Hank Returns to KC

Hank Stram was the only coach of the Kansas City Chiefs (who were the Dallas Texans for the first three years of their existence) from 1960-1974.

    • Hank won the AFL Championship in 1962 and 1966 (losing to the Green Bay Packers in the inaugural Super Bowl that year) and the Super Bowl in 1969.
    • However, after a 10-3-1 record in 1971, the Chiefs began to decline: 8-6 in '72, 7-5-2 in '73, and 5-9 in '74.
    • So Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt fired his friend Hank after first trying to get him to resign. As Stram says in his autobiography,

I wasn't walking away, I wasn't quitting. I was being fired. As I wasn't resigning and had seven years to go on my contract, they had an obligation to honor.

I signed a broadcasting contract with CBS and couldn't help wondering if I would ever coach again. The break had been abrupt after 28 seasons [counting his years as a college assistant].

Saints' owner John Mecom came to the rescue after Hank spent just the '75 season in the broadcasting booth.

  • Even though friends warned him against taking the job in New Orleans, "the temptation to build a new team was too great to resist."
  • So the most nattily attired coach in NFL history strode the sidelines for the Saints for the '76 season.

The scheduling gods sent the Saints to Kansas City for Week 3 (September 26).

  • New Orleans had lost its first two games to strong teams, Minnesota (40-9) and Dallas (24-6).
  • The Chiefs were likewise 0-2 under Paul Wiggin. Stram again:

There was a lot of hoopla about it in K.C., but I tried to downplay it as just another game, no matter how much I wanted to win this particular one.

It was odd staying at a hotel in K.C., for now I was a visitor. Once the game started, I got wrapped up in the action.

The headline in the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World the next day proclaimed:

Stram earns his revenge, but makes no new friends

  • The home team scored first, driving 59y in seven plays to take a 7-0 advantage on their first possession. On third-and-four from the Saint 7, QB Mike Livingston's pass was broken up in the EZ. But the Saints were penalized for a personal foul. Woody Green then slanted left from 3y out for the TD.
  • With 7:09 remaining in the opening period, the Saints took the ball on their 21 and moved to the 33 on three consecutive carries by rookie RB Tony Galbreath. After several penalties put the pigskin back on the 26, Galbreath, a Missouri alumnus, took a handoff, slanted right, and raced 74y to tie the score.
  • The visitors took the lead in Q2. With Galbreath and fellow rookie Chuck Muncie, the pair later known as "Thunder and Lightning," accounting for every inch, the Saints marched 82y in 10 plays before stalling. Rich Szaro booted a 26y FG to make it 10-7.
  • The Chiefs stormed back, moving from their 45 to a first-and-goal at the 8 in eight plays. After two plays gained 7, MacArthur Lane was stopped from the 1. Going for it on fourth down, Ed Podolak also fell short.
  • The Saints then punted to their 45. Livingston took advantage of the short field, driving KC to a TD in five plays, the last being a 20y strike to rookie Henry Marshall for a 14-10 edge at halftime.

The Saints fell further behind before rallying in the final period.

  • Jan Stenerud 's 27y FG pushed the lead to 17-10 in Q3.
  • Szaro cut the margin back to 4 with a 26-yarder with 6:45 to play. All the Chiefs needed at that point was a sustained drive to run out the clock. Instead they went nowhere and had to punt. Jerrel Wilson's boot backed up the Saints to their 30.
  • The first play produced the game-breaker. QB Bobby Scott, playing for Archie Manning who was out for the season, connected on a 57y pass to Don Herrmann to put the ball on the KC 10. Three plays later, Galbreath scored from the 9 to put the Saints in front, 20-17, with 2:28 on the clock.
  • After KC's last desperation drive ran out of downs on their own 21, the Saints took over with less than a minute to play needing only to run out the clock to gain their first victory of 1976.

Next came the sequence of plays that caused the headline in the Journal-World.

  • With the ball on the 10, Stram called a timeout with 14 seconds left. That allowed Scott to fake a run and hit TE Henry Childs in the EZ to make the final score 27-17.
  • Stram later wrote:

There was some implied criticism from the press in the dressing room afterward that I had wanted to pour it on at the end. They were right. I had wanted to do it, and I did. There was no reason to pretend otherwise.

  • Calling it "implied criticism" was putting it mildly. Chuck Woodling, Sports Editor for the Journal-World, wrote in his column on the game:

"That chickenbleep bleep-bleeper," muttered a Chiefs' assistant coach as his team trudged into the locker room ... Later, Chiefs' players who had once toiled under Stram refused to talk about it. Some were misty-eyed; at least one cried.

Hank Stram ... had broken a cardinal rule of sports. He had unashamedly run up the score on a team that was beaten. "I called time out," said Stram after the game, "because I wanted to score a touchdown. That's the name of the game." Rubbing the other team's nose in it, however, isn't.

Chiefs QB Tony Adams, who did not play under Stram in Kansas City, wasn't loathe to talk. "What was he trying to prove at that point?" Adams wondered. "I think that part irritates everybody. Speaking for myself, when you're dong something like that, you're doing personal things. I think everybody feels that way."

Paul Wiggin, the man who succeeded Stram at the Chiefs' helm, was choking back his emotions in post-game interviews. Asked if he had any feelings about what Stram had done, Wiggin replied, "No ... well, yeah, I have something inside, but not for the press. ... It's painful ... It really is. I don't know Hank and this game wasn't a battle between Paul Wiggin and Hank Stram. The guy's never done anything to me."

Call it fitting retribution if you will, but the Saints won only three more games that year to finish 4-10.

Reference: They're Playing My Game, Hank Stram with Lou Sahadi (1986)
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Saints Coach Hank Stram
Hank Stram

Chiefs Coach Paul Wiggin
Paul Wiggin

Saints RB Tony Galbreath

Saints RB Chuck Muncie
Chuck Muncie

Saints QB Bobby Scott

Saints WR Don Herrmann

Saints TE Henry Childs

Streak Buster - Lone 1980 Win

Saints Coach Dick Nolan
Dick Nolan

Saints QB Archie Manning
Archie Manning

Saints RB Tony Galbreath

Saints PK Benny Ricardo
Benny Ricardo

Jets QB Richard Todd
Richard Todd

The Saints entered their second-to-last contest of the 1980 season against the New York Jets in the Meadowlands with a record of 0-14.

Coming off a promising 8-8 season in '79, the team had been beset by off-the-field problems that carried over to on-field performance.

  • A June 1982 article in Sports Illustrated by DL Don Reese detailed his own problems with drugs while with the Saints (1978-80) as well as usage by a number of other players.
  • Star RB Chuck Muncie had been addicted to drugs for some time. As a result, to quote Jeff Duncan:

Muncie ... had developed into a one-man disciplinary nightmare. He regularly missed practices and meetings and was habitually late to other appointments. To cover his actions, he routinely made up wild tales: car accidents, mysterious ailments, deaths in the family.

  • Coach Dick Nolan had suspended DE Joe Campbell "for repeated altercations with officials and opposing players."
  • Nolan also benched four offensive starters, including Muncie and fellow RB Tony Galbreath.
  • After the fourth game, the Saints traded Muncie to San Diego for a second-round draft pick. A few weeks later, Campbell also exited, traded to the Los Angeles Rams. RB Mike Strachan was released.

The team became laughingstocks.

  • Responding to an idea of radio sports talk host Buddy Diliberto, the fans began wearing bags on their heads and calling themselves "Ain'ts" fans.
  • Only 45,388 showed up at the Dome for the fifth game, a 40-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • A mere 30,936 attended Game 13, a 23-20 loss to Minnesota November 30.
  • When the record reached 0-12, owner John Mecom mercifully fired Nolan and replaced him on an interim basis with O-line coach Dick Stanfel.

After two more losses, Stanfel's 0-14 team visited Shea Stadium on December 14 to play the 3-11 Jets.

  • With the 9-6 Patriots looming in the final game of the season, the Saints' best hope of avoiding a winless season came against the Jets.
  • Only 38,077 showed up on a frigid, windy day with swirling snow flurries.

Trying to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first NFL team to go 0-15, the Saints got on the board first.

  • QB Archie Manning passed to FB Jack Holmes for a 14y TD in Q1 to take a 7-0 lead.
  • The advantage lasted into Q2 when Kevin Long scored from the 1, and Pat Leahy booted FGs of 27 and 47y to give the home team a 13-7 lead at the half.

After a scoreless Q3, the Saints took the lead.

  • Just 46 seconds into the final period, Tony Galbreath bulled over through the left side of the line to give New Orleans a 1-point advantage after Benny Ricardo's PAT.
  • On the next play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Jets QB Richard Todd fired a 66y TD pass only to have it wiped out by an illegal motion penalty.
  • Despite the setback, Todd led a march that he capped with a 31y scramble on a busted play to put New York up 20-14 with 9:39 remaining.

The Saints responded.

  • Manning led a 73y march in 10 plays, the last one Galbreath's dive over the middle from the 1.
  • Almost as Ricardo's PAT put the Saints back in the lead, it began to snow fiercely in Shea Stadium.
  • The crowd cheered wildly for the weather - a wind of 46 mph and a wind-chill factor of 5° - and booed the home team.
  • The Saints kept the Jets out of FG range the rest of the way and finished the season 1-15.

Dean Kleinschmidt, the Saints trainer from 1971-2000, told Times Picayune sportswriter Peter Finney in October 2011 what he remembered about the Saints' 1980 season and their one victory.

All the cigarettes Coach Dick Nolan smoked before he was let go, when we were 0-12. Dick Stanfel took over. We lose two more. We go to New York to play the Jets in a snowstorm. I never dreamed we had a chance. Archie Manning takes us the length of the field, and we take a one-point lead. In the last couple of minutes, we're backed up, and we have to punt. And who do you think is punting? Russell Erxleben. I was scared to death that he might shank one. But he got off a beautiful punt. I guess it was in the cards for us to win one. That's how we went 1-15.

P.S. Kleinschmidt was the trainer for the Lions during their 0-16 season in 2008.

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan
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Saints Saga: Say Two Hail Marys and Beat the Saints - I

Saints Coach Mike Ditka
Mike Ditka

Saints S Sammy Knight
Sammy Knight

Saints RB Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams

To longtime Saints fans, the phrase "Hail Mary" doesn't elicit religious feelings but instead sends shivers down the spine. From many situations we could choose, let's focus on back-to-back weeks of the 1999 season when Mike Ditka's team fell victim to a desperation last-second pass.

The first came at the end of the first half against the New York Giants in the Meadowlands on October 24.

  • The Saints had won their first outing, against Carolina, 19-10, but lost the next four, blowing a Q4 lead in every game.
  • The AP article on the Saints' humiliating 31-3 loss to the Giants began this way.

It was so bad, Saints coach Mike Ditka was almost speechless. ...

New York's usually inept offense looked spectacular in handing Ditka's team its fifth straight loss. "Obviously, there is not much you can say about today," Ditka said in a postgame news conference that lasted 80 seconds. "We were disorganized offensively and played just as bad on defense. I guess we are the elixir that makes everybody happy. When we show up, everyone else seems to get better."

  • Giants QB Kent Graham threw for two TDs in the final 63 seconds of Q2. The second score came on a 53y Hail Mary that TE Joe Jurevicious caught on a deflection in the end zone.

Some questionable timeouts by the Saints had prolonged the half and given the Giants a chance to heave the bomb.

  • With New York leading 17-3, the Saints lost 5y on a first-down run at their 28. Ditka called a timeout with 52 seconds left.
  • After the Giants received a punt, Graham completed a 9y pass to make it third-and-1 at their 31. The Saints then called another timeout with 17 seconds left.
  • Graham sneaked for the first down and called timeout. After an offsides penalty against the Saints, Graham lofted a long pass that bounced off the hands of S Sammy Knight and WR Amani Toomer to Jurevicious to give New York a 24-3 lead at the break.
  • The fifth loss came a week after the Saints fined the emotional Ditka $20,000 for making obscene gestures to fans in the Superdome after they booed the team.
  • The only bright spot for the Saints was that rookie RB Ricky Williams broke the 100y barrier for the first time with 11 on 24 carries. That spring, Ditka had traded all the team's draft picks to the Redskins in order to draft Ricky.

The more famous Hail Mary stabbed Ditka in the heart came seven days later against the Browns.

To be continued ...

Giants QB Kent Graham
Kent Graham

Giants TE Joe Jurevicious
Joe Jurevicious

Giants WR Amani Toomer
Amani Toomer

Say Two Hail Marys and Beat the Saints - II

The 1-5 Saints hosted the Cleveland Browns on Halloween afternoon, October 31, 1999. I attended this game and recently listened to an audio tape of the Browns' broadcast.

  • The second incarnation of the Browns (after the original franchise became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996) began play that season as an expansion team and were winless in their first seven games.
  • The week before, the undefeated St. Louis Rams had clobbered Chris Palmer's club 34-3.

The Saints offense had been so inept that Coach Mike Ditka made two important decisions that week.

  • He took over the play-calling himself.
  • He changed QBs, starting Billy Joe Hobert in place of Billy Joe Tolliver, who had thrown three INTs in the debacle at the Meadowlands the week before.
  • Unfortunately, Hobert suffered a neck stinger in the first half that put him on the sidelines for the rest of the game. So the other Billy Joe entered to a chorus of boos from most of the 48,817 in attendance.

With several minutes left in the game, the color announcer on the Browns broadcast said, "This game has that Halloween feel." He didn't know that more eerieness lay in store.

  • The teams combined for 14 penalties.
  • At the start of Q4, the Saints dominated time-of-possession 2-to-1, yet trailed 14-13.
  • The culprit, as usual, was turnovers. The Browns collected five on the day, including an INT from Hobert and one from Tolliver as well as three fumbles from rookie RB Ricky Williams, who, playing with an injured arm, set a Saints record for number of rushing attempts in a game, 40 for 179y.

All three TDs in the first 45 minutes were set up by turnovers.

  • The Saints took a 7-0 lead with 3:59 left in Q1 after Rob Kelly recovered a fumble on the Cleveland 15 caused by Vinson Smith smashing into David Dunn right after he received Tommy Barnhart's 43y punt.
  • The Browns tied it with 7:37 left in Q2 on QB Tim Couch's 27y pass to FB Marc Edwards. The score was set up by DE Roy Barker's interception of Hobert's pass and return to the 22. After an illegal motion penalty, the Browns scored on the first play.
  • Doug Brien kicked a 49y FG with just 8 seconds left in the half to put N.O. back in front 10-7.
  • Cleveland took the lead for the first time with 8:53 left in Q3. DT Darius Holland recovered a botched hand-off between Tolliver and Williams at the 22. Couch hooked up with WR Kevin Johnson on a 24y TD.
  • With 1:13 left in Q3, the Saints pulled within one on Bryant's 22y FG.

With the Black and Gold D putting the clamps on the Browns, the Saints' O struggled to get into FG position against a team that had been outscored 90-19 in the last period in its previous contests.

  • Midway through the final period, Ricky's third fumble, inside the Browns 10, killed what seemed to be the Saints' last chance.
  • But the D forced a punt and got the ball back. Handing to Ricky and passing it to him in the flat, Tolliver led a drive into Cleveland territory.
  • As soon as the advance reached the 29, Ditka used his last timeout with 29 seconds left without letting the clock run down. Even though, at first glance, this was a major error, the Browns had all their timeouts left and probably would have called one themselves to save some time in case Brien made the FG.
  • And that's exactly what Doug did, drilling the 46-yarder with 21 seconds remaining for a 16-14 lead. Seated at midfield behind the Saints bench, I told the fan in front of me, "Well, we huffed and puffed and finally beat the Browns." His reply was prescient. "It's not over yet."

Steve King wrote in the Elyria (OH) Chronicle Telegram:

At that point, no doubt thousands of distraught Browns fans turned off their TVs, thinking they had just witnessed another loss. Heck, even some of the Browns themselves found it hard to stay hopeful. "Sure, we were disappointed, because you had to figure that it was pretty much over," offensive tackle Lomas Brown said. "It's human nature to feel that way."

The Browns and their fans forgot that they were playing the Saints.

  • Johnson returned the kickoff to the 25 with 15 seconds left.
  • After an incompletion, Couch threw a 19y pass to Leslie Shepherd, who quickly stepped out of bounds with two seconds left.
  • With time for only one more play, Cleveland had to forget about getting into FG range and go for the home run. They called a timeout to plan the play.

They came out in their "Flood Right Tip" formation, with three WRs bunched on the right.

  • The Saints rushed only three and kept multiple safeties on the goal line in the usual Hail Mary D.
  • Taking the snap in shotgun formation, Couch rolled to his right, barely escaping DE Brady Smith.
  • Johnson admitted right after the game to the Browns Sideline Reporter that he watched the big screen as he ran to the end zone to see what was happening behind him.
  • Tim reared back and lofted a pass to the goal line. Three Saints were in perfect position in front of Shepherd as the spheroid came to earth, but just as one prepared to either catch it or knock it down, another Saint, Sammy Knight, jumped in front of him and batted the ball so that it went behind them to Johnson, who just got both feet inbounds as he fell outside the field of play.
 The Hail Mary Comes to Earth
The Saints bat the ball in the air so that it comes down to Kevin Johnson (85).
  • The Browns first-round draft choice, Couch, had combined with their second-rounder, Johnson, on a 56y game winner. Johnson told the press: "I still can't believe it. It's a miracle. I can't put it into words."
  • Ditka fell prostrate on the turf when the game ended. Afterwards, he told the press:

Yeah, it's a prevent defense we were playing at the end, but if it's played with the proper technique, it's called a victory defense. Unfortunately, when we play it, it's a victory for the other team. Now that's bad. It makes no sense.

This loss is embarrassing. It's certainly wonderful for them to get their first win. But it's not good for us. It's our sixth loss. Maybe we're not good enough to beat the Browns, I don't know.

The two teams ended the season with five wins between them.

  • Cleveland won one more game the rest of the season, over the Steelers two weeks later.
  • The Saints managed two more victories, the second being a Christmas Eve upset of the Cowboys when backup QB Jack Delhomme went 16-for-27 for 278y and two TDs.
  • To no one's surprise - probably not even his own - Ditka was fired at the end of the season.
  • The following year, Jim Haslett led the Saints to their first-ever playoff victory.

Saints QB Billy Joe Hobert
Billy Joe Hobert

Saints QB Billy Joe Tolliver

Saints RB Ricky Willliams
Ricky Williams

Saints P Tommy Barnhart
Tommy Barnhart

Saints PK Doug Briend
Doug Brien

Browns QB Tim Couch
Tim Couch

Mike Ditka at end of Browns game
Mike Ditka after Hail Mary pass





That Penalty Hurt!

Sometimes a penalty provides a turning point in a game. Usually it's a penalty against your team that nullifies a TD or a turnover. But sometimes a penalty on the opponent ends up turning the momentum of a game.

That's what happened to the Saints when they visited the Steelers November 5, 1978.

  • Having already won five games to equal their highest number in their first 11 years of existence, the Saints dominated the first half, running 35 plays to 21 for the home team.
  • Dick Nolan's Flex D held the mightly Steelers to a Roy Gerella 27y FG.
  • Archie Manning led three drives deep into Pittsburgh territory.
    • The first ended when he threw an INT from the Steeler 25.
    • The second culminated in a TD pass to Rich Mauti from the 5 to take a 7-3 lead. The drive was prolonged when the Steelers were called for holding on a punt.
    • The third march found the Saints with first and goal on the 10 with a minute left in the half. Archie & Company were one play away from a 14-3 halftime lead.

That's when what first seemed like a break turned into a setback.

  • After two incompletions in the end zone, Manning's third down pass was knocked down. However, DT Mean Joe Green was ruled offside, making it third-and-goal from the 5.
  • Given another chance to get in the EZ, Manning dropped back to pass. Pressured by Lauren Tewes from his right, Archie was hit by Jack Ham from the left and fumbled into the arms of Green. Elated at redeeming himself, Mean Joe spiked the ball with 0:04 on the clock.
  • Instead of an easy 3 points without the penalty, the Saints got nothing.
 Saints vs Steelers 1978
Saints vs Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium 1978

The Steelers regained the lead in the second half.

  • Receiving the kickoff, Terry Bradshaw led a 77y drive whose 12th play produced a 6y TD pass to WR Lynn Swann, who caught the tumbling tipped ball in the EZ to give the Steelers a 10-7 lead. Later in the period, Gerella booted a 21-yarder to move the advantage to 1
  • While the fans back home may have thought, "Here we go again," the Saints didn't fold. Archie led an 80y drive that ended with a 5y run by Tony Galbreath early in Q4 to recapture the lead, 14-13.
  • It seemed like fate was on the visitors' side when Gerela's 31y FG attempt hit the right upright.

Faced with an embarrassing loss at home, the Steelers pulled themselves together in the last minutes.

  • Bradshaw marched his troops 66y in 8 plays, hitting RB Rocky Bleier on a 24y pass-and-run for the go-ahead TD with just 1:51 on the clock.
  • "I just played him wrong," said S Tom Myers on covering Bleier. "I was just trying to knock the ball down. I guess I just played too far off him."

The 20-14 loss hurt more than most.

  • Manning threw for a career-high 344y on 22 completions in 32 attempts.
  • The Saints outgained their hosts 421-345.
  • "We came up here to win," Archie said. "We didn't come up here to lose. We just didn't get anything before the half."

Afterwards, Nolan also looked back at the last minute of the first half.

  • "We might have lost it at halftime. We got down there and just didn't score. We fought it damn hard, and I thought we were going to get it. They made some great adjustments in their offensive line."
  • To a man, the Saints felt they were headed for an upset. "That's what hurts," said C John Hill. "To be just so close. So very close. We needed just a little that we didn't have. We just should have scored when we had it close in the first half. When you get down inside the 20, you should come away with points. We didn't and we lost."
  • G Dave Lafary: "When we went out and scored that touchdown that put us ahead 14-13, I thought we had the game won." Even after the Steelers scored at the end, "I thought we were going to get the ball again and go down and score. I just felt confident with our offense."

The Steelers were impressed with the new-look Saints.

  • "They did some things well that we didn't stop," said Mean Joe. "But we did some things they didn't stop. If you put the Cowboys and Raiders out there, you couldn't have told the difference. They were a playoff caliber team today. The only difference is learning to do it every week."
  • LB Jack Ham on Manning: "He's not putting the ball up for grabs. He took what we gave him, and it added up to over 300y."
The '78 Saints finished 7-9, the franchise's best record to that point.
Saints Coach Dick Nolan
Dick Nolan

Saints QB Archie Manning
Archie Manning

Saints WR Rich Mauti
Rich Mauti

Steelers DT Mean Joe Green
Mean Joe Green

Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw

Steelers WR Lynn Swann
Lynn Swann

Saints RB Tony Galbreath
Tony Galbreath

Record Setter: Sam Mills 1992

Saints LB Sam Mills
Sam Mills

Jets QB Browning Nagle
Browning Nagle

Saints K Morten Andersen
Morten Andersen

Craig "Ironhead" Heyward
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward



The 1992 New Orleans Saints finished their season at the Meadowlands against the New York Jets. A victory would clinch second place in the NFC West and a home playoff game the following weekend for Jim Mora's 11-4 crew.

  • Bruce Coslet's third Jets aggregation was limping home with the exact opposite record: 4-11. As a result, only 45,614 showed up on a clear Saturday afternoon with a strong wind that produced a -2 wind chill.
  • As the AP article stated the next day,

The New Orleans Saints came, conquered and went home for the playoffs. The New York Jets, undermanned and overwhelmed, gladly said goodbye to 1992.

  • The word "undermanned" referred to the fact that the Jets were minus nine injured starters and without any RBs who were with them in November.
  • The Saints recorded their first shutout of the season, and Sam Mills ran a team-record 76y with a fumble to spark the ho-hum 20-0 victory.

It took the visitors' O almost an entire half to get going.

  • Dalton Hilliard fumbled the ball away on the very first play from scrimmage.
  • The Jets controlled the ball for 13:09 of the first period but trailed 7-0 thanks to Mills' heroics. He knocked the ball out of Browning Nagle's hands as the QB went back to pass, picked it up, and took the pigskin to paydirt. Sam said afterwards:

    It felt like the longest run ever. I was just running and hoping there were no receivers around to catch me. I was running scared. When you run that far, you'd better get in.

  • But only C Jim Sweeney chased Sam down the field.

I better get separation from a C. The first few yards, he was right there and I looked back and saw him right there. I think that gave me the extra burst. At first, I thought, "If the C catches me, I'll never hear the end of it."

  • Sweeney admitted Mills had nothing to worry about.

I was breathing so hard the fog was pushing him away and clouding my vision. So I couldn't see when to dive for him.

  • Morten Andersen booted a 27y FG with 33 seconds left in the half to make it 10-0.

The Saints regrouped during the intermission.

  • RB Ironhead Heyward:

We got on each other while we were inside at halftime. Then we got it going.

  • Heyward eased into the EZ in Q3 to cap a a 65y drive in which he reeled off a 22y run.
  • Andersen made it 20-0 with a 36y FG against the wind early in the final stanza.
  • Nagle, playing on a twisted knee that caused him to leave the game three times, couldn't get anything going. Whenever New York threatened, they'd make an error, such as not picking up Mills on the blitz that produced the opening points.

The statistics reflected the final score.

  • First downs: 17-10 Saints
  • Rushing yardage: 95-55 Saints
  • Passing yardage: 14-25-185-3 Saints, 16-34-142-2 Jets

Mora expressed his satisfaction with the season.

We ended up with 12 wins and made sure we're playing at home next week. I'm very proud of these guys.

When asked if he wanted to play Philadelphia or Green Bay, Mora replied:

I don't have a preference. Any time you get in the playoffs, you have the twelve best teams in football and a formidable opponent.

The Saints hosted the Eagles the following Saturday, giving up 26 unanswered points in Q4 to lose 36-20. It would be another eight seasons before New Orleans would win its first post-season game.

Unlikely Victory

When the New York Giants reviewed their Sunday night, November 27, 1988, game in the Superdome, they found these negatives.

  • QB Phil Simms, the starter for the first 12 games of the season, and LB Carl Banks couldn't play because of bruised right shoulders.
  • All-Pro OLB Lawrence Taylor competed despite a torn deltoid muscle in his chest that gave him so much pain he kept coming out of the game for a play or two until he felt better.
  • The Saints' vaunted D held the Giants to 14y rushing on 17 carries. New Orleans gained 155 on the ground.
  • The home team doubled the visitors in first downs, 16-8.
  • Giants coach Bill Parcells jettisoned backup QB Jeff Hostetler at halftime and sent in Jeff Rutledge, in effect his third-stringer.

So how did New York win 13-12?

  • They equaled the Saints in turnovers, getting five to offset their own five. The last one indirectly led to the winning FG with 0:21 left.
  • Taylor showed why he ranked as the best LB in football by registering seven tackles, three sacks (giving him 14 1/2 for the season), and two forced fumbles (both recovered by the Giants). He also had countless pressures on QB Bobby Hebert.
  • The Saints never crossed the goal line, settling for four Morten Andersen FGs.
  • As so often happened in the Jim Mora era (perhaps more accurately called the "Carl Smith Era" as far as the O is concerned), the Saints could still have won if they had made just one more first down in the final minutes to run out the clock.

The Saints scored first.

  • In another common occurrence in the Smith Era, N.O. drove smartly on their first possession but bogged down at the 10. So Andersen booted a 27y 3-pointer.
  • The Great Dane doubled the margin with a 41-yarder eight seconds into Q2.

23 seconds later, Hostetler brought the Giants to life.

  • After missing on four of his first five throws, the West Virginia grad, who had played little in his first five NFL seasons, connected with WR Stephen Baker for an 85y strike to give the G-men a one point lead. Jeff launched the ball from his own 15. It flew 43y to the Saints 42, where Baker snagged it and ran through the arms of Van Jakes and Brett Maxie.
  • It was the Giants' longest pass pay since Norm Snead threw 94y to Rich Houston in 1972.
  • Andersen put the Saints back in front with a 26y FG with 0:26 left in the half.

Parcells made a crucial decision at halftime.

  • The Big Tuna told O coordinator Ron Erhardt that he wanted to replace Jeff #1, Hostetler, with Jeff #2, Rutledge from Alabama.
  • "Ron said it had nothing to do with my playing," reported Hostetler afterwards. "He said I was playing real well."
  • Bill explained after the game. "The reason I changed QBs is that I felt Rutledge had a bit more experience. I thought Hostetler did a good job and I told him that."
  • "Yes, he told me that," said Jeff #1, "but he also said he would bring me back later in the second half."
  • Hostetler was so furious afterwards that he demanded a trade. "I'm hot. Did you ever see anything like that?"

The change didn't exactly ignite the New York O.

  • The teams slogged through a scoreless Q3.
  • The Giants regained the lead 12-10 on a 46y FG by Paul McFadden after only 0:57 elapsed in Q4.
  • But the Saints took the lead right back on a 45 yarder with 8:37 remaining.

The Saints seemingly cemented the victory when they dodged a bullet in the final minutes.

  • With 3:13 remaining, LB Gary Reasons intercepted Hebert and returned it to the Saints 20. "I was so happy I was almost crying," admitted Reasons.
  • But on the first play, DE "Jumpy" Geathers stripped the ball from RB Joe Morris and CB Dave Waymer recovered on the 3.
  • Desperately trying to make a first down, the Saints seemingly succeeded on a 3rd-and-1 run but a holding penalty set them back and forced a punt.
In November 2011, Bobby Hebert told this story on his sports talk show in New Orleans. When watching the film of the 1988 Giants game, the players noticed something peculiar on the 3rd-and-1 play. At the snap, the referee pulled his flag and threw it before any blocking developed. Bobby called it "New York NFL politics."

Rutledge & Company took over on their own 49 with less than two minutes left.

  • "I was a nervous wreck," Rutledge admitted. "I did a lot of praying. A lot of praying."
  • Whether it was divine inspiration or not, Jeff hit TE Zeke Mowatt with a 6y pass on first down. Then came the play of the game.
  • Rutledge scrambled to his right and, as a result, Waymer, who was covering Baker, moved forward only to have Jeff lob the ball downfield to the fleet WR who motored to the Saints' 12. "It was basically a broken route," said the QB. "I'm lucky I saw Baker."
  • Jeff then fell down three times. No, it wasn't clumsiness. It was intentional to make the Saints exhaust their timeouts.

Finally, McFadden came on to attempt a 35-yarder, which was no gimme.

  • Like Rutledge, the kicker was nervous. "Nervous? I was nervous on the 46-yarder (at the beginning of the period). I get the jitters on extra points. I felt like I was holding the roof up."
  • His kick was straight but barely cleared the crossbar to silence the throng of 66,526.
  • "I was the only problem," said Paul. "The snap and hold were fine. The protection was great. I just didn't kick it as well as I should have."
  • The victory moved the Giants to 8-5 and kept them tied with Philadelphia for the NFC East top spot.

Parcells' D coordinator Bill Belichick praised his unit.

It was as courageous a performance as I've been associated with.

  • He was referring not only to Taylor's heroics and the absence of Banks but also to the fact that Reasons played with stomach cramps, CB Mark Collins was in and otu because of a strained groin muscle, and NT Erik Howard injured a shoulder during the fray.
  • "I enjoyed it," smiled L.T., "even though my shoulder started acting up. Every week I seem to find a new way to screw me up. It keeps tearing every play until it gets too painful to play."
  • Still, he marveled at the victory.

Last week, we played great against the Eagles and we lost the game [23-17 in OT]. This week, we didn't play well on offense and we won. I tell you, I can't understand football.

The Saints lost their fourth game of the season.

  • The margins of defeat were 1, 2, 3, and 1.
  • Still, they led the NFC West by one game over the 49ers.

The Black and Gold would not make it to the post-season for the second straight year.

  • The Vikings, who had romped 44-10 in the Saints' first-ever playoff game, smashed them 45-3 in the Metrodome the following week.
  • Another road trip resulted in a crucial 30-17 loss to San Francisco.
  • A 10-9 home win over Atlanta to close the season put New Orleans in a three-way tie with the 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams atop the west but the tie-breaking rules ended the season for Mora's crew.
Giants LB Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor

Saints K Morten Andersen

Giants QB Jeff Hostetler
Jeff Hostetler

Giants WR Stephen Baker

Giants QB Jeff Rutledge
Jeff Rutledge

Giants LB Gary Reasons

Saints DE James "Jumpy" Gaethers

Saints CB Dave Waymer

Big Plays Win It
Patriots RB Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin
Saints QB Jim Everett
Jim Everett
Saints WR Quinn Early
Quinn Early
Saints RB Mario Bates

The Saints traveled to Foxboro MA to meet the New England Patriots on Sunday, December 3, 1995.

  • New Orleans had begun the season with five straight losses but had rallied to win five of the next six, including an 11-7 squeaker at San Francisco October 29 over the defending Super Bowl champs.
  • Bill Parcells' fourth Patriot team had also started poorly, winning only two of the first eight before rallying to take three of four. Rookie RB Curtis Martin had emerged as the bell cow of the O, ranking second in the league in rushing with 1,004.
  • So both clubs were 5-7. The loser would almost certainly be eliminated from the post-season. As the Hartford Courant put it:

At least one of these teams is playing out the string, maybe both. They just don't know it yet. It's amazing the Patriots are in the playoff hunt when you consider they have won in consecutive weeks once all season. Ditto for the Saints, who started the season 0-5. But if either team wins the rest of its games, it probably will make it to the postseason.

Jim Mora's club survived to fight another day thanks to three long scores.

  • The Saints, who had scored only 37 points in the first period all season, struck first on Jim Everett's 50y pass to WR Quinn Early. That broke a string of seven games in which the Patriots had not yielded a Q1 TD.
  • Martin's 9y scamper later in Q1 tied the game, but RB Mario Bates put NO back in front with a 2y run with 4:26 left in the period.
  • New England pulled even again on another Martin run, this one from the 3 with 2:59 to go before halftime. It was Curtis's 12th rushing TD, tying Steve Grogan's team record. Martin had now scored in eight straight contests.
  • But the Saints drove to the 7 to set up Doug Brien's 24y FG 0:38 before intermission.
  • After a scoreless Q3, Matt Bahr's 39y FG tied the score at 17 on the first play of the final period.
  • Everett struck again two plays later with a 69y connection with FB Lorenzo Neal. Jim dumped the ball to the 240lb FB on a blitz. The three-year veteran with only 10 catches for the season caught the ball at the line of scrimmage at the 31 and ran down the right sideline, eluding speedier defensive backs.
  • The Patriots then held the ball for nearly six minutes, but Bahr missed a 43y FG attempt.
  • On the next play, Bates swept around the right side, cut back toward the middle to avoid CB Ty Law and scored for a 31-17 margin. Bates finished with 123 yards in 15 carries, besting Martin by 11y despite Curtis's 31 attempts.
  • At that point, the Saints had just 0:39 of possession in the last period to over six minutes for the home team but had outscored them 14-0.
  • Needing a big play to get back in the game, Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe threw an INT to Shane Pahukoa in the EZ with 6:11 left.

Post-game wrapup

  • The game marked the New England's first loss when Martin rushed for more than 100y. They had been 5-0.
  • Everett had a good day: 17-26 with 1 INT for 293y. Bledsoe completed 16 of 31 for 197 with 2 INTs.
  • The Saints lost S Vince Buck for the season when he broke his leg in Q1.

The Saints lost their next two to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

First NFL Game in Mexico

The 1978 Saints, preparing for the first 16-game regular season in NFL history, made history by opening the pre-season against the Philadelphia Eagles in Mexico City.

  • 30,000 Mexicans and a few hundred Saints fans enjoyed the August 5 contest.
  • After New Orleans received the opening kickoff, RB Chuck Muncie fumbled on the first play, and Drew Mahalic recovered for the Eagles at the 19.
  • That drive fizzled but on Philly's next possession, which began at the Saints 30, QB Ron Jaworski threw a 13y TD pass to RB Wilbert Montgomery.
  • Archie Manning quarterbacked only the first series for the Saints before being replaced by Bobby Scott.
  • With the Eagles still leading 7-0 two minutes into Q3, rookie WR Wes Chandler, who had signed a contract calling for $1 million over six years, ran Spike Jones's punt back 92y for a TD to tie the score.
  • On the next Philly possession, FS Tom Myers intercepted a Mike Cordova pass intended for WR Randy Williamson at the Saints 45. Myers returned the ball to the 23.
  • A 9y pass by Scott and four runs by HB Chuck Muncie put the pigskin on the 2. On second and goal, Muncie plunged over with 8:23 in Q3.
  • Ed Burns replaced Scott under C in the last quarter.
  • The 14-7 lead held up for the Saints.

What the Saints players and coaches remember most about the game is what happened afterwards.

  • The team plane sat on the ground because Mexican ground control told the pilot he did not have permission to fly over Mexican territory.
  • Finally, the situation was cleared up, and the team returned to their training base in Vero Beach FL.

The preseason camp had some tumultuous moments.

  • New coach Dick Nolan took 80 players to Vero and started teaching the Flex Defense he had overseen for Tom Landry in Dallas.
  • Nolan cleared out some deadwood from previous regimes when he cut several high picks from previous drafts, including C Lee Gross (#2 in 1975) and LB Robert Watts (#2 in '77).
  • Nolan had warned DT Oakley Dalton not to report to camp over 280 pounds or he would be cut. When trainer Dean Kleinschmidt told the coach that "Big O" tipped the scales at 316 pounds, Dick gave the one-year veteran from Jackson State a one-way ticket home.
  • G Conrad Dobler, newly arrived via a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals with a reputation as "the dirtiest player in football," started a fight with DT Elex Price. Nicknamed the "Human Windmill" by his teammates, Price bashed Dobler with his helmet and kicked him a few times.

Nolan's first club finished 7-9, the best record in franchise history to that point.

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

Saints RB Chuck Muncie
Chuck Muncie

Saints QB Bobby Scott

Saints WR Wes Chandler

Saints S Tommy Myers

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - I

Drew Brees Signs with Saints 2006
Drew Brees signs with Saints - this was harder for him than it looked








Deuce McAllister vs Browns 2006
Deuce McAllister runs against Browns

Saints K John Carney
John Carney

Saints WR Devery Henderson
Devery Henderson

Everyone remembers the first game back in the Dome on September 25, 2006, when the Saints socked the Falcons on Monday Night Football. But that was the third game of the season. Do you remember the first two games?

The story of Sean Payton and Drew Brees coming to New Orleans has already been told. So let's pick up the action from their first training camp with the Saints.

  • Brees had been working since February to rehabilitate his arm after major shoulder surgery. At the news conference announcing his signing with the Saints, he struggled to hold up the #9 jersey for the photographs. His right shoulder was so weak two months after the surgery that he could barely raise his arm above his chest.
  • He wasn't close to 100% when camp began in Jackson MS on July 27 despite throwing 120 balls a day. He had to restore his mechanics and sync up with a new set of receivers.
  • As a result, Drew wasn't impressive in the preseason games, a 19-16 win at Tennessee followed by an embarrassing 30-7 loss to Dallas in Shreveport on national TV. Trying not to push the panic button, Payton told GM Mickey Loomis on the team bus afterwards, "We might now win three games this year."
  • The preseason ended with losses to Indianapolis (27-14 in Jackson), and at Kansas City (10-9). Brees and the other regulars played more than they normally would in order to get back in the groove and adapt to a new coaching staff. His combined stats for the four games read like this:

39-for-62 for 394y with 0 TDs and 2 INTs

  • Still, Drew took heart from one play in the Colts game.

In the first quarter, Coach called the play - a twenty-yard run by the receiver across the field. In order to complete the throw, you end up having to throw the ball about forty yards in the air. I took the snap, reading the defense on my way back. The cornerback covering my primary receiver was playing soft, therefore allowing us to throw the deep out. As I hit the last step in my drop, I hitched up, cocked the ball back, and let it fly.

There's a feeling unlike any other when the ball leaves your hand just right. You know immediately that it's a good throw, and there's a thrill as you watch it spiral downfield into the hands of your receiver. That pass was a good forty yards as it made its way across the field into the hands of Donte Stallworth on the left sideline. He actually dropped it, but I didn't care. It came out at just the right velocity, perfectly timed with the stride of the receiver, right into his arms. It was just like the old days, before the surgery. That is what I've been waiting for, I thought. I'm back!

  • The fans and TV commentators, and even his head coach, didn't share Drew's optimism as the first game approached.

As the Saints prepared for their trip to Cleveland to open the season with a roster that was over 50% different from '05, Brees asked to speak to the team the Wednesday before the game.

  • Drew handed out sheets with the word FAITH written on them.
  • He gave meaning to each letter: Fortitude, Attitude, Integrity, Trust, Humility.
  • After he explained how each virtue applied to the upcoming season,

... we left that meeting fired up about the season and the team. In the days that followed, one of our team mottoes became "Keep the faith." Faith in each other, faith in the process, faith in our fans, faith in our coaches. And for some of us, faith in the God who had made all of this possible in the first place.

Prognosticators didn't give the Saints much chance.

  • All twelve ESPN experts chose the Panthers to win the NFC South.
  • A typical website said this about the '06 Saints while predicting a 4-12 finish (an improvement of only one win over the Katrina year debacle):

The Saints have great potential on offense. The sooner the team can jell under Brees the more noise New Orleans can make in their division. It will be interesting to see how [#1 draft choice Reggie] Bush fairs at the pro level.

At least the Saints didn't have the pressure of high expectations as they took on the Browns, who weren't expected to do much better than the Saints in '06.

  • The defense provided just what a team with a struggling offense needed in the first half, holding Cleveland to just 56y and zero points.
  • Meanwhile, Payton did a great job of mixing things up with his play-calling to keep the D off-balance. By using Bush and Deuce McAllister on the field at the same time, he was able to create matchup problems and create downhill running seams inside the Browns' 3-4 D.
  • Still, the Saints O weren't world beaters themselves in the first half, producing just three John Carney FGs (43, 25, and 21y) to take a 9-0 lead into the dressing room.

The Browns got on the board quickly in the second half.

  • The home team marched 67y on its first series to pull within two when QB Charlie Frye threw an 18y TD pass to TE Kellen Winslow.
  • The Saints retaliated with a 73y, 11-play drive of their own, culminated by Brees' first TD pass in a Saints uniform - to emerging rookie star Marques Colston from the 12. Along the way, Drew hit Devery Henderson for 16 and Bush for 14.

2006 Saints-Browns Winslow TDMarques Colston scores his first NFL TD.
L: Kellen Winslow fends off Roman Harper to score. R: Marques Colston scores his first NFL TD.

Saints WR Joe Horn
Joe Horn

Saints S Josh Bullocks
Josh Bullocks

Top of Page

  • The Browns continued the tit-for-tat game with a 13 play drive starting on their 26 that produced a TD on Frye's 1y run with 11:20 left in the game.
  • A 20y connection Brees-to-Joe Horn, a 19yarder to Henderson, and Deuce's 17y ramble gave the Saints first-and-goal on the 2. But three plays gained nothing. So Carney booted a 20y FG with 5:42 remaining made it 19-14 - still a "one possession game."
  • Would the Saints cough up a lead late as their predecessors of the last few years had done with regularity? Not today as S Josh Bullocks intercepted a pass that deflected off the hands of Braylon Edwards at the N.O. 30 with 1:35 remaining to seal Cleveland's seventh season-opening loss in eight tries since returning to the NFL in '99.

Bush was pleased with his initial NFL effort.

  • Although he never got loose on one of the trademark breakaway runs that made him a Heisman Trophy winner at USC, Reggie did gain 141 total yards - 61 rushing on 14 attempts, 58y on eight receptions, and 22 on three punt returns.

I just wanted us to get a win. I wasn't focused on anything else. This was a perfect first step.

  • Deuce added 90y on 22 carries in his first game afater missing the final 11 contests of '05 following knee surgery.
  • Brees' bottom line read: 16/30, 170y, 1 TD, 1 INT. As Drew wrote later:

It wasn't pretty; we basically had to grind out the win. But it was a victory all the same, and beating them on their home field gave us a measure of confidence. The locker room afterward was a happy place - we had achieved our goal of winning that first game. But we knew we had our work cut out for us the next week.

  • Payton summarized the game this way:

    Nothing flashy but a win nonetheless. Drew had finally turned the corner. Although he wasn't 100 percent, there was a huge feeling of relief on the coaching staff, even from Drew himself.

To be continued ...

References: From Bags to Riches, Jeff Duncan (2010),
Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010)
Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life, Sean Payton (2010)
Reggie Bush in his first NFL gameSaints Locker Room after 2006 win over Browns
L: Reggie Bush in his first NFL game. R: Payton celebrates his first NFL win as a head coach.
Payton-Brees Regime Begins - II

Having beaten the Browns, the 2006 Saints prepared for a trip to Green Bay. As Drew Brees wrote:

Beating Cleveland was definitely a start, a stepping stone. Take care of the first game and then you can move on to the second. It would take a lot more to face Green Bay at their place against Brett Favre. If we could somehow pull off a victory against the Packers, it would carry a lot more weight.

Sean Payton felt that Drew had passed a test at Cleveland.

Drew had finally turned the corner. Although he wasn't 100 percent, there was a huge feeling of relief on the coaching staff, even from Drew himself. I think if you asked him, "At what point in 2006 did you feel 100 percent healthy?" he would tell you, "Shortly after that opening game, in Week Two or Week Three."

  • Since the Packers had humiliated the Saints in 2005 52-3 at Lambeau Field, the game would provide a litmus test for the amount of improvement Payton had achieved in a very short time.
  • The Pack would have a chip on their shoulder because the Bears had come to Lambeau in Week One and won 26-0, the first time a Favre-led team had been shut out.
  • The Saints would be trying to win two consecutive road games to start a season for the first time in franchise history.

The visitors looked like the old Saints in Q1 as Brees turned the ball over on their first three possessions.

  • On the third play from scrimmage, Aaron Kampman sacked Drew, forcing a fumble, and recovered on the Saints 37.
  • Five plays later, Favre hit rookie Greg Jennings for his first career TD.
  • Brees fumbled again on the next possession, GB pouncing on it on the 15. However, the Saints D forced a FG by Dave Rayner to make it 10-0.
  • The Black and Gold O moved the pigskin to the Packer 24. But Brees' pass down the left sideline for Devery Henderson was tipped by Nick Collins and intercepted by Al Harris at the 8.
  • Favre led his troops to the N.O. 17 before bogging down. Rayner's second 3-pointer made it 13-0.

Packers QB Brett Favre
Brett Favre

Packers DT Aaron Kampman
Aaron Kampman

Packers WR Greg Jennings
Greg Jennings

 Harris intercepts BreesSmith Sacks Favre
L: Al Harris intercepts in front of Devery Henderson.
R: Will Smith sacks Brett Favre.
Brees recalled:

Both fumbles occurred on sacks in the pocket when a defensive end hit my arm as I was throwing. Hits like these can cause shoulder injuries even to healthy arms, but thankfully I came away from both plays feeling durable.

... it looked like they were on their way to a blowout, just like the previous year. That was not the way I had envisioned my first-quarter performance, and human nature was telling me it was time to get really frustrated and start berating myself. You blew it! Are you sure you belong here?

But I hadn't come that far to quit. And we hadn't come that far as a team to quit either. We could have lamented our misfortunate, packed up, and headed home. But something was brewing. Something was going on that the fans at Lambeau and the people watching on television couldn't see. They had no idea how hard we had worked to get where we were. They had no idea of the desire burning in the belly of each player on our team. And they had no idea how much the people of New Orleans meant to us. We were playing for them. So instead of listening to that voice of defeat, I kept visualizing doing things the right way and focusing on what I'd been coached to do.

The tide turned in Q2.

  • After two punt exchanges, the Saints finally put points on the board.
  • Deuce McAllister's 3y plunge over LT culminated a 58y drive. A 3rd-and-4 pass from Brees to Joe Horn gained just enough to keep possession on the GB 48. Three plays later, Brees flipped the ball to Reggie Bush in the left flat, and the rookie got another first down on the 36. Next, Drew fired a 33y strike to TE Mark Campbell to set up Deuce's first TD since September 2005.
  • After receiving a punt on their 27 with 4:27 left, New Orleans marched to the go-ahead TD.
  • Working hard for every yard, the Saints converted a 3rd-and-1 and a 4th-and-1. On a first-and-10 play at the 26, Brees threw deep down the left sideline to Henderson for the TD. John Carney's second PAT put the Saints a point on top with 0:56.

The Saints added to their lead in Q3.

  • The Packers top the kickoff and marched smartly to a first-and-goal at the 7.
  • But Omar Stoutmire picked off Favre's pass just inside the EZ.
  • Brees immediately fired a short pass over the middle to Horn who raced 57y to the 23.
  • After three plays netted -4, Carney booted a FG to extend the lead to 4.
  • The D then forced a three-and-out. Brees connected with Bush for 23 to the GB 35. Four plays later, Carney's 47-yarder made it 20-13.
Saints-Packers 2006
Packers rookie LB A.J Hawk tackles Marques Colston in Q4.
Green Bay tied the score early in Q4.
  • Favre ended an 80y march with a 4y pass to Robert Ferguson 42 seconds into the period.
  • The defenses dominated the next two possessions. Then the Saints drove 65y to take the lead for good.
  • One play after an interference call provided a first-and-10 at the GB 35, Brees passed to Marques Colston for the score with 8:20 left.
  • 26 seconds later, N.O. scored again. On GB's first play after the kickoff, Will Smith recovered Ahman Green's fumble on the GB 23.
  • Deuce scampered around LE for the TD. The one-play drive made it 34-20.
  • The Pack bounced back with a TD drive that consumed 3 1/2 minutes. Favre's 6y pass to Noah Herron cut the lead to seven.
  • Needing to run some clock, the Saints could gain only 4y and consume only a minute.
  • When Favre took over at his 41, Saints Nation could be forgiven for thinking, "Here we go again" and expecting a tying drive. But these were not your Daddy's Saints. Favre got one first down to the N.O. 44, then misfired on four straight to turn the ball over.
  • Brees knelt three times to run out the clock. He recalled:

That win was a watershed moment for us. We had faced adversity, and we hadn't let it get us down. After the game we talked about what was different for the Saints now. That was a game the Saints probably would have lost in previous years - not necessarily because the team wasn't as talented but because they didn't have the positive mentality and belief we exhibited. We really believed we could overcome any situation we found ourselves in. ... No matter what kind of hole we'd dug for ourselves, we still believed we could go out there and win.

  • Payton:

Starting out 2-0 after two road games is a big accomplishment for any team in our league. And every bit as important as that final score was that Drew had made two or three throws in that game that reminded Pete Carmichael of the healthy QB he knew in San Diego. ... Our defense was showing signs of improvement as well.

Joe Horn and Sean Payton
Joe Horn walks off the field with Sean Payton after victory at Green Bay.

The Saints now prepared for the most important event ever held in the Louisiana Superdome.

Continued below ...

References: Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010)
Home Team, Sean Payton (2010); Patron Saints, Alan Donnes (2007)

Saints RB Deuce McAllister
Deuce McAllister

Saints PK John Carney
John Carney

Saints RB Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush vs Packers

Saints TE Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell

Packers WR Robert Ferguson
Robert Ferguson

Packers RB Ahman Green
Ahman Green runs against Saints.

Packers WR Noah Herron
Noah Herron






Payton-Brees Regime Begins - III

Saints Owner Tom Benson
Tom Benson in October 2005

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue
Paul Tagliabue







Superdome Interior after Katrina
Superdome after Katrina

Superdome GM Glenn Menard
Glenn Menard

Doug Thornton
Doug Thornton

Monday night, September 25, 2006. The Saints' first game back home since August 26, 2005, a preseason game against the Ravens three days before Katrina.
  • The NFL schedule makers sent New Orleans on the road the first two weeks of the regular season to provide maximum time for the refurbishment of the Superdome.
  • Knowing the homecoming would be of national interest, they made it a Monday Night game and selected the hated Atlanta Falcons as the opponent.
  • The interest surrounding the game would have been off the charts even if the teams were 0-2. As it turned out, both were 2-0.

As recently as nine months earlier, this night seemed impossible.

  • Owner Tom Benson's former city, San Antonio, welcomed the Saints with open arms after Katrina. With the future of New Orleans totally uncertain in the weeks right after the storm, the Mayor of San Antonio, like a man courting a widow at the wake, led an effort to convince Benson to permanently relocate his team in the Alamo City. Mayor Hardberger:

I'm pretty comfortable in saying he wants to be here. ... I think Tom Benson would like to stay here permanently and I, as mayor of San Antonio, would like to have the team stay here permanently.

  • The San Antonio newspaper even reported that Benson planned to invoke the force majeure ("chance occurrence") clause in the Saints' contract with the State of Louisiana to avoid an $81 million exit fee for violating the agreement binding them to New Orleans.
  • On October 19, Crescent City Mayor Ray Nagin fired back, blasting Benson for abandoning New Orleans while it was "on its knees."
  • The next day, Superdome officials reported that the stadium would be ready to host Saints games by the following October.
  • Despite Benson's protestation that "no decisions have been made regarding our future plans and none will be made until after the 2005 season is concluded," ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the Saints had "probaby played their last game in New Orleans."
  • The Washington Post weighed in with an article stating that the NFL would consider allowing the Saints to relocate to Los Angeles if the Crescent City was unable to recover from the hurricane devastation.

From New Orleans's point of view, the man in the white hat who galloped in to save the situation was NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

  • He asked Benson at a meeting of state, team and league officials on October 30 just before the Saints' first game at Tiger Stadium to refrain from invoking force majeure. Tagliabue said at the news conference afterwards:

The Saints are Louisiana's team and have been since the late 1960s. We're dealing with a rebuilding here, and we're going to make every effort to keep the New Orleans Saints as Louisiana's team.

  • Still, the San Antonio media claimed Benson was more committed to permanent relocation than ever, especially after a nasty confrontation with fans following the first game in Tiger Stadium.
  • Tagliabue followed up his pro-New Orleans pronouncement by forming a New Orleans Advisory Committee of eight owners to keep their fingers on the pulse of recovery in New Orleans to determine the city's long-term viability as an NFL member.
  • Reacting to Benson's projection that he would lose $20-40 million during the next several seasons if he returned to New Orleans, Tagliabue crafted a contingency plan to subsidize the Saints with revenue from visiting teams' shares of gate receipts. Paul also helped organize the Saints Business Council, a group of 27 local business leaders who pledged to buy suites, tickets, and sponsorships.

Tagliabue and other NFL officials made their first visit to post-Katrina New Orleans on December 5.

  • They found the Saints' training facility in excellent condition.
  • However, the Superdome was in worse shape than expected, causing the Commissioner to wonder if the Saints could play there at all in 2006.
  • That emboldened the Benson to lobby Tagliabue to allow the Saints to play in San Antonio again in 2006.

The team was still in limbo as the 3-13 season limped to its merciful end.

  • However, something or someone changed Benson's plans because, on December 30, he surprised staff members by informing them of the club's plan to resume operations in Metairie by mid-January.
  • The "someone" behind the decision was widely assumed to be Tagliabue, who met with the players and coaches for more than five hours that day before announcing the move to the media.
 Superdome after Katrina

Still, a major question remained: Would the Superdome be ready?

  • A concerted effort orchestrated by Dome GM Glenn Menard and spreadheaded by Doug Thornton, regional vice president for SMG, the company that runs the facility, completed the $185 million renovation in time for the September 25 kickoff.
  • The plan heeded Tagliabue's admonition not just to rebuild the old Dome but to make it better.
  • The original timetable called for a November completion, but the league insisted it had to be ready for mid-September at the latest.
  • The amazing, almost superhuman effort cut through the usual Louisiana red tape and put Dome refurbishment ahead of other major projects. Thornton worked for nearly three months without a day off.
  • Critics, including legislators, questioned giving priority to a sports stadium over hospitals and schools. But the majority knew that the Dome represented the most visible symbol of the city's rebirth.
  • Workers removed 4,000 tons of debris and extracated 3.8 million gallons of water from the Dome and its garages. Almost every square foot of sheet rock, tile, and carpeting was replaced. More than 22,000 new seats were installed, and the rest were treated and cleaned.
  • $32.5 million was spent in replacing the roof - the largest and costliest such project in U.S. history.

Saints fans and the entire nation would see the product of all that effort and money on September 25, 2006.

Continued below ...
Reference: From Bags to Riches, Jeff Duncan (2010)
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Payton-Brees Regime Begins - IV
As the entire nation (seemingly) prepared for the Saints' return to the Superdome after Katrina for a Monday night game against the Falcons, Sean Payton was worried.

Frankly, I wasn't sure our players were prepared.

  • As he explained in his book Home Team:

How could they be? Half our guys had never played in the Dome before. That included all the first- and second-year players. And nobody at all had played in the Dome since its top-to-bottom renovation, a whirlwind $193 million job. ... This was really a brand-new stadium inside an old shell ... Thirty thousand people had taken refuge in the Superdome when they'd had no place else to go. All of our players had heard the stories and seen the TV reports. ... No one had actually been murdered in the Superdome after Katrina. But one man had committed suicide, and nobody had been left unscathed. And when people finally get out of there, most of them were shipped off to further heartbreak and despair. Even a year and a month later, images like that can mess with a player's head.

  • The coach was also concerned about the Saints

being too tight, too distracted, too emotionally wound up - and having our execution suffer. I wanted to deal with all of that before game time. We had to try to chase the ghosts away.

  • So Sean scheduled a Friday night practice in the Dome.

But Payton didn't wait until Friday to start preparing the team mentally.

  • He told them at Thursday's practice:

Monday has a chance to be a special night. It's going to be a memorable night regardless of the outcome. But it will be a special night only if we win. None of this "We're just happy to be here," OK?

The coaches and I, we know you're going to be ready. But this game will come down to you being able to focus, much like a play-off game or a Super Bowl. Both teams will be ready. Now, will you keep your focus with the increased atmosphere and distractions and media coverage and all the other things that go into this game? I am counting on it.

  • One of the purposes of the Friday practice was to acclimate the players to their new home - locker rooms, new turf, new lighting - since they hadn't played the usual preseason games.
  • This was not just a walkthrough but a full practice starting at Monday's kickoff time.

When practice ended, Sean gathered the team at midfield.

  • He introduced Doug Thornton, who had spearheaded the renovation of the Dome, and Benny Vanderklis, the security director who had ridden out the storm in the building.
  • At Sean's signal, the lights went off for a moment before the new Jumbotrons lit up.
  • A video began that showed footage of the Katrina disaster. Sean:

The video was just five minutes long. But I swear, it was the most emotional five minutes of tape I'd ever seen. The rising water, the people's faces, the houses with X's on the doors letting the rescurers know how many bodies were inside. ... When the video was finished, these images of Katrina gave way to a song - the throaty exuberance of Hank Williams Jr. singing "Are You Ready for Some Football" - the Monday Night Football theme.

  • The video achieved the effect Payton intended: From "Oh, my God, look at where we've come from" to "Oh, my God, look where we're going now."
  • The stunned players stood in silence, most in tears. That was what the coach wanted. I wanted the rush of emotion on Friday, not on Monday night. On Monday, this team had to execute.

Drew Brees in particular couldn't wait for Monday night.

This would be my first chance to play in front of the home crowd in the Superdome. I finally had the opportunity to be in front of our fans - my fans. These were the people who had welcomed me with open arms after the injury, rehab, and free agency signing. I felt like I had something to prove to them. I wanted to show them I'd been a worthwhile investment and I could lead them. That game symbolized recovery for me, for the Saints, and for the region.

  • Drew had never set foot in the Superdome before the Friday night practice. He understood what his coach had in mind with the practice.

He knew it would be better for any initial shock or awe to come now instead of on Monday night.

  • Brees also reacted to the video as Sean wanted.

These were the people we were playing for now. These were the survivors, and they needed hope. They needed something good to happen.

[The video] made football seem less important in a way, compared to all that these people had experienced. But at the same time, it made Monday's game even more significant.

  • Fighting back his own tears when the presentation ended, Payton challenged the team.

You want to make this night special? Then you go out and win this game for these people. They deserve it.

  • The final piece of the game plan had fallen in place.

Continued below ...

References: Home Team, Sean Payton (2010), Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010); From Bags to Riches, Jeff Duncan (2010)
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Saints Coach Sean Payton
Sean Payton




Sporting News 2006
Deuce McAllister on cover
of Sporting News










Drew and Brittany Brees
Drew and Brittany Brees in 2006 as they refurbished a home in New Orleans

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - V
Anticipation for the Saints' first home game after Katrina was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.
  • The Saints issued slightly more than 1,000 press credentials.
  • ESPN, which was televising the game, took 535. The network broadcast live remotes from the Dome all day long.
  • VH1, MTV, Inside Edition, and even Aljazeera were all represented.
  Saints Fans Celebrate Return to DomeFans Gather Outside Dome
Saints Fans Celebrate the Return to the Dome
Fans started arriving by late morning.
  • More than 2,000 showed up for a midday pep rally at Lafayette Square downtown.
  • Crowds swamped the area around the Dome with a human sea, creating a huge traffic jam. They wanted to see the results of the $185 million restoration but also celebrate the resurrection of the Crescent City and their heroes' "Domecoming." Said Saints season ticket holder Clara Donate, 58, who lost her home and all her possessions to Katrina's floodwaters:

    This is exactly what the city needs. We all need something else to think about.

  • Harold Johnson planned to sit with his neighbors outside his FEMA trailer and watch the game on TV. As he stocked up on beer at a grocery store for the cookout, he spoke for countless New Orleanians: I don't want to talk about Katrina. I don't want to talk about insurance. I don't want to talk about anything but kicking Falcon butt.
  • Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis helped the NFL enlist a Super Bowl-quality lineup to entertain the fans all afternoon, before the game, and at halftime.
  • The Goo Goo Dolls led off the party with a one-hour set outside the arena.

Drew Brees couldn't wait to perform in front of his fans. Perhaps that excitement explains why he had a big problem getting to the Superdome.

  • Coach Payton told the players to be at the stadium at 5:30, two hours before kickoff. Drew planned to be there at 4:30 so he wouldn't be rushed getting ready for the game.
  • He figured it would take about 20 minutes to drive to the Dome from the hotel next to the airport where the team spent the night. So he left at 4 but immediately ran into traffic. Confident he knew his way around his new city, he got off the interstate. But when his shortcut was also blocked, he zipped over to another street. After several more turns, Drew realized he was lost.
  • So he worked his way back to the Interstate. Finally, almost an hour and a half after leaving the hotel, he approached the exit to the Superdome. Little did the Saints fans in the vehicles around him realize that their QB was stuck with them.
  • When he finally arrived at the entrance to the parking garage, the attendant warned him that his Land Rover might be too tall to fit. But he tried it anyway and would have made it except for a metal pipe running along the bottom edge of the overhang. So he backed out and called stadium security to take care of his vehicle. Fans walking by recognized him and wondered why he wasn't in the locker room by now.
  • Meanwhile, Sean had gotten concerned. He asked someone to contact Drew and find out what was going on. That led to a "police escort" (as Sean called it) being sent out to find the QB, make a path through traffic, and lead him to the Dome.
  • When Drew finally entered the locker room an hour late, Payton needled him. "Glad you were able to join us tonight." Sean "hoped this wasn't a sign for the night."
  • So the QB who hated to be rushed before a game had to hurry up and get ready. "I was getting worked up into a bad frame of mind," he recalled.


Saints GM Mickey Loomis
Mickey Loomis














U2 and Green Day perform before the game.
U2 and Green Day perform before the game

Former President Bush - pregame coin toss
Former President George H. W. Bush flips coin before kickoff.

GM Mickey Loomis came up to Drew on the field before the game and put his hand on his shoulder.

  • Mickey told him he had heard about his trouble getting to the stadium. "Just relax, Drew. Everything's fine. You're here, and you're ready to play."
  • Those words put Drew at ease. He may have been the only person in the building who was "at ease."

The atmosphere inside the arena surpassed anything that had ever happened there.

  • John DeShazier of the Times-Picayune likened the experience to

a combination homecoming celebration and religious experience, where fans of every age and station in life and players that night emotionally intertwined to create an atmosphere that will rival any atmosphere, anywhere, in terms of passion.

  • Rick Leventhal of Fox News blogged:

It's not often I see grown men cry. In my experience, it's rare. But I saw it Monday night, standing on the Saints sideline inside the Superdome, as I congratulated one of the supervisors on the rebirth of the huge structure. He'd put his heart and soul into the project, giving up the last year of his life to see it through, he told me. Repairing the cratered roof, ripping out the wet and mildewed walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture, rewiring, replacing, and redecorating a facility he considered his living room and his whole life.

And now, with 72,000 Saints fans cheering wildly, after Green Day and U2 rocked the stage with songs about the city, including a rewritten "Beautiful Day," tears began to fall from his eyes. "I've cried a lot tonight," he told me, as others came up to shake his hand and give him a hug. His labor of love was alive and healthy and already giving joy to the people who needed something to cheer about.

Pro-football is back in New Orleans. It's just one step forward for a city with many struggles, but it's a big step, and at least 72,000 people are fired up about it.

The stands were packed an hour before kickoff.

  • A host of VIPs and celebrities attended, including former President George H. W. Bush, who handled the pregame coin toss, Governor Kathleen Blanco, Archie Manning, New Orleans-born musician Harry Connick Jr., Mayor Ray Nagin, filmmaker Spike Lee, acress Hillary Swank, rappers Snoop Dogg and Lil' Jon, and native New Orleanian Avery Johnson, coach of the Dallas Mavericks.
  • Two internationally-acclaimed bands, U2 and Green Day, teamed up for a three-song set at midfield before the kickoff. The local Rebirth and New Birth Brass Bands backed them up. Local legends Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and Kermit Ruffins collaborated on the National Anthem.
  • According to DeShazier,

Grizzled, hardened, cynical, seen-it-all media members had damp eyes before it began (yours truly included). U2 and Green Day collaborated on a remake "The Saints Are Coming" that still can make the hairs stand on end.

Coach Payton later recalled:

The feeling inside the Dome was absolutely electric. ... The place was fully awash in emotion. It was the loudest crowd I'd ever heard in my life. I know I never walked into a stadium feeling like more was riding on the game. The fanfare and the atmosphere were just unbelievable.

The Falcons didn't know it, but they had no chance. 

To be continued ...
References: Home Team, Sean Payton (2010); Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010); From Bags to Riches, Jeff Duncan (2010)
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Payton-Brees Regime Begins - VI
 Just 90 seconds into a game that was a horrific year in the making, the New Orleans Saints flopped on a ball in the end zone -- and the party was on.

The defense beat up Michael Vick. Tom Benson danced off the field with his parasol. Even "The Superdome Special" worked to perfection.

The Saints are home again.

Thus began the article on the Saints 23-3 victory over Atlanta on Monday night, September 25, 2006.

  • The "flop," of course, was the recovery of the blocked punt after the Falcons went three-and-out on the opening possession of the game.
  • The Saints' special teams had been preparing all week for this moment. As Sean Payton recalled in his autobiography:

Special teams coordinator John Bonamego had convinced me we had a real good punt-block rush. He gave Steve Gleason ... a specific assignment. This was perfect for Gleason. He didn't have gret athletic ability. He didn't have that much speed. At five foot eleven, 212 pounds, he was definitely on the small side for an NFL player. As a football player, he didn't have a lot on paper. But you could give Gleason an assignment, and he just had a way of getting it done.

I didn't plan on trying to block a punt so early. But Bonamego didn't seem eager to wait. "You want to block the first one?" he asked. I knew we wanted to run the block at some point. Teams rush eight and attempt to block punts all the time. But so soon?

I heard myself say, "Yeah, let's do it." And we did. Eight guys rushed. Gleason hit the A gap, pulled a little loop stunt and went right up the middle to block the punt.

  • The ball rolled across the goal where Curtis Deloatch fell on it for a TD. He then sprang to his feet and ran along the back of the EZ before he ran toward the goal post and jumped so high spiking the ball that he almost hit his helmet on the cross bar which sits 10' off the ground. Curtis said later: It wasn't something I planned; it just happened. I was going crazy. You could feel the Dome just rocking. We must have celebrated for 20 minutes. They could have thrown all their flags on us, but I guess with it being such a special night, and the Dome reopening and Hurricane Katrina and everything, they let it slide.
  • The noise was deafening. Gleason said later, It was so loud inside my own head, I could have jumped out of my own skin. I felt like I was in every inch of the Superdome, up in the crowd, just so happy that I could do that for the people. I couldn't ask for anything more. Athletically, it was the coolest thing I've ever done, no doubt. I'm the little kid that dreams of playing in the NFL and doing something great. And tonight I did it, man.
  • Brees agreed: It was the loudest one-time roar I have ever heard in a stadium. That moment served as a confirmation: this night belonged to New Orleans.
  • The ESPN announcers stayed silent for nearly 40 seconds to allow the viewers to experience the frenzy.
Steve Gleason blocks Falcons punt 
Steve Gleason blocks Falcons punt
One play does not a victory make, but the momentum was entirely on the home team's side. Still, the Dirty Birds drove to a first-and goal at the 8 before the Saints' D finally drew a line in the turf.
  • Warrick Dunn gained only 1 at RT, Mike McKenzie making the tackle. Michael Vick threw incomplete in the left flat to Alge Crumpler.
  • From the shotgun, Vick threw to Crumpler all alone in the EZ. But, perhaps reflecting the hand of fate, Alge dropped the ball. So the Falcons settled for a 26y FG by 46-year-old ex-Saint Morten Andersen.

Drew Brees finally got his chance to take a snap in his new city. Unfortunately, the first possession didn't produce a Cinderella story.

  • Drew threw two short passes good for 8y before missing Colston to force a punt.
  • The Saints returned the favor to the Falcons, forcing a three-and-out to give Brees & Company another shot from the 20.
  • They made good this time, driving to a TD in eight plays. Drew completed 3-of-4, the last one for 22y to Marques Colston which, with a roughing the passer penalty tacked on, put the ball on the 22.
  • That set the stage for one of Payton's signature plays. Brees handed the ball to Reggie Bush who in turn gave it to Devery Henderson on a reverse around RE. Devery barely made it past the pylon before being slammed out of bounds.
  • John Carney's PAT moved the lead to 14-3.
Devery Henderson scores. Deuce McAllister runs against the Falcons.
L: Devery Henderson scores on a reverse. R: Deuce McAllister rambles for 22.

Saints-Falcons Action 2006
Roman Harper fights Alge Crumpler for a loose ball.

The teams traded punts into Q2 when the Saints started another scoring drive from their 15.
  • On the second play, Deuce McAllister burst through for 22 to the NO 45.
  • Brees kept the drive alive with a 3rd down completion to Colston to the 40.
  • Drew hit Joe Horn for 17 more before three plays gained only 4y.
  • So Carney split the uprights from the 37 to make it 17-3 with 6:48 left until halftime.

The Falcons cranked up a drive that ended with inspired play by the Saints' D and special teams.

  • First, a 34y return by Jerius Norwood coupled with unnecessary roughness against Deloatch gave Atlanta excellent field position at the NO 42.
  • On 4th-and-1, Vick found Crumpler for 17y to the 16, then two plays later hit Alge again for 13 to the 3. A flat pass to Justin Griffith moved the ball to the 2 with 2:42 on the clock.
  • With the crowd roaring, Brian Young broke through and sacked Vick back to the 9. Taking a direct snap out of the shotgun, Dunn immediately got 2 up the middle. Vick misfired on a pass into the EZ, necessitating a chip shot FG attempt by Anderson. Josh Bullocks blocked the kick to send the fans into a frenzy again.

Starting on their own 13 with only 1:49 and two timeouts left, the Saints navigated into FG range.

  • Brees handed off and dinked and dunked the ball out to the 37. Then Bush, whose unexpected draft availability had electrified Saints fans, shot up the middle for 13y to the 50. Payton used the Saints' last timeout with 0:13 showing.
  • After two 1y passes to receivers who went out of bounds sandwiched around an incompletion, Carney booted a 51y FG as time expired to send the Saints into the clubhouse and the fans to the concession stands with a 20-3 lead.

It was hard for the second half to be anything but anti-climactic especially after the Saints extended their lead on the opening possession.

  • Starting from their 25, New Orleans drove to a first-and-goal on the 1 with a 19y Brees-Horn connection producing the biggest gain. But just as the Saints had repelled the Falcons twice inside their 10, Atlanta's D now rose up and stopped three straight runs. So Carney did his job again to extend the lead to 20. More importantly, the 12-play drive used up half the quarter.
  • With the Saints running the ball most of the time to control the clock, the defenses dominated the rest of the game, the deepest penetation being a Falcon Q4 thrust that ended on a 4th-and-12 incompletion on the Saints 31.
  • As the last seconds ticked off, owner Tom Benson came down from his suite to do the Benson Boogie to the strains of "When the Saints Go Marching In" to elicit cheers from a fan base that a year earlier feared he would move the team to San Antonio.
  • Although no one thought about it at the time, the Saints ended a seven-game losing streak on Monday night football although they remained winless (0-5) on Monday night road games.

Postgame reactions:

  • Sean Payton said the Saints gave the game ball to the city of New Orleans. Avery Johnson [N.O. native who coached the Dallas Mavericks] accepted that on behalf of everybody.
  • Drew Brees: From the moment I signed with the Saints, I was looking forward to this. It was a great night. It's something we'll never forget.
  • Reggie Bush: It was so emotional on the sidelines. We talked all week about making a difference with special teams. Today we put it to work and made it happen.
  • Joe Horn: Whether we would have won that game or not, I think the fans would have still been happy. If we would have lost, I'm sure they would have still been proud of us. They would have still been happy because this organization is still in New Orleans. But that wouldn't have been enough. We had to win that football game.
  • Falcons coach Jim Mora, whose father was the winningest coach in Saints history: As tough as it is to lose a game, I'd be lying if I said there isn't a little, little, little piece of me that didn't appreciate what this game meant to this city. It meant a lot.
  • Michael Vick, who finished just 12-for-31: I never in my life heard a crowd roar so loud. It just goes to show the appreciation they have for having the New Orleans Saints back in the Dome, bringing football back to the city. I commend them for that. They deserve it.
  • Mike Ditka, former Saints coach, on TV the next morning: What Sean Payton is doing down there is outstanding. This is the beginning of a new era. There's a whole new enthusiasm.
The 2006 Saints went on to compile 10-6 record, win the NFC South, and reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.
Rebirth Statue Outside Superdome 
Statue unveiled 7/28/12 next to the Superdome commemorating Saints return after Katrina
References: From Bags to Riches, Jeff Duncan (2010); Home Team, Sean Payton (2010); Coming Back Stronger, Drew Brees (2010)
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Saints Special Teams Coach John Bonamego
John Bonamego

Steve Gleason
Steve Gleason

Curtis Deloatch Dunks after TD
Curtis Deloatch










Falcons PK Morten Andersen
Morten Andersen

Saints WR Joe Horn
Joe Horn

Saints RB Reggie Bush 2006
Reggie Bush

Saints PK John Carney
John Carney

Saints DL Brian Young
Brian Young

Saints DB Josh Bullocks
Josh Bullocks




Hank Returns to KC

Streak Buster: Lone 1980 Win

Say Two Hail Marys and Beat the Saints - I

Say Two Hail Marys and Beat the Saints - II

That Penalty Hurt!

Record-Setter: Sam Mills 1992

Unlikely Victory

Big Plays Win It

First NFL Game in Mexico

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - I

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - II

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - III

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - IV

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - V

Payton-Brees Regime Begins - VI


Saints Saga I

Saints Saga II

Saints Saga III

Saints Saga IV

Saints Saga V

Saints Saga VII

Saints Saga VIII

Saints Saga IX - 1987


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