This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
Monday December 3, 1979 is a day remembered by longtime New Orleans Saints fans. But it is a day they would much rather forget. The Saints were 7-6 and contending for a playoff spot, something the Saints had never done before in franchise history. The Saints were hosting the struggling Oakland Raiders before a packed house at the Superdome, and a large national TV audience. The classic Monday Night Football team of Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith were in full tow. This was going to be the biggest party the Big Easy had seen since Mardi Gras.
When linebacker Ken Bordelon returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown, the Saints and their fans were in party mode, as New Orleans had a 35-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Everyone thought game over. Except the Raiders. Quarterback Ken Stabler and company mounted a furious comeback, as “The Snake” threw for 3 touchdown passes, two of them to speedy receiver Cliff Branch, plus a touchdown run from Mark Van Eeghen, to give the Raiders a thrilling 42-35 win, that crushed the Saints playoff hopes. The Raiders scored 28 points in 20 minutes. Thus began the downfall of the New Orleans Saints. They missed the playoffs in 1979, finishing with an 8-8 record.
Fast forward to 1980, and the Saints hit rock bottom. The Saints became the ‘A’ints’ in 1980, finishing with a pathetic 1-15 record. To say this team was awful is like saying horse manure has a stench!
The Saints defence were scored on more often than a drunken college student on Bourbon Street, giving up a league worst 487 points, which equaled 30.4 points per game. The Saints surrendered a league worst 388.6 yards per game. They were dead last against the run, giving up 194.1 yards per game. A Pop Warner team would have run the ball successfully against this putrid defence.
On offence, the Saints had Archie Manning, and not much else. Well, that’s not entirely true, but still the Saints did have holes in their offence. Manning actually had a decent season, completing 60.7% of his passes 3,716 yards and 23 touchdowns. Manning did throw 20 interceptions, but he spent most of his time running for his life, so most of the picks were understandable.
Receiver Wes Chandler also had a fine season. The third year pro from the University of Florida caught 65 passes for 975 yards and 6 touchdowns. Chandler was the deep threat for the Saints, as he possessed tremendous speed. However, defences adjusted and usually double-teamed Chandler, leaving Manning with few options.
The Saints running game was as dead as disco in 1980. The Saints were last in running the football, gaining only 1,362 yards as a team. By comparison Earl Campbell and Walter Payton had more yards individually than the Saints in 1980. The Saints were the only team in the NFL not to average 100 yards on the ground per game. New Orleans could only muster 85.1 yards per game. They couldn’t even walk to the supermarket without getting tackled for a loss.
There were several low-light games for the Saints. The Monday Night crew returned to New Orleans in week 12, as the Saints hosted the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints were 0-11 and looked like they were headed to a winless season. The fans weren’t in a party mood and decided upon themselves not to be seen. Yes they did show up, but most of them wore paper bags over their heads, as to protect their anonymity as Saints fans. This was the first time fans across North America saw this, and it began a tradition of sorts. If the home team was awful, fans would show up with paper bags over their heads. Saints fans were the ones to start it, and it began in 1980. Frank, Howard and ‘Dandy’ Don had lots of fun with this. The Saints didn’t, as they were pummelled 27-7 by the Rams to go 0-12.
Two weeks later, the Saints travelled to San Francisco, to face the 49ers. The Saints got off to a great start and looked to be in control. When halftime arrived, the Saints were up 35-7. Surely they would get their first win of the season. But the 49ers had different ideas. It was this game, that the legend of Joe Montana would begin. The future hall 0f fame quarterback, began to lead the 49ers to the greatest comeback in NFL regular season history. Montana would throw for 2 scores, run one in himself, and led the 49ers down the field, to where running back Lenvill Elliot tied the game on a 7 yard scamper. The Saints were in shock, just like last season against the Raiders. The 49ers won the game in overtime thanks to a Ray Wersching field goal, breaking the Saints heart yet again.
Finally after 14 straight losses, the Saints managed to win a game. The Saints edged the New York Jets 21-20 in the second last game of the regular season. The Saints forced 3 turnovers, while not committing a single turnover themselves. It wasn’t a pretty game, but the Saints did avoid infamy.
The next year, the Saints did improve slightly. New Orleans used their first overall pick in the draft to select running back George Rogers from South Carolina. Rogers had an impressive rookie season, rushing for a league best 1,674 yards and 13 touchdowns. Rogers was named offensive rookie of the year that season. The Saints though still had work to do, and it wasn’t until 1987 when they finally made the playoffs. Long live the ‘A’ints!
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