won their last two games to clinch the division on the last day.
  • However, the Falcons made the playoffs as a wild card and came to New Orleans the next week and beat the Saints in OT 23-20.
  • Despite the disappointing finish, GM Jim Finks was pleased with the 11-5 season and NFL West title.

What would the 1992 Saints do for an encore?

  • Nothing less than a playoff victory would satisfy the fans, who had now endured three postseason losses in three tries.
  • Significant changes from the 1991 lineup included rookie Vaughn Dunbar starting at RB and Craig Heyward having a healthy full season at FB. Veteran Derek Kennard took over at RG. All eleven starters returned on defense, including Pro Bowl LBs Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, and Vaughan Johnson.
  • The Saints bettered their 1991 record by one game, 12-5, but finished second in the NFC West by two games to the 49ers.
  • Once again, they hosted a wild card game, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. And they suffered another heartbreaking loss. Leading 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, they gave up 26 points, including a 35y touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham, a safety, and an 18y interception return by Eric Allen.

The 1993 draft turned out to be Finks' last one.

  • He drafted T Willie Roaf and TE Irv Smith in the first round. Roaf would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2012.
  • Once the draft ended, Jim's wife took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had chain smoked for years and never could quit the habit.
  • His health declined rapidly, making him too ill to continue as president and general manager. On July15, 1993, Finks stepped down from both positions. Club owner Tom Benson retained him as a consultant while leaving his positions open.
  • He died May 18, 1994, at age 66 at his home in Metairie LA.
  • That same year, he was elected to the Saints Hall of Fame.
  • He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 as an administrator. The Louisiana Hall of Fame honored him in 2000.
  • The other two teams for whom he served as GM also recognized him. He was inducted the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor in 1998. The Chicago Bears retired a special "GM" designation in place of a number.
Here's the statistics that best summarize Jim Finks' impact on the New Orleans Saints.
  • From the beginning of the franchise in 1967 through 1985, the Saints finished .500 or better just twice and never won their division or made the playoffs.
  • From 1986-1992, Finks's tenure as GM, the Saints' record was at least .500 every season. They won their division for the first time and made the playoffs four of the seven years. Included were four double-digit win campaigns.

In summary, Jim Finks, with the assistance of the coach he hired, Jim Mora, made the Saints a consistently successful professional football team for the first time in their history.

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 end zone 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 touchdown 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 field goal 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 field goal 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 touchdown 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 field goal 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 field goal. 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 field goal 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 field goal. 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 field goal 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.



  • 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."


  • 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."


  • 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 touchdown.

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

Fourcade to the Rescue
Jim Mora's 1989 squad, his fourth as Saints head coach, was in big trouble with three games remaining in the regular season. After losing two in a row, the Saints stood at 6-7. The first of the two losses had been a real heartbreaker that was immediately dubbed "The Flipper Anderson Game."
  • The Saints led the Los Angeles Rams 17-3 as the clock ticked under three minutes to go in the Sunday night game in the Superdome. But the visitors rallied to win in OT 20-17.
  • New Orleans failed to gain a first down in the final period. QB Bobby Hebert completed only 12 of 26 attempts for 155y against the league's worst pass defense.
  • On the other side of the ball, Rams WR Flipper Anderson caught 15 passes and broke the NFL's single-game record with 336y receiving.

The following week, the offense failed to score in the second half against the 3-9 Lions in Detroit.

  • The result was a 21-14 setback that left the Saints' hopes of obtaining a wild card playoff berth on life support.
  • With 7:04 left in the game, Mora pulled Hebert in favor of former replacement player John Fourcade. "I thought about it at halftime," said Jim. "Then we came out and I wanted to see what happened in the second half. We struggled a bit in the first two series. It wasn't all (Hebert's) fault. At a point, I just felt like, hey, we had to try something different."
  • The defense also shouldered some of the blame. For the second week in a row, an unknown receiver torched the Saints. This time it was Richard Johnson, all 5'6" of him. He gained 248y on his eight receptions, including a 75y touchdown when he caught a pass just beyond the line of scrimmage and raced down the left sideline to pay dirt for the go-ahead touchdown in Q3.
  • The final score could have been worse but Detroit coach Wayne Fontes, under fire himself, instructed his QB to take a knee at the Saints' 1 in the last seconds.
  • LB Pat Swilling was asked what the defeat did for the Saints' playoff picture. The playoff picture, really ... There is no playoff picture.

The big question in the week leading up to the game at Buffalo was, Whom would Mora start at QB?

  • John Fourcade was the answer. The hometown product of Archbishop Shaw High School had played in the CFL, the USFL, and Arena Football in addition to QBing the Saints as a replacement player during the 1987 strike.
  • Earlier in the '89 season, John had sustained leg and ankle injuries against Tampa Bay while replacing Hebert, who was being treated for a concussion.
  • G Jim Dombrowski explained the difference from Hebert to Fourcade. The pocket's going to move a lot more. ... from what I heard, when Bobby first got here, he had a little bit of antsy feet. He learned to stay in the pocket more. John, he definitely runs out of there, which creates a lot of problems for us. We can only really protect him as long as he's in the pocket. When he goes outside the pocket, he's basically taking his life into his own hands.
  • The change did create a problem for the 8-5 Bills, as coach Marv Levy explained. We don't know enough about Fourcade, really, to say this is exactly what we do. You can't tell this guy to stay home, and the outside guys to keep contain. ... If you do that, pretty soon you're playing look-out football ...

The weather in upstate New York made the game even more challenging for the young QB from the Deep South.

  • Snow showers fell during the first half with a temperature around 30° and 15-20 mph wind.
  • But Fourcade was poised and confident and jump-started the Saints' offense with 13 first-quarter points as the Bills adjusted to his tendencies.
  • The first touchdown came on a 12y pass to TE John Tice. A dumpoff screen that RB Dalton Hilliard took 54y on the icy field produced the second.
  • The Bills fought back in the second quarter. James Lofton took a Jim Kelly pass 42y to make it 13-6 when the second PAT of the day was missed. After a Morten Andersen 31y field goal, Buffalo scored the last six points of the half on 43 and 48y field goals by Scott Norwood.

Bobby Hebert

Flipper Anderson

Richard Johnson

Pat Swilling

L: Buford Jordan (23) tackles Don Beebe; R: John Fourcade upended for a sack.
The game would not be decided until the closing minutes.
  • The home team took a 19-16 lead on a 2y Kelly-to-Pete Metzelaars pass 47 seconds into Q3. The quick score was set up when a gust of wind took the kickoff, causing Gene Atkins to slide down as he tried to field it. Mickey Sutton recovered for Buffalo at the 2.
  • With their defense seemingly in control, the Bills looked like a good bet for victory. But Fourcade guided a drive that culminated in a tying 26y field goal by Old Reliable Andersen.
  • The tie remained intact until the Bills drove into field goal range in the waning minutes. But Kelly's pass bounced off the hands of RB Thurman Thomas into the mitts of CB Toi Cook at the 15.
  • After making one first down, Fourcade & Company faced 3rd-and-12 at their 24. John mishandled the shotgun snap, then rolled right and lofted the ball with the wind toward WR Eric Martin near midfield. The former LSU star caught the ball amid three defenders at the 50.
    I just kept backing up and backing up, said Eric afterward. Fourcade: When we got that pass, I knew there was no way they could beat us. The guys in the huddle, all the offensive linemen like Stan Brock, were real leaders. They were all behind me.
  • Three runs by FB Buford Jordan for 32y mixed with three by Hilliard of 15 moved the pigskin to the 4, where Andersen kicked a not-so-automatic field goal to make it 22-19 with 1:53 on the clock.
    Andersen: As soon as I ran out there, I felt a big gust of wind - a real confidence builder. What scared me was that the wind wasn't consistent. The wind was left-to-right, so I started it off left of center, and the wind brought it back right of center. 10-20y longer, and that kick doesn't make it.
  • Kelly tried to rally his troops, but Brett Maxie's interception with 1:17 left sealed an improbable victory for the visitors.
  • Asked if Fourcade would start again the next week, Mora replied, Barring the unforeseen ... sure. Under the circumstances, considering this was John's first start, coming against a fine team, he played very well. But, too, I thought it was a team win. John played a super game. He was calm, and the team rallied around him.
  • Swilling followed up on his remark the previous week about playoff hopes - or lack thereof. We were eliminated after we lost last week. We only wanted to win these last three games. One down, two to go.

To be continued...

John Fourcade

John Tice

Morten Andersen

Toi Cook

Eric Martin

Buford Jordan

Brett Maxie