From Aints to Saints
|01.22.10 at 3:26 pm ET|
Before the New Orleans Saints were the darlings of the NFL, they were known as the Aints due to their consistent lack of success. The Superdome will be rocking as Sunday brings the chance to wipe away decades of futility and take New Orleans off the list of NFL teams that have never appeared in a Super Bowl. But before that, lets take a look back at when the Saints were more Detroit Lions than Super Bowl contender.
The highlight of the Saints’ first post-merger season came in Week 8. New Saints coach J.D. Roberts took over for a 1-5-1 squad and found his team trailing 17-16 in the final seconds. Out trotted kicker Tom Dempsey to try to win the game — with a 63-yard field goal.
What made the NFL-record kick even more remarkable is that Dempsey was born without half of his right foot. Yes, the foot he kicked with. He wore a modified shoe to help solve the problem. Of course, the Saints went on to finish the season 2-11-1. The only team to finish with a worse record? The Boston Patriots (2-12).
The Saints’ first non-losing season — at 8-8. New Orleans actually had a chance to make the postseason but lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 29-14, in their last game of the season. The win made the Rams NFC West champions and propelled them to a postseason run that ended with a Super Bowl appearance.
And the “Aints” are born! New Orleans starts the season 0-12 and loses to the Patriots in its final game of the season, finishing 1-15, the worst record in a 16-game season until the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Local sports radio host Buddy Diliberto was credited with coining the new nickname and also a new tradition: the paper bag head.
Thanks to the motivation of coach Jim Mora, the Saints reach the playoffs for the first time in a season shortened by one game due to a player strike. New Orleans even went 2-1 with replacement players, thanks to quarterback and Big Easy native John Fourcade. After a Week 6 loss to San Francisco in the first game after the end of the strike, a classic Mora rant spurred a nine-game win streak.
Of course, the Saints celebrated their first playoff appearance by getting pasted, 44-10, by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints finish 7-9, behind the expansion Carolina Panthers due to tiebreaker rules. That Carolina team’s leading rusher? Derrick Moore. Receiver? Mark Carrier. But they DID have Kerry Collins.
The second year of the Mike Ditka era did not go over well. Collins? He was signed off waivers to play QB, and his DUI arrest was the lowlight of a 6-10 season. Of course, Ditka had a plan to fix his team: Draft Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. Ditka traded all six of his team’s picks in the 1999 draft, along with first- and third-round picks in the 2000 draft (which became the second and 64th picks overall) for the Washington Redskins’ fifth pick, which he used on Williams.
The match wasn’t made in heaven, however. Despite Ditka’s prediction of a Super Bowl win, the Saints were 3-13 in Williams’ rookie season and Ditka was fired.
Under new head coach Jim Haslett, the Saints win their first-ever playoff game, against the St. Louis Rams — the defending Super Bowl champions. The Saints jump out to a 31-7 lead thanks to quarterback Aaron Brooks and hold on for a 31-28 decision.
The chaos of Hurricane Katrina sends the Saints reeling. Forced to house their team in San Antonio and play their first “home” game of the season at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, the Saints finish with the worst record in the NFC.
Led by new coach Sean Payton and free agent signee Drew Brees, the Saints go from 3-13 to the NFC championship game, starting the turnaround to a contender. Of course, the Saints lose 39-14 to the Chicago Bears, arguably one of the worst teams to make the Super Bowl ever.
But after starting 13-0 and crushing the Arizona Cardinals last week, the Saints are on the cusp of greatness. After almost 40 years of futility, New Orleans could finally be turning its fortunes around — though the Vikings will have something to say about that.
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