Profile: Ironhead Heyward – I

Craig "Ironhead" Heyward
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward





Brian Bosworth
Brian Bosworth

RB Rueben Mayes

One of the most colorful players in Saints history was Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.
  • Heyward received his nickname at Passaic (NJ) High School, also the alma mater of Jack "The Assassin" Tatum, S for Ohio State and the Oakland Raiders. "Ironhead" could have referred to his 8 3/4" hat size, the way he put his head down to ram tacklers, or his stubbornness.
  • Craig had an outstanding career as a RB for the Pittsburgh Panthers. At 5'11" he was deceptively fast and quick-footed for someone weighing 265-280 lb. In three years, he rushed for 3,086y, which put him behind only Tony Dorsett and Curvin Richards in school history.
  • One of his best games came in the 1987 opener against BYU. He ran for 133, caught two for 66, and threw a 17y TD pass. In another game, he took a screen pass and sprinted 40y down the sideline, leaping over a DB on the way. Attributing that move to Michael Jordan, Heyward dubbed himself "Air Iron."

Heyward elected to skip his senior year and offer himself for the 1988 NFL draft.

  • This move was prohibited by an agreement between the NFL and the NCAA.
  • Craig's coach, Mike Gottfried, wrote letters the Competition Committee urging them to keep Ironhead out of the draft. In the end, the NFL reneged and allowed Heyward as well as another underclassmen, BYU TE Trevor Molini, to be chosen.
  • Since he had ballooned to 300+ lb. in the off-season, Craig projected as no better than a third round selection. Hiring a trainer, he worked down to 250, which led to the Saints taking him as #24 in Round One.
  • This would not be his last weight battle during his 11-year NFL career.

Ironhead did not achieve the same level of success in the NFL as he had in college. However, he did develop a reputation as a fierce blocker and one mean dude.

  • Len Pasquarelli of described Heyward thus: "He was one of the toughest, nastiest SOBs that I have encountered in 28 years of covering the NFL, a man whose menacing scowl could seemingly strip paint from a wall, and who reveled in his own brute physicality and took glee from imposing his strength on others."
  • His rookie season he carried 74 times for 355 (4.8 avg) and one spectacular TD. It happened in Game 8 against the Los Angeles Raiders in the Superdome. Playing FB, he took a handoff from Bobby Hebert and banged into the middle of the line. He bounced outside and turned upfield into daylight, lowering his shoulder to run over 175-lb CB Ron Fellows and outrace the D to the EZ. The 20-6 victory was the Saints' 7th straight.
  • Hebert recalls a game in Ironhead's rookie season when he was used as a lead blocker against Seattle LB Brian Bosworth on six straight plays. "After about the third time, Bosworth was crying. Honest. Tears were rolling down his face, because he didn't want Ironhead to hit him anymore. He cried 'Uncle!' for real. Ironhead just laughed at him."
  • In and out of Coach Jim Mora's doghouse because he didn't control his weight, especially in the off-season, Heyward toted the pigskin only 49 times in '89 for 183 (3.7) and 1 TD. He also caught 13 for 69.

1990 saw Ironhead lead the club in rushing with 599 yd on 129 tries.

  • In Week 8, he sparked the 21-7 triumph over the Bengals. On the Saints' first play, he barreled 39y to start him on the way to 122y with one TD. Since Rueben Mayes, in part because of Ironhead's blocking, added 115, the duo became the first since "Thunder and Lightning," Tony Galbreath and Chuck Muncie, to gain 100 in the same game.
  • The following week, Craig earned NFL Offensive Player of the Week with a career-high 155 rushing and ripped off a signature 47y scoring jaunt through and over the Buccaneers.
Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort, Christian Serpas<
Profile: Ironhead Heyward – II
After leading the Saints in rushing in 1990, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward couldn't stand prosperity.

  • His weight ballooned to 340 lb during the off-season. He later told Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated:

    I was an idiot. I was all about getting drunk. Man, we'd go out there and drink a case of beer and a couple of bottles of tequila. We'd be out there wilding. Then, at the end of the night, I'd go to one of those all-night places and have four or five of those big Polish sausage sandwiches. Get home at 4 or 5 in the morning and still have to be at practice at 8 a.m. I'd be at practice still drunk. I didn't care. I wanted to be the big man. For a lot of years, I made my bed hard, and it was tough to sleep in it.

  • He played in only 7 games in 1991, starting 4. He gained 260 on 76 carries.
  • 1992 was better as he appeared in all 16 games, 13 as a starter. Used mostly as a blocker, he toted the pigskin 104 times for 416y.

Ironhead played six more NFL season after leaving New Orleans.

  • After a year with the Bears in '93, he played for the hated Falcons from 1994-1996.
  • He made the Pro Bowl in '95 following his finest year in the NFL: 1,083y rushing and 350 receiving.
  • A year with the St. Louis Rams and another with the Indianapolis Colts completed his NFL career.
  • Heyward finished with 4,301 rushing yd, 1,559y receiving, and 30 TDs.

Ironhead tragically died at age 39 in 2006 from brain cancer that had plagued him since 1998. However, he lives on in football through his son.

  • 6-6 280 Cameron Heyward plays for Ohio State after being named the Georgia Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.
  • He played in the BCS Championship Game against LSU in the Superdome, his father's old stomping ground, following the 2007 season. Heyward made several Freshman All-American teams that year as DE.
  • Cameron recalls watching his father play in games, then joining him in the locker room afterward. He remembers his father's Zest body wash commercials, in which the rough-and-tough runner playfully asked, "But Ironhead, what's with this thingy?" as he dangled a loofah in a shower.
  • Craig actually discouraged his son from playing football. "He knew how crazy football was, and he didn’t want me to get involved."
  • Cameron is about to enter his senior season as a DT for the Buckeyes.
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, Falcons
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward
with Atlanta Falcons


Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

"One of the Oddest Two-Play Sequences in Saints' History"
QB Steve Walsh, Saints
Steve Walsh

QB Mike Buck, Saints

RB Gil Fennerty, Saints
Gil Fennerty

WR Floyd Turner, Saints
Floyd Turner

WR Michael Haynes, Falcons
Michael Haynes

That's the phrase Christian Serpas uses in The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort, Book 2 to describe events in Q2 of the Saints-Falcons game in the Superdome on November 24, 1991 on ESPN's Sunday Night Football (which, until 1998 covered only the last half of each season).

The game had a huge bearing on the NFL West standings.

  • Jim Mora's Saints had started 7-0 before losing to Chicago 20-17 in the Dome. They had won two more before losing at San Diego 24-21 to enter the Falcon contest 9-2.
  • Atlanta at 7-4 needed a win to stay in the race for at least a Wild Card playoff berth. Jerry Glanville's Falcons also sought revenge for the Saints' 27-6 triumph in Atlanta earlier in the season.
  • In an unusual twist, all the other five division leaders had lost earlier in the day. Would the Saints break the jinx? [Cliff Notes answer: No.]

The unusual pair of plays occurred in Q2 with Atlanta holding a 3-0 lead.

  • The Saints had started the game with a 17-play, 70y march that took an amazing 10:30 off the clock. When the drive finally stalled, Morton Andersen came on the try an easy 28y FG. But, for the first time all season, Tommy Barnhardt mishandled the snap from C Joel Hilgenberg, preventing Mort from getting the kick off. The miscue would cost the Saints dearly.
  • After Norm Johnson put the Falcons ahead with a 25-yarder early in Q2, the Saints tried some razzle-dazzle that puzzled fans.
  • On second down, QB Steve Walsh handed off to RB Gill Fenerty, a hometown boy (Jesuit HS), for a short gain. Then Walsh ran off the field holding his left hand. Was he injured?
  • Backup QB Mike Buck entered the game for the first NFL play of his career. And what a play it was. Buck handed to newly-acquired RB Stanford Jennings who started left before handing off to WR Wesley Carroll on an apparent reverse. But Carroll pitched the ball back to Buck, who, despite being surrounded by defenders and blockers, whistled a 61y pass to Floyd Turner to the 2.
  • Buck then trotted off the field and Walsh, his left little finger taped, came back. Steve again handed to Fenerty who hit LT and spun around into the EZ to give the home team the lead.
  • Fans and reporters quickly surmised that Walsh's "injury" had been a setup. Afterwards, Steve said, "It was a play we'd planned on all week. The coaches figured that if Mike came in, they wouldn't expect a trick play. So I did a nice job of acting."
  • The fans chanted "We want Buck" during the Saints' next offensive possession.

New Orleans increased its lead to start the second half.

  • Andersen booted a 39y FG to make it 10-3. But New Orleanian Michael Haynes snared an 80y TD pass from QB Chris Miller to tie the score.
  • Another Anderson FG, this one from 31, put the home team back on top. Then a defensive play helped N.O. extend the lead. Rookie CB Reggie Jones made a "spectacular, two-handed, juggling INT, and then managed to return the ball to the Falcons' 14."
  • Another rookie, Fred McAfee, toted the pigskin four straight times for a 20-10 advantage with 12:43 left, seemingly insurmountable given the Saints Dome Patrol D.
  • Not so fast, my friend. Johnson connected from 27 to cut the lead to 7. With just over 2 minutes left, the Saints were trying to run out the clock when McAfee fumbled, and the Falcons recovered on the 15. Then, two plays later with 1:53 left, Haynes struck again, gathering in an 18y pass to send the game into OT. "I feel terrible," Fred said in the locker room despite gaining a career-high and team season-high 138y.
  • The fans were not happy with what happened on the Saints next possession. Starting on their 20, they ran three straight times, then punted amid an avalanche of boos.
  • In the extra period, Andersen tried a 55y FG with 6:58 left but fell well short. A little later, a fumble recovery at midfield gave the Saints another chance. After reaching the 38, Mora decided to punt rather than let Andersen try another 55-yarder. When Barnhardt's punt was downed on the 2 with less than 5 min left, it looked like the Saints would get at least a tie or, with a quick stop, have time to drive for the winning FG. But Haynes pulled out another big play when he snared a 57y pass over CB Vince Buck to put the ball on the N.O. 41. Three plays netted 8y to set up Johnson's game winner.

Mora's club lost two more in a row before winning the last two to salvage the NFL West title.

  • However, at 11-5, they had to play one of the Wild Card games. Their opponent? The hated Falcons.
  • With Haynes having another outstanding game, Atlanta prevailed 27-20.
  • A season that had started so promisingly at 7-0 ended in disappointment – again.
Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort Book 2, Christian Serpas
Profile: "The Man Belongs in the Hall of Fame."

Those were the words of Coach Jim Mora as quoted in Jeff Duncan's 2004 book Tales from the Saints Sideline. This piece is being written as the "man" in question, Rickey Jackson, is inducted in Canton on August 7, 2010.

Let's dispense the basic facts.

  • The Saints drafted Rickey in the 2nd round (#51) in 1981. He had played the opposite DE to All-American Hugh Green at Pittsburgh. Some opposing coaches feared Rickey more than Hugh.
  • Rickey started all 16 games at left OLB his rookie year, recording 125 tackles, which would turn out to be the most of his career. He was one of the few bright lights on Bum Phillips' 4-12 team.
  • For eight straight seasons, Jackson didn't miss a game. Then he sat out two in 1989 because of injuries sustained in an automobile accident that caused him to play his last seven NFL seasons with a plate in his face to protect a broken cheekbone.
  • He made 1st or 2nd team all NFC in 1983, 1984, and 1985.

In 1986, three other LBs joined Rickey to form the famed Dome Patrol. It's impossible to talk about him without including his cohorts.

  • When Mora came to New Orleans, he brought his D captain Sam Mills with him from the USFL's Baltimore Stars. Sam captained the Saint D through 1994.
  • Pat Swilling played opposite Rickey on the right side through 1992, Pat wasn't drafted until Round 3 out of Georgia Tech.
  • 6-3 240 Vaughan Johnson paired with Sam inside through 1993. The Saints had drafted Vaughan out of N. C. State in the first round of the 1984 supplemental draft. But he instead played for the Jacksonville Bulls for two years before coming to New Orleans when the USFL folded.

In only their second season together, the four LBs sparked the Saints to the first winning season and first playoff appearance in franchise history in 1987.

  • That year, three of the four made first team all conference. Mills, only 5-9 225, was overlooked although his coaches and teammates praised him as the heart and soul of the D. Oddly, Sam was the only one of the four to be voted to the Pro Bowl by the players.
  • Sam finally received accolades in 1991, making the Pro Football Writers, Pro Football Weekly, and Sporting News 1st-team all-NFL teams.
  • Oddly, between 1988 and 1991 Jackson failed to make any all-NFC or all-Pro teams. But just as he made his opposite number Green a better player in college, he also helped Swilling earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1991.
  • The Dome Patrol reached their summit in 1992 when they all made the Pro Bowl, the first time four LBs from the same team played in the All-Star game.

Focusing on Rickey Jackson again, here are some of his career stats.

  • As OLB in a 3-4 scheme, Rickey rushed the passer often like a DE. He retired with 128 sacks, which at the time ranked in the top five in league history and is still #10.
  • He made 1173 tackles in his career and recovered 26 fumbles, which also ranked in the top five.
  • Jackson played his last two seasons with the 49ers, which gave him a chance to earn a Super Bowl ring in 1994.

Jackson had a knack for making the big play when the team desperately needed it. Here's an example that Duncan cites in his book.

  • The Saints led the archrival 49ers 10-3 in 1991 with four minutes to go. But the Dome crowd sat on the edge of their seats as SF reached the 17.
  • Jackson ran down RB Harry Sydney from behind to force a fumble on the 15 that the Saints recovered to preserve the victory.
  • "The key was I was hustling to the ball," Rickey said. "When he tried to turn it upfield, I was there."
  • QB Bobby Hebert said of Rickey, "He was one of the toughest men I ever met. I think Rickey could have played without shoulder pads."

Rickey Jackson, Saints
Rickey Jackson

Sam Mills, Saints
Sam Mills

Pat Swilling, Saints
Patrick Swilling

Vaughan Johnson

Profile: Michael Haynes

Michael Haynes, Falcons
Michael Haynes

Michael Haynes

Video of 98y pass from Bobby Hebert to Michael Haynes for Falcons against the Saints in 1993

Haynes snares 52y bomb from Jim Everett for Saints in 19xx

Michael Haynes grew up in New Orleans.

  • He attended Clark High School where he played in the band rather than competing in football.
  • Mike began playing football at Northern Arizona University.
  • The WR was selected by Atlanta in the seventh round of the 1988 draft.

He played for the hated Falcons from 1988 through 1993.

  • He enjoyed six productive years with Atlanta. In 87 games, he grabbed 254 passes for 4,066y and 33 TD.
  • In 1991, he led the NFL with 22.4y per catch.

Haynes particularly enjoyed beating his hometown team. The most insidious example came in the 1991 Wild Card playoff game in the Superdome.

  • In the regular season meeting in the Dome, Haynes had caught two TD passes in the Falcons 23-20 victory.
  • In the playoff game, Chris Miller connected with Haynes for a 20y score in Q3 to give the visitors their first lead of the day.
  • Tied at 20 with only 2:41 left to play, Miller found Haynes again for a 61y catch and run down the sidelines for the winning TD.
  • Michael ended the game with 6 receptions for 144y.

Following the adage, "If you can't lick 'em, acquire them," the Saints signed free agent Haynes for the 1994 campaign.

  • He caught 77 passes in his first season in Black and Gold for 985y.
  • However, he never came close to those numbers in his remaining two years in the Crescent City, dropping to 41 receptions in '95 and 44 in '96.

Haynes finished his career at age 32 with one last season with Atlanta.

  • He started no games and caught only 12 balls for 154.
  • He retired as the fourth-ranked Falcon receiver in total yardage. Terrance Mathis has since pushed him to fifth.

Michael still lives in Atlanta where one blogger calls him "genuinely one of the nicest, classiest and most humble persons I have ever met."

Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime – I

Mike Ditka coached the Saints from 1997 through 1999, compiling a 15-33 record. Players, coaches, and other members of the Saints entourage recall the moment when they felt that Ditka was in trouble.

  • New Orleans lost the first two games of the new regime, 38-24 at St. Louis and 20-6 at home against San Diego.
  • Week 3 brought Mike's squad to San Francisco where they proceeded to turn the ball over five times in the first half and fall behind 23-0.

Ditka was a ticking time bomb as he entered the locker room.

  • He quickly exploded with one of the worst blow-ups Saints coaches and players had ever seen.
  • Iron Mike called out the team, challenging the manhood of many individuals.
  • When veteran CB Eric Allen talked back, Ditka went after him and had to be restrained. One player hurled a garbage can across the room.
  • "I had seen him angry before, but never like this," said long-time trainer Dean Kleinschmidt. "He was in a red-faced, almost--purple rage."
  • After the tirade, Ditka slumped over on a stool. "He sat there for the longest time," recalls Kleinschmidt. "The team doctor and I were wondering at what time do we go up to him and touch him and tell him we've got to go back on the field." Finally, Mike left the locker room.
  • The 49ers won 33-7.

Compounding Ditka's problems that first season was his inability to settle on a QB. Four different signal-callers started.

  • Heath Shuler started 9 games, completing 106 of 233 attempts (52.5%) for 1288y. However, he threw only 2 TDs compared to 14 INTs and was sacked 21 times to drop his passer rating to 46.6.
  • Billy Joe Hobert started four games after arriving from Buffalo. B.J. went 61-131 (46.6%) and also had a poor TD/INT ratio of 6/8 for a rating of 59.0.
  • The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner, Danny Wuerffel, whom Ditka had chosen despite scouts' universal misgivings about his arm strength and throwing motion, started twice. His stats: 42-91 (46.6%) for 518y, 4 TD and 8 INT, passer rating 42.3.
  • Finally, Doug Nussmeier started once. He completed 18-of-32 (56.3%) for 183y but, like the other three, threw more INTs than TDs, 3 to 0.

If you add it up, the Saints QBs completed only 13 TD passes as compared to 33 INTs. Given those figures, it's amazing the Saints won six games that season.

To be continued ...

Saints Quiz

Match each 1997 Saint QB with his college.

  1. Heath Shuler
  2. Billy Joe Hobert
  3. Danny Wuerffel
  4. Doug Nussmeier

A. Florida
B. Washington
C. Idaho
D. Tennessee

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan
Coach Mike Ditka
Mike Ditka
Heath Shuler, Saints QB
Heath Shuler
Billy Joe Hobert, Saints QB
Billy Joe Hobert
Danny Wuerffel, Saints QB
Danny WuerffelDoug Nussmeier, Saints QB
Doug Nussmeier
Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime – II

Ricky Williams, Saints
Ricky Williams

Saints PK Doug Brien
Doug Brien
Tim Couch, Browns QB
Tim Couch
Coach Mike Ditka after Browns Hail Mary
Coach Ditka after Browns Hail Mary in 1999

Mike Ditka preferred to rely on his gut feeling rather than proceed in a more organized way as head coach. Organization was not his strong suit. This led to some bizarre situations.

  • Leading 10-0 as the first half ticked down against Tennessee in the Superdome in 1999, the Saints had the ball on the Titan 1 with no timeouts left.
  • Ditka sent in the "Jumbo" package which featured three TEs with G Wally Williams as the lead blocker in the backfield.
  • Ricky Williams took a handoff into the center of the line and got stuffed.
  • Boos rained down on the team as they left the field. Ditka gave the fans "the bird" as he left the field.
  • The Titans rallied to win 24-21, giving the Saints their fourth straight loss.
  • As Ditka left the field after the game, some fans chanted at him. He stopped, turned toward them, grabbed his crotch, and mouthed an obscenity. The Saints fined him $20,000 for his actions.
  • Iron Mike admitted, "The play before the half was absolutely the most absurd thing we could've ever done. Once the call went in, we had the wrong people on the field. When the 'Jumbo' went out, I knew we had no chance if we didn't make it. That's our fault ... Somebody said, 'Go Jumbo' on the sidelines. Too many people were saying too many things, and that's what caused it."

Two weeks later brought one of the most embarrassing losses in Saints history.

  • The new Cleveland Browns came to town 0-8 in their first year.
  • The Saints struggled to gain control of the game. They led 10-7 at the half and trailed 14-13 going into Q4.
  • With Williams amassing 179y on 40 carries, the third highest single-game total in franchise history, the home team took the lead on Doug Brien's 46y FG with only 0:21 left to play. But there should have been less time left as the Saints called timeout earlier than necessary.
  • I recall telling the fan in front of me that the Saints had huffed and puffed but finally defeated the expansion team. He retorted, "The game's not over yet."
  • Sure enough, rookie QB Tim Couch completed two quick passes to move the ball to the Cleveland 44, close enough to try a Hail Mary.
  • As the final seconds ticked off, Couch lofted a long fly ball to the goal line. A group of Saints players got under it, but one actually deflected it away from his teammate into the hands of WR Kevin Johnson to give the Browns their first-ever victory, 21-16.
  • One of the most famous photos in Saints history shows Ditka lying flat on his face along the sideline after the play. Trainer Dean Kleinschmidt was standing behind Ditka when he fell.

    His full stature just buckled, and he fell forward. The first thing that hit the Astroturf was his nose. I thought it was a heart attack. Then he just got up and walked across the field. There's no question that was the most devastating loss of his tenure.

Of course, the most bizarre incident of Ditka's three-year reign had already occurred. It involved the aforementioned Ricky Williams.

To be continued ...

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan
Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime – III

We've saved Mike Ditka's most bizarre decision as Saints coach for the third and last of this series. We're referring, of course, to his drafting Ricky Williams.

First of all, Iron Mike had already behaved oddly during his first draft with the Saints in 1997.

  • A compulsive gambler, he had bet the local media $100 that Florida QB Danny Wuerffel, the Heisman Trophy winner who was not highly rated by pro scouts, would be picked in the Top 100.
  • Ditka made his own prediction come true when he drafted Danny in the #99 spot during the fourth round.
  • Wuerffel, despite being an outstanding person, proved the scouts correct by being a mediocre (at best) NFL QB.

The 1998 Saints compiled a 6-10 record that put them in the #12 position for the upcoming draft.

  • Ditka made no secret of his desire to draft another Heisman Trophy winner, Texas RB Ricky Williams. Mike announced at the NFL owners meetings that he would be willing to trade all six of the Saints' 1999 picks to move high enough to draft Ricky.
  • General Manager Bill Kuharich was caught off guard by his coach's announcement. He learned of it when accosted by reporters as he exited a meeting that day.
  • Of course, Ditka had made Kuharich's task much harder by openly coveting Ricky. Teams would demand a steep price to part with their Top 10 pick.
  • Bill offered the deal to each of the first four teams in the draft: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Each turned him down.
  • The Saints Brain Trust (to use both words loosely) feared that the Colts, needing an RB to pair with Peyton Manning, coveted Ricky. So they made an even juicier offer to Indy GM Bill Polian, throwing in the first- and third-round picks for 2000 plus CB Alex Molden. Polian remained unmoved.

Saints officials gave up at that point, consoling themselves with the thought that they had done all they could. Then they got a break.

  • The Colts selected Miami RB Edgerrin James with the #4 pick. Ditka later admitted that, "I wet my pants, that's how shocked I was that they didn't [pick Ricky]." Owner Tom Benson reportedly thrust his fist in the air and shouted, "Yes." Ditka jumped up and praised the "power of prayer."
  • The Saints quickly contacted Charley Casserly, GM of the Redskins, who held the next pick. Kuharich and Casserly had already agreed that morning to the same deal that was offered the Colts, minus Molden, should Williams still be available at #5. However, Casserly had to complete a separate deal with the Bears to get their #7 pick.
  • As the draft clock ticked away in New York, Kuharich spent anxious minutes waiting for word from Casserly. Finally, he got the good news.
  • Ditka was ecstatic.

I love the kid, everything about him. It's what we need. I think he's going to show people he's the best college football player coming out. He gives us what Walter Payton gave Chicago.

  • Williams, who scored more touchdowns and ran for more yards than anyone in college football history to that point, was visibly stunned by the Colts' decision to pass him over.

It was kind of a shock to be the second RB, but I'm glad to go to the New Orleans Saints. It's flattering to know the Saints made a deal like they did. Now, I hope I can justify that.

The Saints' strategy was the talk of the draft.

  • Commentators almost universally panned the trade on the grounds that no player, not even a topnotch QB, was worth as much as the Saints gave up.
  • To this day, Kuharich still defends the deal.

What people forget is that the plan to trade for Ricky was two-part. By trading away all of our draft picks, we knew we had to supplement it with free agents the next season. That's why we had $12 million in salary cap room. We planned to spend about $8 million or $9 million on free agents.

  • If it had been merely a case of football ability, the trade might have worked. But Ricky had even more bizarre habits than his coach.
  • Saints' media relations director Greg Bensel got a glimpse of what was in store for the club when he met Ricky's plane a few hours after the blockbuster deal. Greg stepped inside and introduced himself to Ricky and his entourage. He asked the new Saint to do two things when he met with reporters: stand on a riser and wear a Saints cap. Ricky responded, "I'm not standing on any riser, and I don't want to wear that hat."
  • Thus began Ricky Williams' brief, strange career with the New Orleans Saints.

When the Saints went 3-13 in 1999, Benson canned both Kuharich and Ditka. After three seasons in New Orleans, during which he gained 3,129y, Williams was traded to the Dolphins.

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan

Bill Kuharich, Saints GM
Bill Kuharich

Mike Ditka with Cigar
Mike Ditka right after drafting Ricky Williams

Mike Ditka in Ricky wig
Ditka wearing his Ricky wig

Ditka-Willliams ESPN Cover

First Victory

Walter "Flea" Roberts

Gary Cuozzo
Gary Cuozzo

Charlie Durkee

Norm Snead
Norm Snead

Dave Whitsell

Saints' "Flea" Takes Bite Out of Eagles Hide

That was the headline in the Delaware County (PA) Daily Times on November 6, 1967. The first paragraph of the story read as follows.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - This football-mad town's darling Saints have finally won a regular season National Football League game and the guy who scored three touchdowns for New Orleans — Walter "The Flea" Roberts — could probably win any public office be desires today.

The Saints had lost their first seven games of the season.

  • The closest Tom Fears' club had come to victory was a 14-10 loss at Dallas on October 22 to a Cowboys team that had lost to the Packers in the NFL championship game the year before and would lose again in 1967 at Green Bay in the famous "Ice Bowl."
  • The Saints had also lost by the same score, 14-10, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Tulane Stadium on October 29. Roberts, a four-year veteran from San Jose State, had missed this game because of a National Guard callout by the governor.

The next week, Joe Kuharich's 4-3 Eagles came to the Crescent City. (Kuharich's son would eventually become the Saints GM.)

  • Roberts, a 5-foot-10, 163-pounder cast off by the Cleveland Browns in the expansion draft, excited the crowd of 59,596 (including yours truly) with a 91y return of the opening kickoff.
  • Flea scored again in Q2 when he scooped up a Jimmy Taylor fumble and ran 27y to paydirt. Taylor had caught a 28y pass from Gary Cuozzo. Charlie Durkee kicked his second PAT. Flea said later: "When the pass went to Jimmy, I came back looking for someone to block. When Jimmy was tackled, the ball popped loose, took one bounce and fell right in my arms."
  • The visitors finally dented the scoreboard later in the period on a 41y FG by Sam Baker.
  • The Eagles closed to 14-10 at the half on a 22y pass from Norm Snead to Jim Kelly.

The Saints would not relinguish the lead in the second half.

  • Durkee booted a 12y FG to extend the lead to seven.
  • CB Dave Whitsell returned an INT 41y for a 24-10 advantage.
  • Early in Q4, the Eagles scored on a 14y pass from Snead to Gary Ballman.
  • Roberts struck again, snaring a 49y pass from Cuozzo to push the lead back to 14, 31-17. Amazingly, these were the first Q4 points scored by the Saints all season.
  • Capping a day of big pass plays, Philly's Tim Brown took in a 33y scoring pass from Snead to with 4:56 left to make it 31-24 and set off a collective "here we go again" angst among Saints fans.
  • But John Gilliam returned the kickoff 53y into Eagles territory. With two minutes left, Durkee missed a 33y FG.
  • The Eagles desperately tried to move into scoring range but gave up the ball on downs.
  • Fears breathed a sigh of relief. ""It took a little while after it was over for it to sink in that we had won. I had gotten so numb in the fourth quarter thinking we were going to blow another one."

Philadelphia proved once again that "statistics are for losers."

  • The visitors led in first downs, 20-13.
  • Philly outgained the Saints, 359-249.
  • Snead finished 19-for-36 for 292 with 2 INT.
  • Cuozzo threw only 16 times, completing 9 for 151y and 2 INT.

New Orleans would win two more times to finish 3-11 in its maiden season.

Memorable Game: Raiders – December 3, 1979

Chuck Muncie
Chuck Muncie

Tony Galbreath
Tony Galbraith

Archie Manning
Archie Manning

xHenry Childs

Coach Dick Nolan
Dick Nolan

"Playing on Monday nights made your adrenaline run higher." Those are the words of Saints RB Chuck Muncie recalling a big game with Oakland in the Superdome in 1979. "As a player, you knew you were going to be on center stage. You got up for this game more than any other."

In addition to playing before a national TV audience, players had other reasons to be stoked.

  • With a 7-6 record, Dick Nolan's Saints were battling for the franchise's first playoff berth.
  • New Orleans needed a win to stay tied in the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams, who had run their record to 8-6 the day before with an 8-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
  • With a 7-6 record of their own, Tom Flores' Raiders were themselves fighting for first in the AFC West.

At halftime, Saints fans were ecstatic.

  • The Raiders took a 7-0 lead in Q1 on a 3y pass from Kenny Stabler to Raymond Chester.
  • The Saints electrified the crowd of 65,641 by exploding for 28 straight points in Q2.
    • FB Tony Galbreath, half of the "Thunder and Lightning" duo with Chuck Muncie, scored on a 2y run. Garo Yepremian's kick tied the score.
    • QB Archie Manning put the Saints ahead with a 17y pass to Galbreath.
    • Muncie plunged a yard to paydirt to run the margin to 21-7.
    • TE Henry Childs took in a 28y TD pass from Manning.
  • The Raiders dampened the crowd's enthusiasm somewhat with a drive that culminated in Art Whittington's 1y run as time expired before halftime.

The Saints nullified the Oakland TD and seemed to regain the momentum early in Q3.

  • LB Ken Bordelon returned an INT 19y to put the lead back at 21, 35-14.
  • Flores thought his QB had been shaken up on the INT. "I wanted to take Kenny out and put in (Jim) Plunkett." Flores said. "But Kenny sent Plunkett out of the game." Stabler wanted to remain in the game. "I hit my head on the turf, but I was OK," he said. "Tom thought I was kind of banged up and fuzzy."
  • Unfortunately for the hometown fans, Stabler was anything but fuzzy.

The Oakland D kept the NFC's highest-scoring O off the scoreboard in the second half, giving Stabler the opportunity to engineer a comeback.

  • Muncie: "We had a great offense, but stopping the other team with our defense was another matter. We just didn't have a lot of great defensive players back then."
  • Stabler kept a 62y scoring drive alive with a fourth down completion to TE Dave Casper, allowing Mark van Eeghen's 1y run to cap the march.
  • Stabler culminated a 72y march early in Q4 by tossing 17 yards to reserve TE Derrick Ramsey for a TD to make it 35-28.
  • The QB from Foley AL threw a short flip on an out pattern to WR Cliff Branch, who turned it into a 66y TD that tied the score 35-35 with 3:15 left.
  • Finally, Stabler threw 8y to Branch with 1:54 remaining to give the Raiders the victory. The score had been set up when Muncie fumbled at the 41. S Mike Davis scooped up the ball and ran 19y before lateralling to LB Ted Hendricks, who barrelled to the 13.
  • So Muncie, whom Howard Cosell had praised earlier in the evening by labeling the game "Muncie Night Football" and who led both teams with 128y rushing, turned into a goat.
  • "We just played a half a game," moaned Nolan. "This is one of my most disappointing losses ever."

The loss derailed a promising season for Nolan's club.

  • The dejected Saints lost again at home the following Sunday, 35-0 to the Chargers. By winning at Atlanta 9-6 to take a two game lead with one to play, the Rams clinched the NFC West.
  • The Saints won in Los Angeles 29-14 in the finale. But, at 8-8, they missed the playoffs.
  • Fans would have to wait eight more years before their beloved Saints made the post-season.
Reference: The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, Chris McDonell



Profile: Ironhead Heyward � I

Profile: Ironhead Heyward � II

"One of the Oddest Two-Play Sequences in Saints History"

"The Man Belongs in the Hall of Fame"

Profile: Michael Haynes

Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime - I

Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime - II

Interesting Story: Ditka's Regime - III

First Victory

Memorable Game: Raiders 1979


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