Long-Suffering New Orleans Saints Fans Deserve a Feel-Good Season

Guerry SmithContributor IMay 20, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints pumps his fist during the game against the Carolina Panthers on December 28, 2008 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

No city deserves a winning NFL team more than New Orleans

The obvious reason is Hurricane Katrina, which arrived in August of 2005 and delivered one of the most devastating blows any region has experienced in United States history.

Everyone who chose to stay and rebuild was galvanized by the Saints' stunning run to the NFC Championship Game in 2006, a joyous distraction that united even the few people who had paid little attention to the team before then. 

But if Katrina never had happened, long-suffering Saints fans still would be overdue for a playoff payoff. We've supported this team through thin and thinner.

They had five or fewer victories in their first 11 years. They went 21 years before they finished with a winning record. They went 34 years before they won a playoff game. It is 42 years and counting without a Super Bowl appearance.

How many NFL franchises would remain viable in their original city with a record like that, never mind a small market nearly wiped off the map? We've remained loyal despite all of the losing, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I was born in New Orleans in November of 1967, a few months before the expansion Saints began playing, so you can say my connection began in the womb. For most of my life they were the only professional game in town. I couldn't help but be a Saints fan. 

From 1967 to 1974, they played at Tulane Stadium, less than a mile from my family's house. On Sunday mornings we would stand in the yard and allow people to park their cars in our driveway for $2.50.

I went to my first game in 1973, when the Saints somehow shut out the Buffalo Bills in O.J. Simpson's 2,000-yard season, but most of my memories are of disappointment. 

A personal tour of the frustration of being a Saints fan: 

1978: The Saints won a then-franchise record seven games and could have gone 9-7 if not for a pair of gut-wrenching 20-17 losses to the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons won in New Orleans on a 57-yard pass from Steve Bartkowski to Alfred Jenkins in a trips right formation they called "Big Ben."

As time ran out, Jenkins caught a deflected pass and ran into the end zone. Two weeks later, the Falcons trailed the Saints 17-13 again and tried the same play. The referees called interference in the end zone, and the Falcons scored from the one with no time left. Atlanta made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. New Orleans stayed home. 

1983: The 8-7 Saints faced the 8-7 Los Angeles Rams in the final week of the regular season with a playoff berth on the line for both teams.

The Rams scored on a punt return, two interception returns and a safety to hang close before Mike Lansford drilled a last-second 42-yard field to give them a 26-24 victory, breaking every heart in the Superdome. 

1987: The Saints finally had their first winning record, going 12-3 in a strike-interrupted year. Their reward: a playoff date at home against the 8-7 Minnesota Vikings. The heavily favored Saints scored a touchdown on their first possession and forced a three-and-out before collapsing. Anthony Carter's punt return for a touchdown sparked the Vikings to an embarrassing 44-10 blowout win. 

1988: After beating Denver 42-0 to improve to 9-3, the Saints lost their next three games—including another 45-3 destruction at the hands of the Vikings—and missed the playoffs despite going 10-6. 

1989: Already eliminated, 6-7 New Orleans closed the season by beating eventual AFC East champion Buffalo in the snow, outlasting Philadelphia in a Monday night game in Philly that cost the playoff-bound Eagles the NFC East title and destroying Indianapolis 41-6 when the Colts would have made the playoffs with a win. As hot as any team in the NFL, the Saints had to sit at home for the postseason. 

1990: Having sneaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record, the Saints trailed Chicago by seven in the second half when they blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown only to have the play nullified by an offsides penalty. The Bears sealed their 16-6 victory with a field goal a few minutes later. 

1991: After blowing a four-game lead in four weeks (The Saints went from 9-1 to 9-5; the Falcons went from 5-5 to 9-5) but winning their first division title anyway, the 11-5 Saints played host to the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. New Orleans went ahead 10-0, led 13-10 at the half ... and lost 27-20.

Bobby Hebert threw two interceptions while the Saints' injury-depleted secondary wore down against the Falcons' run-and-shoot offense.

1992: A few hours after the Houston Oilers blew a 35-3 second-half lead against the Buffalo Bills and lost 41-38 in overtime, the 12-4 Saints had their own meltdown.

Leading the Eagles 20-7 in the second half, they gave up 29 consecutive points, including 26 in the fourth quarter, to lose 36-20. Hebert threw three interceptions. New Orleans had not lost by more than six points all year. 

1993: Replacing Hebert with Wade Wilson, the Saints won their first five games and were the last undefeated team in the NFL. They finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs as Wilson and an aging defense fell apart. 

2000: Even the delirious feeling of the Saints' first playoff victory came with a heart attack. Ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams 31-7 with 12:00 left, the Saints allowed three quick touchdowns and were on the verge of the largest fourth-quarter collapse in playoff history before the Rams' Az-Zahir Hakim muffed a punt at his own 10-yard line at the 1:43 mark. 

2004: With a chance to become the first team to start 4-8 and still make the playoffs, the Saints won their regular-season finale at Carolina, eliminating the Panthers from the race.

A Jets' win over the Rams would have secured an unlikely playoff spot for the Saints, but the Jets missed a field goal in overtime and the Rams made a field goal on their next possession to put themselves in the playoffs and knock out the Saints. 

2006: A mystical, magical post-Katrina season ended in ugly fashion when the Bears beat the Saints 39-14 on a nasty day in Chicago in their first NFC championship game. Trailing 16-14 in the third quarter, the Saints missed an opportunity to go ahead when a 47-yard field goal fell short. The Bears scored the last 23 points. 

Instead of building on that experience, the Saints have missed the playoffs the past two years. 

It is time to make history take a hike and give this Saints-crazed, Katrina-dazed city a huge celebration. I'd love to be covering the team when it happens.

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