Think Of The Homeless

There are over 30 million Americans who live on the streets of our nation. Can you consider giving something to a shelter near you? Your fellow human beings need socks because they walk everywhere. Food and shelter are great too, if they will take them. So please give.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reviews by Hubie Goode: Wow, The New Orleans Saints!

Wow, The New Orleans Saints!

Anyone who grew up in New Orleans is well aware of the ubiquitous presence of The New Orleans Saints. The team is now 43 years old and heading into its first Superbowl. An amazing feat by any stretch for those of us who lived though years of dopey leadership and bottom of the barrel living in the public view of the entire National Football League.

What I remember along with many of the landmarks of childhood, are how the Saints were born along side other popular items of the day, for instance, the Beatles where living some of their best years at this time too, Yellow Submarine was on the charts and the album “Revolver” had been released world wide. The old Batman TV show was in production at the time, and I can remember wanting to hurry up and have dinner at Corky’s hamburger joint after having just been to Barker’s department store, in order to catch the latest installment of the dynamic duo. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was released in the movies that year, as was A Man Called Flintstone, the latter of which I remember having more of an interest in.

But as for the Saints, who can forget the early artwork. The Little guy with the big chin holding a shield was everywhere! There were all sorts of marketing items with that Saint’s “logo” on it from padded stadium seats to ash treys, remember ash treys? (For those of you who don’t know, back in the days of liberal smoking, ash treys were EVERYWHERE. You don’t see them anymore these days.)

I asked my dad back then, why they named the team the Saints, since it would be hard to say something like,”Kill ‘em Saints!” as a cheer at football games. He told me it was all about the song, “When the Saints go marching in”, and at the time Louis Armstrong had a big part in playing the trumpet version of the theme song. From what I understand, when the Saint’s were first born, an entrepreneur named Dave Dixon asked then prominent New Orleans figure, Archbishop Phillip Hannan if the name would be offensive. Prophetically, the Archbishop replied, “I think they’ll need all the prayers they can get. You’ve got to remember, most of the real Saints were martyrs.” I understand the Archbishop will be sitting with current owner Tom Benson for the Superbowl. Holy cow, history folds in on itself!

My Father was never a big Saint’s fan, although he did follow them, but only “from the closet”, as it were. He scoffed at the first owner of the Saint’s, 27 year old John Mecom Jr., who as history now judges, was little more than a rich kid who had been given a big toy, a toy that involved the careers and lives of men who were not only older than he, but who had been the “little guy” for most of their lives. Remembering what it was to be 27 years old, and knowing some other folks who are in that age range, it boggles my mind to think that anyone so young and still in their 20’s could be given such a position. True to that sentiment, John Mecom Jr., made a real mess out of many of the formative years of the Saints, missing huge opportunities for quality players and making inane, unfathomable trades for players whose time had come, and gone.

People like Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung were men who had taken their best shot in pro football and were quickly entrenched on the down side of their bell curve abilities. The Saints picked players like Gary Cuozzo (1967), Les Kelley (1967), Joe Don Looney (1969), Jubilee Dunbar (1973), D’Aartagnan Martin (1971-1972), Happy Feller (1972-73), Jitter Fields (1984). Any of those names ring a bell? Here are some of the names they passed up on, Bubba Smith (1967), John Matuzak (1972), Bert Jones (1972), Chuck Foreman (1972) and Ray Guy (1972). Any of those names ring a bell? Of the 17 players taken in the 1968 draft, only one remained in 1970.

But it wasn’t just players that made the hall of shame, it was Mecom’s choice of coaches that made one scratch his head in bewilderment. Coach Tom Fears may have had a well known career at the time, but he found himself hamstrung by front office leadership, and after a 1970 season that began 1-5-1, he was fired and replaced by J.D. Roberts. Roberts, an ex-marine, was carried off the field as some sort of “new messiah” after Tom Dempsey (A name I know you have heard of) kicked the miracle field goal against the Detroit Lions that went 63 yards and has yet to be beaten even to this day. Of course it was Robert’s who should be carried off, right Saint’s fans? Little did anyone know how this would set the Saints backwards, as it gave Roberts some sort of clout and he remained in the job far longer than he should have, his most memorable addition to Saint’s lore being his ability to fall asleep during team meetings.

One of the positive landmarks of Saint’s memory was the acquisition of Quarterback Archie Manning, whose arrival in town was greeted with a fan based cheer of “Archie Who?” History folds in on itself once again as Mr. Manning is indeed the father of one of the ALL TIME great quarterbacks in NFL history, namely Peyton Manning, leader of the adversary team the Indianapolis Colts whom the Saint’s will play in the Superbowl. My father didn’t like ol’ Archie, true to form for him, and complained that his abilities were limited, he was also unable to find a secondary receiver. I didn’t know much about it back then, and I took what he had to say as fact. The thing is, everybody loved Archie, and sports writers still say in retrospect that he was the greatest quarterback who never had a team around him. So who was right? Archie once played in the Pro Bowl with the NFC stars at the time and delivered one of the greatest Pro Bowls that had ever been seen up until then. I believe the final score was something like 37-27, and Archie Manning was the main architect of that victory. Surrounded with talent, Archie Manning silenced his naysayers if you ask me. Proof is always in the puddin’, as they say.

Poor Archie suffered greatly from front office bungling as others benefited. Billy Kilmer was the Quarterback at that time and he was traded to the Washington Redskins for two picks and linebacker Tommy Rousell. (Tommy Who?) Kilmer went on to lead the George Allen coached Redskins to the Superbowl as QB for the “Over the Hill Gang”, a bunch of aging players who did things that “old guy” Saint’s draft picks could only dream of.

J.D. Roberts held his position as coach for a little while after this. During a game in pre-season, against the Buffalo Bills, he told Archie how impressed he was with the Buffalo running back, number 32. “I don’t know who he is,” Roberts told Manning. “But he sure can run.” That’s right J.D., he ran for 2,003 yards in one season, a record that held for a long, long time. If it wasn’t for the United States Justice System, O.J. Simpson would still be running.

Mecom hired famous astronaut Dick Gordon as the General Manager in 1972, a man who had circled the moon. Citing his reason for hiring a big name with no experience, Mecom was quoted as saying, “Experience wasn’t necessary since the image of Pro Football is changing.” One thinks that John Mecom Jr. would have been more at home in the XFL, where fantasy was the main marketing component. Having just landed on the moon in 1969, the pride of America was indeed showing and Mecom felt, I suppose, the Saint’s could benefit from some of that glowing praise. He was wrong.


The Saints would continue with bad coaches and opening days like the one in 1973 when the Atlanta Falcons throttled them 62-7 at home. In 1974, Saint’s fans held up a game 22 minutes as they booed a bad referee call. And the same year they missed another opportunity by passing up Randy Gradishar for another unknown player whose name you wouldn’t recognize.

1975 brought us Saturday Night Live, a monster night of Saturday evening sitcoms full of now classics, i.e. All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and others, and the movies brought us Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dog Day Afternoon, among others. In music we had Philadelphia Freedom, Only Women Bleed and One of These Nights among others. But it also brought us the Louisiana Superdome clocking in at $163 million dollars. Considering what an NFL franchise itself costs these days, this may not seem like much to you. But also consider that in 1971 one could buy a top of the line, fully stocked Monte Carlo for about $6,000 dollars, a car which if it were produced today I would estimate at around $30,000 dollars.... maybe.

John North was the invisible coach at this time and knowing Mecom’s penchant for big names, the next year, in 1976 he hired renowned coach Hank Stram to take over the reigns. Stram was hired with a five year, $1 million dollar contract. He had been to the Super Bowl with the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs who had lost the first Superbowl to the Green Bay Packers but then won the fourth Superbowl against the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans. I cringe as I write this, for I could have attended this game with my dad and had a piece of NFL history for my own personal memory, but I turned the opportunity down. Hey! I was ten years old. (big long sigh) Anyhow, Stram had only two seasons, and he went 4-10 and 3-11. He was quoted at the time as telling John Mecom Jr., “We won’t win another game.” Stram didn’t last long after that.

Stram did draft a young talent named Chuck Muncie, who became part of a running tandem known as “Thunder and Lightning”, but Muncie had problems making the team plane for out of town trips. I read somewhere his grandmother died something like seven times and kept him from making the games. I remember Muncie and his buddy, Tony Galbreath were quite the combo, but they didn’t necessarily make the NFL all time roster. Someone tell me if I have this wrong.

1980 music brought us Head Games, Bebe le Strange and Def Leppard, along with movies The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane! and The Blues Brothers, and the Saints lost their first 14 games of a 15 game season. I do remember the new uniforms of this era were quite powerful looking and, if the team had been good, would have been a psychological advantage. Locally famous sportscaster Buddy Diliberto started wearing a bag over his head during his sportscast and the “Bagheads” and “Aints” were born. Diliberto was banned for life from the team plane and had to have films and reports smuggled in for his sports segment. Curiously, even though he performed his show on TV as though he had been there, owner John Mecom Jr., never got wise to how he could be doing this.

Suprised? You shouldn’t be.

Archie Manning later reported the alleged reason that the Saint’s were so bad that season. According to him, several players were melting solids into gasses on a hot plate in their rooms. Convenient, but it doesn’t explain the 14 previous years of “gaseous” playing by the Saints. Still, I’ll give Archie this one, if only because of his DNA.

Bum Phillips, former Houston Oilers coach who went to several playoff games with the Oilers and had the best years of Earl Campbell at his disposal, took over the Saints in 1981 and traded Manning away. He also passed up Lawrence Taylor in the draft. In 1984 he passed up a number one draft pick in order to bring Earl Campbell to the Saints. Campbell, too, like many of the Saint’s trades had his best years behind him and lasted only a year.

In 1987 then General Manager Jim Finks hired Jim Mora as head coach and the Saints had their first taste of respectability. Mora was an “army sergeant” type and complained bitterly even after respectable performances that ended in a loss. He’s best known for his “No more coulda, woulda, shoulda ” comment, and if you remember him from press conferences he always looked as if he was about to jump from the podium and punch out a few reporters. The Saints had a mighty team under Mora that went 13-2, I believe, and then they lost to Minnesota in the first playoff game with a score that was something like 44-7. This kind of silliness and snake bitten existence was nothing new to New Orlean’s faithful. (Mora later coached the Colts, and was known for throwing clip boards at the press and walking off the podium in a huff.) (“Playoffs?????? P-Playoffs?????)

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka also belongs to Saint’s lore, and in 1999 he traded away everything the Saints had for running back Ricky Williams, a man who has since been in and out of the NFL with drug problems. Ditka was known for coaching the Saints on the edge of his seat, not in anticipation, but in a readiness to leave and go play golf. Enamored with celebrity, he posed for the cover of ESPN magazine with Williams as a married couple. Williams was in a white wedding dress and Ditka was in a tuxedo. Ditka, after bringing one of the best NFL teams in history to the Superbowl, went 15-33 in three seasons with the Saints.

In my opinion, New Orleans and the Saints all suffered from a kind of city wide malaise. I dare to even mention that perhaps the city was covered over with a negative spiritual force. Known in educational circles for the “brain drain”, a term used to describe the phenomenon of college graduates from the area who had to leave town in order to get anywhere in life, all things New Orleans seemed to echo profoundly in the performance of the Saints. Even the local politics refused to make any improvements or changes to the city due to its “history”, and this stuck in the mud thinking is one of the things that led me, myself, to think resolutely to join that leaving brain drain. As an example, one Mayor’s race back in the 90’s had a contender who ran on the idea of “turning around the moving vans” and making sweeping changes to the educational system and workforce there in New Orleans. She came in fourth. One need only see the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to realize that what I am hinting at was indeed true.

Alas, perhaps from the greatest tragedies a new day dawns, and now that New Orleans has been washed clean, the influences, both seen and unseen, can now take hold for a brand new history. The levees are still not fixed, but the Saints, as of 2006, a year after the 2005 Hurricane, have risen in four years to NFL prominence. And prominent they ARE! Having seen them play this year on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, a game I just could NOT have missed, I was convinced then that they had finally broken free. The sharp, almost magical play the team exhibited is almost surreal, much in the same way only a few other teams have ever done in NFL history.

Coach Sean Payton and Owner Tom Benson (despite his car dealership background) have finally struck gold, eh, black and gold that is, and with the acquisition of stellar players like Quarterback Drew Brees and Running back Reggie Bush, and many others who are too good to leave out but also too many to name, “I believe” is finally more than just a bumper sticker.

Peyton Manning is indeed good, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to beat, if not for his talent, but also for his ability on the field as a “General”. Having been judging a great deal of football from the critical standpoint over the last ten years, I think the Saints can indeed beat the Colts, and I am not just saying that from a “homeboy” stand point. It’s true, I have been a major Rams fan since 1972, the Saints made me a Rams fan. I can remember their own miracle years with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, and I see the same, almost magical, abilities in this Saints team. The Colts have only a modest defense and many of their games this season have been close, somewhere in the 18-15 range and the like. They have NOT been blowouts, but Manning did indeed carve out a win. Like Joe Montana, Peyton Manning knows how to win a game. The thing is, the Saints offense has this pedal to the metal look to it that the Colt’s defense will be unable to keep under wraps. It is with this I now step out and predict a 45-35 range Saints win. Manning will be forced to play “catchup” football for most of the game, but he will lose ground over the long haul. That’s how I see it happening...... for all it’s worth.

Whatever happens I wish all you Saints fans the winning happiness you have so long waited for. 43 years is a long time to wait, and I never thought any of us would live to see The New Orleans Saints in the Superbowl. If only Dad were here to see it.

Ah, well. “Who Dat?” anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Escape The Hezbollah