Welcome to the refreshed Canal Street Chronicles! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
The year was 1984. I was eleven years old and I was on vacation with my grandparents. This particular year, I was going to get to see the Gulf of Mexico, and the southern Gulf Coast region states for the first time. Our primary reason for the trip was going to be the World's Fair, held in New Orleans that year, but also was looking forward to spending most of the summer in that region as a whole. Part of our summer activities was of course taking in the sights and sounds of the city of New Orleans, and a cultural area in which I fell in love with almost immediately. In the subsequent years, I was able to visit the area a few more times, enjoying the city in a slightly different way as an adult.
One thing I did take notice of was the almost constant talk around me about the New Orleans Saints. The surprising thing to me was that this was June, a far cry from the beginning of the NFL season. Being a fanatical football fan even at a young age, I also knew that the Saints were historically not a good football team. My youngest Saints memory was of a gritty quarterback named Archie Manning throwing the ball to an acrobatic young wide receiver named Wes Chandler, or handing the ball off to a truck of a running back named Chuck Muncie.
By 1984, all three of those players were gone, and the Saints were in a rebuilding stage led by former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, legendary Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler, former Heisman Trophy running back George Rogers, and a scrappy and hard-nosed defense that had the entire region excited. My own excitement for a team I always liked to watch raised when we took a tour of the Superdome on this trip. There wasn't much going on with the Saints this time of year, particularly with the USFL's New Orleans Breakers being in-season. We were still lucky enough to see some of the Saints players down on the field just going through some light offseason activities; my first real look at professional football players.
Bum's bunch stumbled to the finish line in that '84 season, finishing short of expectations with a 7-9 record. The team crumbled the next year. This caused the organization to begin yet another re-build, this time bringing in players from the soon-to-be defunct United States Football League. By 1986, the Saints had poached away a 2-time champion head coach in Jim Mora, along with stud linebackers Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills and my favorite player from the USFL, quarterback Bobby Hebert.
Mills and Johnson teamed up with Rickey Jackson and 1986 third-round draft choice Pat Swilling, and would soon after come to be known as one of the most dominating linebacking units in NFL history: The Dome Patrol. From 1987-92, the Mora-led Saints were easy to love. A fearsome defense, the hometown quarterback, and a dynamic running game gave the Saints our first ever winning season along with a playoff berth. Unfortunately, despite unprecedented regular season success, they just couldn't get over the proverbial playoff "hump" and bring their loving fan base a coveted Super Bowl championship. By '93, the team had started to fade, hitting a new rock bottom by the late 1990s that reminded fans of an earlier era that most don't speak of to this day.
That all changed with the hiring of an unknown commodity at head coach named Jim Haslett, an unheralded quarterback named Aaron Brooks, an unwanted receiver named Joe Horn, and a collection of unknowns on defense in 2000. The Saints came roaring out of obscurity that year when the unthinkable happened; a playoff victory for the first time in the team's 40-year existence. While the Haslett/Brooks Saints could never parlay that early success into a Super Bowl either, the memory of that team, Brian Milne's fumble recovery, and yet another "first" in franchise history is a special one.
The 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster threatened to drown all possibility of future success forever. A city and region I love nearly destroyed, my football team homeless and helpless. Yet through it all perservered, supported it's community like true family, and began to piece together a new life. A new and unproven head coach named Sean Payton, an injured and unwanted quarterback named Drew Brees, and a collection of "I never heard of him's" on defense and low-round draft choices on offense transformed a region's nightmare into a dream football season in 2006. They captured an entire nation with their fight, and came within one game of the Super Bowl. Then, in 2009, after carefully constructing a roster full of perfect compliments to each other, the truly unimaginable....pigs DID fly, and OUR Saints won a Lombardi Trophy!
The year was 2014, and I was now taking my own daughters on vacation. We were fortunate to be able to attend New Orleans Saints training camp in White Sulphur Springs, WV. I saw the utter joy, amazement, and awe in my beautiful girl's faces that my family must have saw in mine thirty years earlier. What was my team, was now their team as well. The up-close and personal interactions that even stars like Brees, Cam Jordan, and Pierre Thomas, etc. took the time to have with us even off to the side made me realize that this was not just a football team. This is an extended family.
I love the New Orleans Saints for all this and more. I love the "us against the world" approach that Coach Payton brings. I love that we get to watch one of the best quarterbacks in history wearing our uniform. I love that we're seeing another roster carefully constructed towards a new goal. I love the Dome Patrol. I even love the nightmares that the Bill Walsh/Joe Montana 49ers give most of us to this day. I love laughing at the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. I love being able to hang out with legends like Bobby Hebert and Deuce McAllister at a tiny restaurant after practice; just talking football past and present. I love that this is an organization that that brings players and fans alike under ONE nation. I love that this is my team. OUR TEAM.
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Check out the details on our refreshed looks from Editor In Chief Elena Bergeron.