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Countdown to New Orleans Saints Kickoff: A History of No. 56

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We’re just eight weeks away from the Saints and Vikings squaring off.

Pat Swilling

The 2017 season begins for the New Orleans Saints with a venture north, just 56 days from now. The Saints take on the Minnesota Vikings in a prime time matchup on NFL's Monday night football. Canal Street Chronicles continues our march to the season opener with a look back at the Saints players that have worn the No. 56.

Dennis "Dirt" Winston (LB, 1982-1985)

Winston was acquired through a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the start of the 1982 season. A two-time Super Bowl champion with Pittsburgh, but not able to start because of their deep talent at linebacker, Winston started all 41 games in his first 3 seasons with New Orleans. An extremely aggressive inside 'backer, Winston intercepted 7 passes with the Saints, returning two for touchdowns in 1984, and added 2 sacks and multiple fumble recoveries. Broiled in a contract dispute with team management early in 1985, Winston was traded back to the Steelers just 3 games into the season, where he would play the final two years of his career.

Pat Swilling (LB, 1986-1992)

Swilling was a 3rd round draft choice by the Saints in 1986 out of Georgia Tech. He teamed with Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills, joining with Rickey Jackson to form the vaunted "Dome Patrol". The foursome went on to torture NFL teams for the next seven years. Although he saw action in every contest during his rookie year, Swilling entrenched himself as a starter in the strike-shortened 1987 campaign.

He responded with 10.5 sacks to lead the team and finishing tied for the team lead in fumbles forced and recovered, with 3 each. He would only miss three starts, out of a possible 92 games, between 1987-92, and complimented Jackson to give the Saints one of the best outside linebacker duos in the league. Swilling's best season was 1991, when he led the league with 17 sacks, forced 6 fumbles and had an interception return for a touchdown on his way to being named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Swilling had double-digit sack totals 5 times during his Saints career, and was voted onto four straight Pro Bowls, earning first-team All-Pro twice. Swilling was the first to go out of the Dome Patrol, when he was traded to the Detroit Lions before the start of the 1993 season. Thought by some, including myself, to have a career worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2000, and was a unanimous selection on the franchise's 45th Anniversary team.

Charlie Clemons (LB, 2001-2002)

Clemons was a reserve linebacker for the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl XXXIV championship team before joining the Saints as a free agent during the 2001 offseason. He was installed as an immediate starter at linebacker, where he led the Saints with 13.5 sacks, finishing second on the team in tackles and added an interception and fumble recovery. Despite starting another 15 games the following season, Clemons' sack total dropped to just 0.5, although he did force 3 fumbles. He departed New Orleans after the 2002 season as a free agent to the Houston Texans, where he would play the final season of his career.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar (LB, 2008-2011)

Dunbar came to the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2008, appearing in 15 games as a rookie with 2 starts. He was one of the better linebackers throughout the league in pass coverage, and led all Saints linebackers in passes defensed and tackles in 2011. He was a key contributor on defense and special teams during the Saints 2009 Super Bowl season. Unfortunately, Dunbar suffered an injury during a December contest at Washington, causing him to miss the remainder of the season and playoff run.

His best season as a Saint was 2011, when he started a career-high 14 games for a New Orleans team that finished 13-3. He left the Saints after that year as a free agent to the St. Louis Rams, where he was a starting linebacker for three seasons. Dunbar briefly re-joined the Saints to wind down his career in 2015, wearing No. 54, as an injury replacement.

Other Saints players to wear No. 56: James Ferguson (1968), Hap Farber (1970), Willie Hall (1972-73), Lee Gross (1975-77), Rusty Rebowe (1978), Reggie Mathis (1979-80), Ron Weissenhofer (1987), Ernest Dixon (1994-97), Chris Bordano (1998-99), Orlando Ruff (2003-04), Alfred Fincher (2005-07), Chris Chamberlain (2012), Jay Richardson (2013), Ronald Powell (2014), Michael Mauti (2015-16)

Poll

Who was your favorite Saints player to wear No. 56?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Dirt Winston
    (3 votes)
  • 96%
    Pat Swilling
    (185 votes)
  • 0%
    Charlie Clemons
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Jo-Lonn Dunbar
    (3 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now