The Best New Orleans Saints Not In The Pro Football Hall Of Fame (Offense)
Thanks to the tireless efforts of David Dixon, the Saints were born in the Big Easy in 1967. Dixon, who was also the creator of the Louisiana Superdome and the United States Football League (USFL), would bring the team their first winning season 20 years later because of his USFL connections.
New Orleans had to exude patience those first few decades because their team consistently struggled like no other in the NFL. They won just 46 of their first 165 games until their first .500 season in 1979.
Things got so bad for the team's fans that they started wearing paper bags over their heads during games. They called the team the "Aint's." Though the team had lost much more than they had won, there are moments of history to acknowledge on the New Orleans gridiron.
In 1970, a kicker named Tom Dempsey set an NFL record by making a 63-yard field goal. This record still stands today. Archie Manning endured years of beatings at the quarterback position, but his 1979 season saw him become the first Saint to be named NFC Most Valuable Player.
The team's fortunes began to change after drafting George Rogers with the first pick of the 1981 draft. Rogers, who had won the Heisman Trophy the year before, became the first Saints player to win the Rookie of the Year award. Halfback Rueben Mayes, who won the award in 1986, is the only other Saint to win it.
Then, the USFL, which was born in 1982, folded in 1985. Dixon brought many players from that league to his team, as well as head coach Jim Mora Sr. Mora would stay with the team until 1996, winning a team record 93 games—New Orleans had only won 83 games before he arrived.
The Saints have had just 10 losing seasons since the Mora hire. They made their first playoffs under his direction, yet never won in four tries while he was there. The franchise won their first playoff game in 2000 and put it all together in 2009 when they won Super Bowl XLIV.
When the franchise started, there were Hall of Famers like Doug Atkins and Jim Taylor finishing out their legendary careers as members of the Saints. Earl Campbell also played two years with them. Hall of Famers like Tom Fears, Hank Stram, and Mike Ditka had unsuccessful stints as a head coach with the team.
The first Saints player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was linebacker Ricky Jackson in 2010. Jim Finks, who was the general manager of the Saints for seven years, is their only other representative currently, but his work as general manager for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears also played a big part into his induction.
There should be more Saints headed to Canton soon. Willie Roaf almost made the 2011 class and his induction is a foregone conclusion. Other Saints greats like Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, and Morten Andersen also have legitimate shots at being inducted.
The team got their name from the song "When The Saints Go Marching In", a famous jazz tune in a city where jazz music is king. These Saints have been marching to the tune of NFL excellence the last few years, which was desperately needed by the city.
Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005 so much that the Superdome, where the Saints play their home games, became a refuge to displaced residents for months. Owner Tom Benson had been previously contemplating moving the team to Los Angeles, but the storm beckoned the franchise to take a leadership role.
The team went all the way to the NFC Championship game in 2006, which united the city as one. Their players, who had taken part in the clean up efforts to restore New Orleans, became more brethren than hero.
Since then, the team has become the biggest attraction for the locals. NFL fans have watched the Saints offense explode all over the league as well. Quarterback Drew Brees won the NFC Offensive MVP three times with the Saints, as well as Super Bowl XLIV MVP. He has set several team and league records with the team.
The "Aint's" are a distant memory today, but they also should be remembered for taking a small role in the success of today. Though the franchise has lost 97 more games than they have won since 1967, their 49 wins since 2006 show a franchise on the rise and on the verge of championship competition once again.
REMEMBER : This Is A Team Of Greats Who Are Not, And Maybe Never Will Be, Inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Quarterback: Archie Manning
In the very first nationally televised college football game ever in 1969, Archie Manning gained 540 yards. It is still an SEC record and Manning would later be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Saints used their first round draft pick, the second overall selection, in 1971 to attain his services. New Orleans was entering their fifth season of professional football and most experts considered them severely undermanned in regards to talented players.
Manning was looked upon to be the savior of a franchise that did not seem interested in getting enough talent surrounding him by putting together terrible drafts yearly. Manning would spend much of his time running for his life in New Orleans.
While he led the NFL in passing attempts and completions in his second year, Manning was also sacked more than any other quarterback in three of his first five seasons. What made the statistic even more astonishing was the fact that Manning was extremely mobile and not easy to tackle.
With seemingly 11 defenders jumping on his back virtually every time he dropped back to pass, the Saints lost more games than they won. Manning was only able to suit up for every game in an entire season once up until 1978 because he was getting destroyed on the gridiron weekly.
Things got so bad that defenders like Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood were telling reporters that they were trying to take it easy on Manning because he was so poorly protected. Manning's toughness and desire to keep lifting his carcass off the turf after every play garnered the respect of every NFL player.
With New Orleans losing so much, fans called the team the "Aint's." They wore paper bags over their heads as the team seemed to lose on a weekly basis. The team won more than five games only twice in Manning's career.
He made his first Pro Bowl in 1978 after New Orleans set a franchise record with seven wins. He was named the NFC Most Valuable Player by the Sporting News and UPI. Manning went back to the Pro Bowl the next season after the Saints posted their first non-losing season in franchise history.
After the Saints won one game in 1980 and three games in 1981, they traded Manning to the Houston Oilers during the 1982 season. Like the Saints, Houston had fallen on hard times and were in the process of rebuilding. He started in eight games over two seasons, failing to win once. He was then traded to the Minnesota Vikings during the 1983 season and retired at the end of 1984.
When the novice fan sees that he won just 35 of 139 starts, they may fail to realize the talented quarterback never had the chance to prosper with the teams he played with. Manning was sacked 340 times in his 11 seasons in New Orleans.
He has two sons, Peyton and Eli, playing quarterback in the NFL and both were also first round draft picks who have gone to the Pro Bowl. Unlike their father, they have been surrounded by exceptional talent and both have won a Super Bowl. Their father never appeared in even a playoff game.
While Peyton is headed for Canton one day and Eli still has an outside chance of accomplishing this as well, their father had the stronger throwing arm and was much more athletic than either child. He did not get to enjoy having the rules heavily slanted in the offense's favor like his sons have.
He and his favorite passing target, Danny Abramowicz, were the very first players inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame. He has stayed in New Orleans and is an ambassador for the team and community, much beloved and respected by all in the Big Easy.
Not only is he probably the greatest quarterback in Saints history, but he could be the very best Manning to play in the NFL.
Billy Kilmer, Bobby Hebert, Jim Everett and Aaron Brooks deserve mention.
Fullback: Tony Galbreath
Galbreath was the Saints second round draft pick in 1976. New Orleans had drafted Chuck Muncie in the first round and the pair was called "Thunder and Lightning." While Muncie got the majority of the carries, Galbreath was used in many different ways.
He led the team with seven rushing touchdowns and 54 receptions, which was the sixth most in the NFL that year. He also returned a team leading 20 kickoffs and a pair of punts.
Though the roles remained the same the next year, Galbreath continued to be an excellent blocker and pass catcher. He snagged a career-best 74 balls in 1978, which was the second most in the NFL that year. He followed that up with 58 more receptions and a career high 708 rushing yards the next season.
The Saints were decimated by injuries in 1980, causing them to win just one game all year. Galbreath caught 57 passes, but was then traded to the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the year. Though he didn't carry the ball much for the Vikings, he caught 45 passes one year.
A free agent in 1984, Galbreath signed with the New York Giants in 1984. Mainly used as a blocker for Pro Bowl halfback Joe Morris, he did average 32 receptions over four seasons before retiring at the end of the 1987 season. The highlight of his career came in 1986 when the Giants won Super Bowl XXI.
Galbreath wasn't just a great blocker and pass catcher, he was a versatile athlete. He made two of three field goal attempts, as well as an extra point, when called upon in an emergency situation during the 1979 season. He also threw seven career passes, completing three.
When he left the Saints, he was the second-leading rusher and pass catcher in team history. He currently ranks sixth in receptions and seventh in rushing. Galbreath is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and the greatest fullback in franchise history.
Wayne Wilson, Lorenzo Neal and Tony Baker deserve mention.
Halfback: George Rogers
After a Heisman Trophy-winning collegiate career that eventually got him inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Rogers was the first draft pick of the 1981 draft and the Saints leaned on him heavily.
He was named Rookie of the Year, First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with a whopping 378 carries for 1,674 yards at an average of 104.6 rushing yards per game. He also scored 13 times.
Rogers was on his way to duplicating his rookie year when a players strike derailed his 1982 season. He was named to the Pro Bowl. He gained 1,144 yards the next year, despite missing three games. After picking up 914 rushing yards in 1983, he was traded to the Washington Redskins.
He shared carries with Hall of Famer John Riggins and halfback Keith Griffin in his first season with the Redskins, but still gained 1,093 yards and scored seven times. Washington made him the primary ball carrier the next year, after Riggins retired, and he led the NFL with a career high 18 rushing touchdowns while gaining 1,203 yards.
His last season was in 1987, which was marred by a players strike and nagging injuries. Rogers still led the team in rushing as Washington went on to win Super Bowl XXII.
Though he still ranks second on the Saints all-time rushing yards list for a career, his 1,674 yards in 1981 is still the best in team history. His 13 rushing touchdowns that year is tied with Deuce McAllister and Dalton Hilliard as the most for a single season in Saints history. The 83.7 yards he averaged per game with New Orleans is also a team record.
Though Rogers lasted just four years with the Saints, his impact lasted much longer. New Orleans spent many years in last place in their division before his arrival. The team steadily improved and the previous losing culture that had dogged the franchise soon became a thing of the past.
He is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and Rogers is the only Saints running back to be named First Team All-Pro. His two Pro Bowls are still tied as the most in franchise history by a running back. On a franchise that has had many excellent running backs, Rogers may be the best.
Deuce McAllister, Rueben Mayes, Chuck Muncie, Dalton Hilliard, Andy Livingston, Fred McAfee and Ricky Williams deserve mention.
Wide Receiver: Eric Martin
Martin was drafted by the Saints in the seventh round of the 1985 draft. He was initially used as both a return specialist and wide receiver, but he stopped being the primary punt returner after his third season.
The 1988 season was his best, as he made his only Pro Bowl after catching a career high 85 passes. He gained a career-best 1,090 yards and caught a career high eight touchdown passes the next year. He caught 63 or more passes each year between 1989 and1993.
Martin joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994, but was seldom used. He retired at the end of the season. His 532 receptions for 7,854 yards are still the most in Saints history and his 48 touchdowns and 18 100-yard receiving games are the second most in team history.
He is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and there are several New Orleans fans who consider him the best wide receiver in team history.
Wide Receiver: Joe Horn
Horn was drafted in the fifth round of the 1996 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs after having played a year in the Canadian Football League. He was rarely used in his first three seasons with the Chiefs, catching 18 balls total, but the Saints signed the free agent after a promising fourth season that accrued 35 receptions.
New Orleans put Horn to work immediately in 2000, having him catch a career best 94 balls in the first of three consecutive Pro Bowl years. He duplicated that reception total in 2004, his last Pro Bowl season, but added a career high 11 touchdowns and 1,399 receiving yards.
His next two years saw his production decline greatly, as Horn dealt with nagging injuries along the way. He was cut by New Orleans, but signed a big contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Soon, he was not producing and he asked to be traded. Atlanta cut him and no other team was interested in his services, so Horn retired.
Fans either loved or hated him for a style of play and clothing that earned Horn the nickname "Hollywood." He once hid a cell phone in the padding of a goalpost during a nationally televised game, pulling it out upon scoring to call his children to share in the celebration. He was fined heavily by the league for his antics.
Horn caught 50 touchdowns in his seven years with New Orleans, which is a team record. He is tied for the most touchdown receptions in a season with Marques Colston and his 1,399 yards in one year is also a team record. Horn also ranks second in Saints history in catches and receiving yards.
Inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2010, his four Pro Bowl appearances are a franchise record for wide receivers. No other Saint receiver has gone to the Pro Bowl more than once. It is safe to say that Joe Horn is one of the best wide receivers in Saints history.
Wes Chandler, Jeff Groth, Quinn Early and Danny Ambramowicz, a Saint Hall of Famer who is the only New Orleans receiver to be named First Team All-Pro and once held the NFL record for consecutive games with at least one catch, deserve mention.
Tight End: Hoby Brenner
Brenner was drafted in the third round of the 1981 draft by New Orleans. Though he was used sparingly as a rookie, Brenner became the primary starter from his second season on for the Saints.
While he was very good at stretching the seam, especially in the first seven years of his career, blocking was something Brenner was exceptional at. He refined this skill in college, blocking for two Heisman Trophy-winning running backs named Charles White and Marcus Allen on the 1978 national champion USC Trojans.
He caught a career high 42 passes in 1985, but he exceeded 34 receptions just three times in his career. He was such a respected blocker that Brenner was named to the Pro Bowl in 1987. Brenner and Henry Childs are the only Saints tight ends to have gone to the Pro Bowl.
Brenner retired at the end of 1993, having appeared in 175 games, the most in team history by a Saints pass catcher. He still ranks fifth all-time in team history with 267 career receptions, the most ever by a Saints tight end. He is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and may be the best tight end in team history.
Henry Childs and John Tice deserve mention.
Tackle: Willie Roaf
With the eighth overall pick in the first round of the 1993 draft, New Orleans selected Roaf. They started him immediately at left tackle and he would remain there the rest of his career. He made the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls in his second season, including two straight First Team All-Pro nods in his second and third seasons.
While he was considered amongst the very best left tackles in the NFL, Roaf hurt his knee in 2001 and missed nine games. New Orleans made the mistake of thinking Roaf was in decline, so they traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs for a conditional draft choice.
Roaf showed immediately that he had lost nothing to his game and he went to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons with the Chiefs. He was honored with his final First Team All-Pro nod in 2004, then retired at the end of the 2005 season.
Not only is he a member of the Saints Hall of Fame, but he is a member of the NFL's 1990's First Team All-Decade and a member of the second team on the 2000's All-Decade Team.
It is a matter of time before he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 11-time Pro Bowler was a finalist in the 2011 vote and it seems likely he will go in the next year.
His seven Pro Bowls with the Saints are the most in franchise history, as are his two First Team All-Pro honors. He is the best blocker to ever wear a New Orleans Saints uniform.
Tackle: Stan Brock
Brock was the Saints' first round draft pick in 1980. He played college football for head coach Chuck Fairbanks, who coached his older brother Pete with the New England Patriots.
He earned the starting job in the fifth game of his rookie year at right tackle and held onto it for the rest of his Saints career. Though he missed 11 games in two years, because of injury, Brock started and played in every game for 10 years.
Brock became a free agent after 1992, then joined the San Diego Chargers for three years. The highlight of his career was playing in Super Bowl XXIX for San Diego. He retired after the 1995 season.
Brock was dependable, playing in 186 games over 13 seasons for New Orleans. He is considered by many to be one of the finest blockers in team history and he is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame.
Kyle Turley, Don Morrison and Jammal Brown deserve mention.
Guard: Jim Dombrowski
The Saints used the sixth pick of the first round to draft Dombrowski in 1986 after a collegiate career that was so outstanding that Virginia University retired his number and he would later be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
After playing just three games as a rookie, the Saints put him in as the starting left tackle. He played tackle for almost three years before deciding guard might be his best position. He stayed entrenched there until 1993, where he spent most of the season as a reserve due to injuries.
Starting every game the following two season, Dombrowski was forced to miss six games in 1996 because of an injury. They were the first games he missed since the strike-shortened season of 1987, which caused him to retire at season's end.
Dombrowski is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame. His versatility, toughness and durability allowed him to play a team record 147 straight games and become one of the best blockers the Saints ever had.
Guard: Jake Kupp
Kupp was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the ninth round of the 1964 draft. He earned a starting job for the last 10 games of his rookie season and held the job until he was traded to the Washington Redskins before the start of the 1966 season.
He was a reserve for the Redskins, but they liked Kupp's athleticism enough to toss him four passes for 28 yards that year. He joined the Atlanta Falcons the next year, but was released after six games. New Orleans grabbed him and Kupp spent the last five games of the year with them.
Earning the starting job in 1968, Kupp became a top blocker for the team. He became the first Saints offensive lineman ever to go to the Pro Bowl in 1969. He continued to start until the end of the 1975 season when he retired.
Not only is Kupp a member of the Saints Hall of Fame, he is one of the very best offensive guards in team history.
LeCharles Bentley, Del Williams, Emanuel Zanders and Brad Edelman deserve mention.
Center: Joel Hilgenberg
Hilgenberg was drafted in the fourth round of the 1984 draft by the Saints. He spent his rookie year as a reserve, but started five games the next year. He earned the starting job in 1987, then was moved to guard for the 1988 season. He went back to center the next year and stayed there for the rest of his career.
He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1992, marking the eighth consecutive year a Hilgenberg played in an NFL Pro Bowl. His older brother, Jay, had gone the previous seven times as a member of the Chicago Bears. Jay Hilgenberg joined the Cleveland Browns in 1992, opening the door for Joel to get honored.
The Hilgenberg brothers were both members of the Saints in 1993. When Joel was injured after nine games, his older brother finished the season in his place. Both Hilgenberg brothers retired together at the end of the year.
Though the Saints have had many fine centers in the history of their franchise, including Saints Hall of Famer John Hill, Joel Hilgenberg was the first to ever go to the Pro Bowl. LeCharles Bentley is the only other one to have accomplished this. Hilgenberg is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and may be the best center the team has ever employed.
John Hill, Jerry Fontenot and LeCharles Bentley deserve mention.
Kicker: Morten Andersen
Drafted in the fourth round of the 1982 draft by the Saints, Andersen spent the next 13 years with New Orleans becoming the greatest kicker in team history.
He made the first of his seven career Pro Bowls in 1985, then was named First Team All-Pro the next two seasons. He led the NFL in field goal attempts twice, field goals and field goal percentage once with New Orleans. He was known for his very strong kicking leg, once hitting a 60-yard field goal that is three yards short of the NFL record set by Saints legend Tom Dempsey.
After the 1994 season, the Saints felt that the man called "Mr. Automatic" and "The Great Dane" was no longer quite as effective at 34 years old. They let him go into the free agency pool. The Atlanta Falcons would end up signing Andersen.
Named to the Pro Bowl and his final First Team All-Pro in his first year with Atlanta, he showed the Saints he has plenty of leg left by becoming the first player in NFL history to kick three field goals of 50 yards or more against them. Andersen spent six years with the Falcons. His highlight was kicking a game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game in 1998 to send the Falcons to their only Super Bowl appearance.
He joined the New York Giants in 2001, then the Kansas City Chiefs the next year. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, then rejoined the Falcons the next season. He stayed with Atlanta for two years before retiring at the age of 47.
Andersen is the leading scorer in NFL history. He is also the leading scorer in both Saints and Falcons history. No one has attempted or made more field goals in NFL history, nor played in as many games. He is a member of both the 1980's and 1990's NFL All-Decade Team.
He holds 22 NFL records, four Pro Bowl records and is the only player to set records for two teams—the Saints and Falcons—in both field goals and extra points attempted and made. He is also second in NFL history in six other kicking categories. When he retired, he was just two days away from passing Hall of Famer George Blanda as the oldest person to play an NFL game in the modern era.
It seems inevitable that he will be in Canton, especially after the great Jan Stenerud broke the barrier for allowing kickers to be inducted. There was little Andersen couldn't do kicking a football. Not only did he possess a big leg, but his NFL record of 103 game-winning kicks show nerves of steel. He may be the greatest kicker in NFL history, but he is also the best in Saints history.
Tom Dempsey, Doug Brien, Charlie Durkee and Rich Szaro deserve mention.
Kick Returner: Michael Lewis
Lewis was driving a beer truck when he made the team at 30 years old in 2001 after playing semi-pro football for several years. He was rarely used by the Saints as a wide receiver, catching 28 balls over three years, but he did average nearly 20 yards per reception.
Used mainly as a kick returner as a rookie, Lewis exploded in his second year and made the Pro Bowl. He led the NFL in kickoff returns, kickoff return yards, punt return yards and all purpose yards. His two scores on kickoff returns also led the league and he scored once more on a punt return..
He returned 114 kicks and punts that year for 2,432 yards, both of which are NFL records. His 625 punt return yards that year are the 12th most in NFL history and his 1,807 kickoff return yards are the third most ever. His 2,647 all-purpose yards are the second most in NFL history and his 70 kickoff returns are the fourth most.
Unable to stay healthy enough to play an entire season the next four years, Lewis remained New Orleans' primary return specialist. He joined the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 and was used primarily as a punt returner before retiring at the end of the season.
He has remained popular with the Saints organization since and was given a Super Bowl ring in 2010 after the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. He is most likely the greatest return specialist in team history. Lewis holds the team records in both punt and kickoff returns in attempts and yards gained.
Tyrone Hughes, Mel J. Gray, Eric Guliford, Wayne Wilson, Aaron Stecker and Rich Mauti deserve mention.