The New Orleans Saints, a team America has come to take under its wing and root for steadily, hasn't always enjoyed such praise and success. It wasn't long ago that they were a last-place team in the division, in a city that needed to overcome much hardship.
That all changed in 2006, when New Orleans found inspiration in devastation and began to win football games. Eventually, three years later, they celebrated a Super Bowl championship on Bourbon Street that made Mardi Gras look like a children's birthday party.
Everything seemed to shift when the Big Easy's franchise became "Who Dat Nation", and we could see a similar situation take place in Detroit. The Lions have looked better than they have in over two decades and may just be the next team to turn something out of nothing and bring home the Lombardi trophy. Here's why.
Schwartz and Stafford
In 2005, Jim Haslett was in his last stint with the Saints, failed to bring New Orleans to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons and eventually led them to a 3-13 record, solidifying a last-place finish in the NFC South. Aaron Brooks started 13 of those games, threw four more interceptions (17) than he did touchdowns (13) and only completed 55.7 percent of his passes.
Fast forward a year later, when Haslett was replaced with Cowboys assistant coach Sean Payton and Brooks was let go for free agent Drew Brees. The team had found a coach who knew how to win and a franchise quarterback and the duo lead the Saints to an NFC Championship, where they came one game short of a Super Bowl berth.
In 2008, the Detroit Lions posted the worst record of all time, going winless for the entire season. The 0-16 squad was coached by Rod Marinelli and led on the field by a misfit gang of quarterbacks (Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper all starting at least four games). Marinelli was canned, as Titans defensive coordinator Jim Scwartz took over as head coach and quarterback Matthew Stafford was drafted first overall out of Georgia the following season.
Now, the Lions weren't led to an NFC Championship or even the playoffs after their arrival, but the franchise has seemingly found its answers at both head coach and quarterback.
Jim Schwartz continues to win more games with every passing year, and though Stafford has sat out for most of his professional career, he's showed moments of genius (five TDs in Cleveland his rookie season). If he can stay healthy, there's no doubting this pair of football minds won't lead this young, talented Detroit squad to a championship down the road.
The Saints' success in recent years has come in large part to an outstanding aerial assault, led by Drew Brees. They've come to establish a great receiving core, featuring wideouts like Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.
Looking back to when the Saints weren't perennially making playoff appearances, Aaron Brooks and the Saints passing attack was mediocre at best, finishing 31st in total offense the year before Brees arrived. Since then, New Orleans has finished first in overall offense twice and has never thrown for less than 4,000 yards or 25 touchdowns in a season.
In 2008, Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper split time at quarterback for the Lions, throwing for a combined 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The only real receiving threat was a young Calvin Johnson, who often faced double coverage from the opposition.
Two years later, the Lions jumped from 30th in overall offense to 17th, and that's without the presence of Stafford for a majority of the games. Now with Johnson being perhaps the most skilled receiver in the game, along with Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and rookie Titus Young, the Lions should have an exceptional passing game in 2011-2012, and be feared by most secondaries in the league.
We all know what happened in 2009, when Brett Favre threw an unfortunate pass in overtime during the NFC Championship, setting up Garrett Hartley for a 40-yard field goal to send Who Dat Nation to the Super Bowl for the very first time.
Since his arrival in New Orleans, Hartley can only be defined as clutch, with a career field goal percentage of 85.7. His poise and consistency have made New Orleans a threat from anywhere within 40 yards of the end zone and helped secure a Super Bowl victory.
Jason Hanson, the Lions kicker, is perhaps the most underrated football player of the 2000s. At 41, Hanson has played all 19 seasons of his career with the Lions, made two Pro Bowl appearances, holds three NFL records and is the seventh all-time leading scorer with 1,890 points.
Though he's not getting any younger and suffered his first big injury in 2010, he's at 81.9 percent for his entire career and a continual threat from 50 yards out. Every NFL fan knows just how important field goals can be come playoff time, and no one is more clutch than Hanson.
In 2005, a struggling Saints organization suffered its biggest blow of all time, and it had nothing to do with football. The city of New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina, truly one of the most horrific and devastating events in the history of the United States.
The city lay in ruins, flooded by the breaking of the levees, forcing millions of residents out of their homes and begging for help. The Saints were forced to reschedule all of their home games away from the Superdome and fans everywhere looked to their football team and hoped it would lift their spirits in a time of struggle.
The Saints answered the call, as the following year they were one game shy of a Super Bowl appearance, had their best record in six years and eventually won it all in the near future.
Not trying in any way to compare the disaster of Hurricane Katrina to any other situation at all, but the city of Detroit has had its hardships over the last few years. As the entire country was hit with a recession, perhaps it was most evident in the Motor City, where unemployment rates have skyrocketed since 2008.
The loyal fans of Detroit look to their sports teams in times like these, and perhaps there would be no greater pleasure than seeing the Lions finally become a winning franchise.
After Hurricane Katrina and the arrival of Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints became somewhat of the lovable underdog, the team that even if you weren't a die hard fan of, you sort of just loved to see win. (Unless of course your last name is Manning, you support the Colts or any team in the NFC South, or have a general distaste for Cajun food.)
The same may be said for the Lions, as Detroit is no longer the ongoing NFL punch line and looks as if it may actually be able to make a playoff run this upcoming season. Say what you will about the Lions; it would be great for a struggling fan base and the entire NFL if they became contenders.
It's also seems as if many are jumping on the Lions bandwagon, even Bears legend Mike Ditka. Be it because they think Calvin Johnson is a beast, they're sick of seeing Tom Brady holding a silver trophy in the form of a football or just that they'd love to say they actually saw a Lions playoff game in their lifetime, everyone seems to be talking about the Lions.
Whatever the reasoning, the Detroit Lions have become the unofficial dark horse of the NFL, a team most wouldn't mind seeing win, even if it's just because they've been so awful for the better part of the last quarter century.