Why 2020 Will Go Down in History as One of Most Memorable Saints Seasons Ever

Photo Credit:: Associated Press – Eric Gay, File)

If you consider yourself to be a follower or a loyally-devoted fan of the New Orleans Saints football team, then you undoubtedly can remember certain years in which the franchise left permanent and long-lasting memories that you probably can not only just recall in explicit detail, but also very likely will remain with you all the way up until your final days upon this earth.

But for a rather wide variety of different reasons, the team’s upcoming 2020 NFL Season that’s only just a little bit over 3 more months away from now; is certain to go down in both League and franchise history as one of the most memorable years for a Pro Football team ever.

With that very thought in mind, this morning we’re taking a step away from all of the current issues that practically has everyone going for each other’s throats at the moment (such as the on-going coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic; as well as the political divisiveness that’s been caused by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that are now occurring throughout both major cities and small towns across the nation).

So with that said. let’s go ahead and take a brief look back in time at some of the more “unforgettable” years of the Black and Gold’s entire 53-year existence.

And we’ll begin first (unfortunately) with the year that most NFL football fans from other fan-bases throughout the entire League, have always used to ridicule loyal and devoted “Who Dat” fans for the past few decades — before we then reminisce over some of the better and wonderful years that anyone who loves the team, will continue to always cherish until the very end of time itself….


Photo Credit: New Orleans Times-Picayune / States-Item, 1980








What some Saints fans — and the younger ones especially — may not know about anything in the team’s history besides what they’ve previously been told by older generations of Saints fans (or have read about it in a book or the Internet); is that long before their current era of great overall success, the franchise once upon a time was one of the NFL’s all-time worst.

In fact, during their first 13 years of existence, New Orleans compiled an inglorious and most unimpressive win-loss record of 54 victories, 127 losses. and 5 ties.

But after former head coach Hank Stram was fired after the 1977 Season in which the team embarrassingly lost to the then-winless expansion team (0-26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their final home game that year, team owner John Mecom, Jr. opted to promote linebacker coach Dick Nolan to the team’s head-coaching position for the 1978 Season.

The Saints would then have their best seasons ever in team history in back-to-back years (7-9 in 1978 and then 8-8 in the 1979 Season), as they narrowly missed the making the NFL Playoffs both times. Despite their lack of success in the win column, the Saints were “loaded” on offense (thanks to Stram having built that side of the ball before his departure) and were considered by many observers and analysts covering the League during that time as one of the NFL’s best future young teams on the rise.

So when the infamous 1980 Saints season arrived, unbeknownst to Mecom, his 3rd year head coach Nolan, and team General Manager Steve Rosenbloom, nearly half of the entire team roster had become addicted to crack cocaine when they were introduced to the drug at Training Camp in Vero Beach, FL by star RB Chuck Muncie and teammate defensive end Don Reese — who were “free-basing”/ cooking up the drug on a portable hot-plate.

It was right around that same time that Muncie quickly became enamored with the revelation of its effects on users who were turning it from a powdered substance into a hardened state (a “rock”) to make the drug possible to smoke.

Muncie’s initial interest in the mind-altering effects of the drug, originally had began after he had attended a series of private parties in Hollywood and the Los Angeles-area frequented by a wide variety of well-known movie stars, musicians, and other celebrities; which actually had dated back to his days in college as an All-American RB and Heisman Trophy candidate at the University of California.

Muncie’s interest in “free-basing” was then heightened even further, after he heard about the infamous incident involving legendary comedian and actor Richard Pryor; who accidentally set himself on fire as he was free-basing the drug, while crazed out of his mind from its effects after an all-night smoking binge. 

One of the unintentional results of the Richard Pryor Incident was that it glamorized the act of “free-basing”, and because there was now a new and more POWERFUL way to “get high”: and then soon afterwards, powdered cocaine addicts everywhere from across the entire country were trying to learn the methodology of exactly how to free-base.

Fast forward to Training Camp in the Summer of 1980, and after arriving for Camp at Vero Beach, FL just a few weeks after the infamous Richard Pryor Incident out in Hollywood, the 5th-year veteran Muncie enlisted the aid of Reese to help him find dealers to supply and deliver the drug on a daily basis to them.

Incredibly they began utilizing the alternative method of “free-basing” — cooking the drug in its powdered form with a mixture of water and baking soda on a metal spoon with a cigarette lighter (or much larger amounts in a pot on top of a heat source such as a “hot-plate” ) — right there in their adjacent dormitory rooms at the Vero Beach Training Complex.

Various teammates such as back-up QB Guy Benjamin, CB Clarence Chapman, and RB Mike Strachan allegedly joined them often, for smoking-sessions which at times incredibly took place right before practice.

Astonishingly (perhaps humorous but in a very sad way), it was during an interview a few years ago just shortly after Muncie’s eventual death from suspected heart failure in 2013, when legendary former Saints QB Archie Manning (the team’s starting QB that year but who obviously was unaware of Muncie’s secret lifestyle) revealed all of these years later that he honestly had thought Muncie and Reese were keeping and using hot-plates in their rooms during that summer, to cook or prepare  “soul food”.

As you would expect, a team full of drug-addicted “crack-heads” did not perform up to the best of their abilities, and by the time Nolan and Rosenbloom (as well as a shell-shocked Mecom, who also was clueless and had absolutely no idea what had been going on right under his nose the entire time) finally got a handle on the problem, it was already too late.

Rosenbloom feverishly then managed to work out a deal and traded Muncie to the AFC Playoff contender San Diego Chargers following the team’s 4th straight loss to open the 1980 regular season, but the damage by that point had been done and it was totally irreversible.

The team spiraled into a horrific tailspin that saw them lose 8 more consecutive games (0-12); and when the team’s fans began wearing paper bags on their heads, it wasn’t long after that Nolan was eventually fired following an embarrassing defeat to the L.A. Rams at home on Monday Night Football in Week #12.

The Saints would go on to finish (1-15) and became known nationally as “The Aint’s” — and now 40 years later the derogatory term remains still as the top insult that fans of opposing teams use to ridicule Saints fans of this current generation.

As for Muncie, he eventually got sober and lived the final years of his life mentoring young children and making further amends to society by volunteering his time to the local community that he grew up in as a teenager; before his passing at age 60 in the early part of 2013. Muncie obviously lived a tough life, but remains one of the more underappreciated and underrated early team legends of the franchise’s formative years.




MOST MEMORABLE CATCH-PHRASE: “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”




KEY PLAYERS: “THE DOME PATROL” (Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills), BOBBY HEBERT, DALTON HILLIARD, RUEBEN MAYES

Twenty whole years was actually how long that it took for the the Saints to experience success on a consistent basis. The Black and Gold never even had their first winning season until the year 1987, when ex-USFL (that’s the United States Football League, for those too young to know what that abbreviation represented) championship-winning head coach Jim Mora led the Saints to a 12-3 record (the season was shortened by one game due to a brief NFL player’s strike) and their first-ever post-season berth in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs / NFC Wild Card round.

While current Saints head coach Sean Payton has relied heavily on his All-Pro and soon to-be future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees to lead the way to most of the Saints’ recent success; back during those days well over 30 years ago now, Mora had to rely HEAVILY upon his defense — and specifically a group of linebackers that would famously go on to become known as “The Dome Patrol”

While the “Dome Patrol” defense moniker was a term used in general for the entire Saints defense of that era (1986-1993), the nickname actually was a specific reference in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to a group of linebackers which consisted of some of the most legendary players in Saints history.

In order of when they joined the team, those four particular players were:

  • Rickey Jackson, defensive end / outside linebacker, University of Pittsburgh (1981 NFL Draft)
  • the late (and great) Sam Mills, inside linebacker, Montclair State, USFL Baltimore Stars (free agent, signed in 1986)
  • the late Vaughan Johnson, inside linebacker, North Carolina State and the USFL Jacksonville Bulls (1985 USFL Allocation Draft, signed in 1986)
  • Pat Swilling, defensive end / outside linebacker, Georgia Tech (1986 NFL Draft)

Some of the team’s greatest memories come from those first years of sustained success; way back when it was the defense that was winning games for the Saints, instead of the high-octane and wide open offensive scheme under Sean Payton that we currently see now.

So when Mora, who was hired by then-brand new team owner Tom Benson and then-General Manager Jim Finks (God rest their souls) in early 1986, it was Rickey Jackson who emerged as the “core” player to build his new defensive scheme around.

Once the USFL had folded around that same time not long after an embarrassing and FAILED merger attempt with the well-established NFL by then New Jersey Generals owner (and now 45th President of the United States) Donald J. Trump, Mora subsequently brought in two former USFL stars at inside linebacker.

USFL New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump (shaking hands with star RB Herschel Walker) in March 1984. Photo Credit: Dave Pickoff / Associated Press

Those players were Sam Mills, who had played under Mora and won the USFL title with the Philadelphia / Baltimore Stars, and hard-hitting inside linebacker Vaughan Johnson of the Jacksonville Bulls, whom the Saints got in the subsequent USFL allocation draft of 1985 after the USFL went out of business. The “Dome Patrol” linebacking corps was then completed in the 1986 Draft, when Mora selected Georgia Tech and All-ACC defensive end Pat Swilling in the 3rd Round; who he then put at the other OLB spot opposite of Jackson.

Just prior to Mora’s arrival, the team had signed free agent and former USFL Championship-winning QB Bobby Hebert (formerly of the Michigan Panthers and the Oakland Invaders); and then after they backed up “The Cajun Cannon” with a stellar running game (the top-notch RB duo of Dalton Hilliard and Rueben Mayes), Hebert (along with plenty of help from “The Dome Patrol”) led the team to its very first winning record that year.

But it wasn’t until a Week #6 loss that season at the Superdome to the team’s then-hated NFC West Division rivals the San Francisco 49ers (the Saints back during that time could never quite seem to “get over the hump” and past Hall-of-Fame head coach Bill Walsh and his popularly-known ‘West Coast’ offensive scheme led by All-Pro QB Joe Montana), that the team suddenly began winning games on a consistent week-to-week basis.

Essentially, the team took on the ultra-aggressive mind-set of Mora — thanks to his post-game news conference with reporters where he chewed his team out for failing to gain a victory in what was a very “winnable” game in the final minute — resulting in a gut-wrenching 24-22 loss in front of a sold-out Superdome crowd.

His tirade is still very famous among “older” Saints fans and long-time NOLA-based reporters, which was labeled as the “Coulda. Woulda, Shoulda” speech.

Following Mora’s rant, the team then reeled off NINE STRAIGHT VICTORIES in a row (their longest winning-streak ever back during that time) but still finished only in 2nd place within their division, since the 49ers finished with a better win-loss record of (13-2).

Nevertheless, the team still made the NFL Playoffs for the very first time in franchise history with a Wild Card berth, but then got DESTROYED by the Minnesota Vikings (the one team in the NFC that over the years has remained a huge thorn in their side) with a sound and dominant ass-whipping at the Superdome by a humiliating score of 44-10.

But yet, that 1987 team is still held in high regard by older Saints fans as well as their  former opponents — as evidenced a few years ago when they were recognized by their old peers as “The Greatest Linebacker Corps in NFL History”.


Photo Credit: Allen Eyestone, The Palm Beach Post



MOST MEMORABLE CATCH-PHRASE: “Who Dat”, “Stand Up and Get Crunk”, “Amen”





Obviously, the 2009 Saints season remains as THE GREATEST Saints season ever, since it brought the franchise and the city of New Orleans its one and only professional sports World Championship with a come-from-behind 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV (44) on February 7th, 2010.

Just a few years before, the current Sean Payton / Drew Brees Era had originally began in the 2006 NFL off-season, when the team hired Payton. who had been the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator / passing game specialist under then-Dallas head coach Bill Parcells.

Because of the damage and devastation left behind by the impact of Hurricane Katrina right before the start of the 2005 Season. the Saints basically had to play ALL of their 16 regular season games the year before on the road; which included one “home” game in New Jersey and the rest in San Antonio, Texas at the AlamoDome and Tiger Stadium on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.

There even briefly was talk that Tom Benson was considering a permanent move to San Antonio, since he owned several automobile dealerships there as well. But the Saints eventually returned to the Superdome in 2006 — the very same building that had been used as an emergency shelter by first responders and local and federal government officials — and won a heavily-publicized and emotional Week #3 win that season in their home opener against Atlanta. They actually reached the 2006 NFC Championship Game, but lost in the frigid cold weather at Soldier Field to the Chicago Bears.

But it wouldn’t be until 3 years later, when Payton, Brees and the Saints marched their way to a (13-3) regular-season win-loss record, which included a PHENOMENAL (13-0) start / 13-game winning streak. They subsequently then crushed the Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round and outlasted the Vikings in a memorable NFC Championship Game at the Superdome.

Then in the Super Bowl, the Saints went on to face retired Hall of Fame legend and then-starting Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Indianapolis took an early 10-0 lead, but then the Saints managed to keep the score close and they only trailed by a score of 10-6 at halftime. Then they ultimately were able to take over the momentum after head coach Sean Payton made one of the biggest “gambles” ever in Super Bowl history — as he boldly had then-rookie punter Thomas Morstead make an unexpected onside kick to open the 2nd Half — which the Black and Gold special teams were able to successfully recover.

New Orleans then was able to take the lead on Brees’ touchdown pass to RB Pierre Thomas midway through the 3rd quarter, but only to see the Colts soon retake the lead. Finally midway through the 4th quarter, Brees connected with tight end Jeremy Shockey to give New Orleans the lead for good; and a 2-point conversion pass from Brees to WR Lance Moore gave them a 24-17 lead.

On the very next possession for the Colts, Saints then-rookie CB Tracy Porter sealed the victory when he intercepted a Manning pass and dashed 74 yards for the most famous “Pick 6” in franchise history after he scored a touchdown with 3:12 left.

Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, and forever solidified his standing as the greatest Saints player of ALL-TIME.




MOST MEMORABLE CATCH-PHRASE: Coronavirus / COVID-19, “Black Lives Matter”





Photo Credits: New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on twitter.com

That now brings us to the upcoming 2020 NFL Season, which is set to get underway in just a little bit over 3 more months from now; when the team is scheduled to open the season at home at the Superdome against QB Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 13th.

Obviously it goes without saying that we don’t know just yet, just how things will turn out.

But you CAN believe this much: which is that when you take into consideration EVERYTHING that’s happened and taken place in the past several months; this year will eventually be remembered throughout team history as what’s often referred to as a “water-shed moment”.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America/TNS

Events such as the coronavirus, the George Floyd murder (and the subsequent protests that have since followed), and then the recent controversy of the comments made during an interview by Brees that initially caused a stir among his teammates before the situation was resolved; will all be viewed by generations after this one as a critical turning point in our nation’s entire existence.

Should that happen as expected. then you can bet that the upcoming 2020 Season for the Black and Gold will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most unforgettable seasons for this franchise in a long, long time — and maybe — just maybe — forever….. 

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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