By Ralph Malbrough, assisted by HansDat
Welcome to a new semi-regular feature here at Da Chronic that we are going to call Who Dat History.
This extensive series of posts will take you back in time to look at Saints history. Sure it was mostly bad, awful and comical in the pre-Tom Benson era, but it definitely wasn't boring.
I know some of you might say, "Who cares about the 1979 Saints or anything that happened to them before 2000?" Well, it's the off-season and we ask you, "How many lockout stories, 2011 draft previews, and fantastic 3000-word coldpizza statistical breakdowns of the Saints offense can you read?"
Don't answer that. Just make the jump to read on...
Have you ever watched a Saints game with your parents or other relative and laughed at them freak out when the Saints just gave up a touchdown but still lead by 14 points? They immediately go into panic mode and are like, "Saints are going to blow this game. I CAN FEEL IT!"
You were probably thinking, "This crazy old person needs to calm down. Brees and company won't blow this."
Well, they have scars from the 70's and 80's that are like Vietnam War flashbacks. Every time they sense trouble, they flash back to some awful Saints moment and get the shakes.
Saints fans over the age of 35 weren't born crazy, the Saints made us that way. Who Dat History seeks to provide you with the knowledge and insight to understand this phenomenon a little bit better. You may still think we're crazy for freaking out, but at least you'll have a better idea of why and how we got to be this way.
If you're younger and from a family of diehard Saints fans (or if you have hung around CSC long enough to hear some yarns from the old-timers) you probably heard the stories of Archie Manning, the bags, and the heartbreaking losses. We're going to try to dig a little deeper and give a little perspective to the moments in Saints history you've always heard about.
Here's a small taste of the kind of writing that's waiting for you in Who Dat History:
For those that don't know, John Mecom, Jr., owned the Saints from 1966-1985. He was from Texas, his family's fortune was in oil, and they owned lots of land in Louisiana.
The complete dysfunction of the New Orleans Saints under the ownership of John Mecom was breathtaking, and not in a "what a beautiful sunset!" kind of breathtaking, but more like a "kicked in the stomach" breathtaking. His leadership of the Saints makes Washington Redskin owner Daniel Snyder look like Bill Belichick.
Mecom had an astronaut as a general manager, signed free agents when it was against NFL rules, and partied with players. Of course, what else would you expect from a 27-year-old millionaire? You gotta love the 1960's NFL thinking, "You know what is a great idea? Letting a 27-year-old trust fund baby become an owner!"
Sports Illustrated's Edwin Shrake wrote this on the treatment of Mecom by the "old guard" of the NFL in December of 1968, the second season of the Saints.
You like that? Want some more? Good...you're in the right place.
HansDat and I have done extensive research for each topic we will cover in Who Dat History. We found old newspaper articles, watched archived broadcasts of old games, used Wayne Mack's tremendous book The Saga of the Saints and the 2009 Saints Media Guide for references. WE even talked to New Orleans media who covered the team at the time.
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Before proceeding, we'd like to take a moment and acknowledge three individuals who helped (or whose work greatly helped) us complete this inaugural edition of Who Dat History: Wayne Mack, Ed Daniels, and Chris Downs.
From the dust jacket of The Saga of the Saints - A veteran of 45 years in radio and television, Wayne Mack joined WDSU-TV in New Orleans as an announcer in 1958 and later served as sports director for 15 years. He broadcast sports on radio in New Orleans for WGSO, WBYU, WSMB, and WCKW, and acted as play-by-play announcer for Saints games for six years.
From Ed Daniels' bio page of abc26.com: Ed Daniels is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital on July 21, 1957. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and went on to graduate from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 first as a sports intern at WVUE-TV Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC-TV in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter at WDSU-TV Channel 6. 1983 saw him promoted to Weekend Sports Anchor. He eventually joined WGNO-TV as a freelancer in 1991, becoming a full time in employee in January of 1993.
Special thanks to Chris Downs for his help in locating video from 1979. Without him this project would not have been possible.
Thank you for your time. We now return to your regularly scheduled Who Dat History post, already in progress...
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For our first installment, The 1979 Season, WGNO Sports Director Ed Daniels talked to Ralph in the cleverly-titled podcast: Ed Daniels 1979. Click on it to hear Ed's insights and recollections that make for a great look back at 1979 and the crash of 1980.
A lot of you might know about the 42-35 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night football in December, 1979 when the Saints led 35-14 midway through the third quarter. Did you also know the Saints entered the game with a 7-6 record, in first place in the NFC West and if they'd won the NFL was going to allow them to start printing playoff tickets? I wouldn't agree if you said it was the worst loss in Saints history but I'd consider your argument.
If Canal Street Chronicles had been around, Dave's The View from Section 140 would have looked like this the day after the Monday night loss to Oakland:
WHY DOES GOD HATE US SO MUCH?
We decided to start with the 1979 season because the Saints had become an actual NFL team in 1978 by finishing 7-9. The Saints offense had Archie Manning at his peak, Wes Chandler at receiver, Henry Childs at tight end with Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath at running back.
Before 1978, the Saints were just awful. For fans, watching all the losing was painful but the Saints had never won more than five games in a season before '78 so the losses meant nothing. From 1978-1980 the Saints lost two games by way of last-second Hail Mary passes (both to Atlanta), once with that 35-14 lead on a Monday night and once with a 35-7 lead over San Francisco. This was the Saints transition from lovable loser to heartbreaking disappointment.
Join us, won't you, on a journey back to when disco was still king, Jimmy the Greek was "must-see TV" on game day morning and RCA would allow you to trade in your old TV set for a brand new one with more bright color than you could ever imagine!
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But first, I want to discuss perhaps maybe the greatest "What if?" question in Saints history, that tangentially connects to the 1979 season.
What if the Saints had hired Don Coryell as head coach in 1978 instead of Dick Nolan? This Associated Press story from 1978 expected them to do just that.
Coryell was one of the great offensive minds in NFL history and the father of the modern passing game. If you don't believe me read this Sports Illustrated piece. Coryell became coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1978 and led them to three straight division titles (79, 80, 81). He also inherited 27-year old Dan Fouts and got him into the Hall of fame. Here are Archie Manning's and Fouts stats for 1978-79. Can you guess who is who?
58.8% 2999 yards 24 TDs 20 Interceptions 83.0 QB rating
62.6% 4082 yards 24 TDs 24 Interceptions 82.6 QB rating
61.8% 3416 yards 17 TDs 16 Interceptions 81.7 QB rating
60.0% 3169 yards 15 TDs 20 Interceptions 75.6 QB rating
Fouts is #1, but it's pretty damn close and Archie isn't far behind, especially if you throw in his nearly 200 yards rushing each season.
Coryell would trade for two of the stars from the Saints 1979 team (Wes Chandler and Chuck Muncie). The ‘79 Saints sixth-ranked offense being run by one of the great offensive minds of all time might have put Archie in the Hall of Fame. Laugh all you want but Manning was only 29 years old in '78.
Ed Daniels thought a credible defense would have helped the Saints more than Don Coryell and he didn't think the Saints were serious about Coryell anyway. I believe in some parallel universe Don Coryell led the Saints to the 1980 Super Bowl against the Steelers and Archie is in Canton.
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For this 1979 season "look-back" we are going to focus on four actual games: the season opener against Atlanta, an October game in Washington D.C., the Monday night horror show against Oakland, and the season finale in Los Angeles against the Rams.
In Part One, we look at the grease fire known as the 1979 Saints draft, the season opener against Atlanta, and the great defensive effort in Washington. In Part Two, we explore what Archie Manning called his worst loss as a Saint, the 1979 season finale and John Mecom's hiring of Steve Rosenbloom, which led to the death spiral 1-15, bag-inspiring 1980 season.
In The Saga of the Saints, Wayne Mack described Rosenbloom's hire this way...
This was the most disastrous front-office shuffle the owner had orchestrated. Mecom didn't know what he was doing or why.
When the words "most disastrous" and "Saints" are in the same sentence you know we're talking EPIC FAIL.
And EPIC FAIL is one thing we know this Who Dat History series will NOT be. Stay tuned for Who Dat History: The 1979 Season - Part One...