When the national media talk about the New Orleans Saints, if bothering to acknowledge them at all, you would think that the franchise first came into existence in 2006 while rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Judging by some networks, they have never been anything more than a legendary future Hall of Fame quarterback (Drew Brees), and an offensive minded head coach that learned under the tutelage of Bill Parcells (Sean Payton). Even self-proclaimed "historians" of the game usually acknowledge nothing more than Brees, Payton, a few paper bag wearing idiots in the early 1980's, and "poor Archie Manning", the talented quarterback who supposedly could have been so much more if he had some talent around him.
Forgotten by too many in NFL history was how good the New Orleans Saints were through the late 1980's and early 1990's. Believe it or not, young fans, this team once played outstanding DEFENSIVE football. It's a concept that sometimes gets lost on the Saints teams of today, but those New Orleans Saints teams had one of the most fearsome defensive squads of it's time. They were led by one of the best linebacking units of all-time, nicknamed "The Dome Patrol". The foursome of Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, and Vaughan Johnson does sometimes get mentioned by some, but are rarely acknowledged for how great they truly were. Jackson is shockingly the only Hall of Famer player of the group, and is the best all-time great you've never heard of outside of the Gulf coast region. Swilling is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the best sack artists of his time. Mills was an undersized tackling machine that seemed to know what opposing offenses were going to do before they did. Johnson was one of the most intimidating hitters in the league during his playing days. This defense was more than just it's amazing linebackers. The Saints had an intimidating group in the secondary that made opposing receivers pay physically for every catch they made. Up front, New Orleans had a respected and talented defensive line that would have earned big headlines if they'd played in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, or Washington, the other NFC powers at that time. Jumpy Geathers, Jim Wilks, and Frank Warren were as talented as they come up front, and opposing offenses had as much fear and respect for them as they did the Saints linebackers.
Although they were led by a hard-nosed and conservative coach in Jim Mora, these Saints had their share of offensive talent as well. They were led by underrated talents at quarterback in Bobby Hebert, wide receiver with Eric Martin, and a dangerous duo at running back in Reuben Mayes and Dalton Hilliard. New Orleans was consistently near the top of the league in point production, despite being hampered by close to the vest game plans at times. One needs to look no further than San Francisco 49ers coaching legend Bill Walsh to realize how good these Saints were during this period. The Hall of Fame coach consistently said that the biggest obstacle that his high-powered 49ers had to overcome to be a Super Bowl contender were these very same New Orleans Saints. High praise coming from one of the NFL's all-time great coaches, considering that the Bears, Redskins, and Giants had all won Super Bowls during this time period out of the NFC conference. The New Orleans Saints did not go to a Super Bowl during this time period. They didn't even have a playoff victory to their credit. Despite that, it is often forgotten that they were still recognized as legitimate threats for a championship for many of the seasons that this team was intact. Of the 49 members currently in the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, 22 of them played for the team during this era.
Never winning a championship obviously limits the legacy of this fine group. History has recognized other "greats" that have fallen short in championship quests, however. The "Purple People Eater" Minnesota Vikings of the 1970's and offensive powehouses of the late 1990's. The "Luv ya Blue" Houston Oilers of the late 1970's and Warren Moon led Run-n-Shoot teams of the early 1990's. The innovative offenses of "Air Coryell" and the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980's. The No-Huddle Buffalo Bills of the early 1990's. These were all teams consistently recognized as "great" teams that fell short of a championship. The Dome Patrol led New Orleans Saints deserve to be at least mentioned among those squads, instead of the team that history forgot.