Head coach Mike Ditka, quarterbacks Billy Joe Tolliver and Billy Joe Hobert, and general manager Bill Kuharich. Those were the names the New Orleans Saints and their fans were counting on during the late 90s.
In 1999, the Saints finished with a dismal 3-13 record, which was their sixth consecutive losing season. New Orleans was 32-64 overall during those six years, with that disastrous '99 season leading to Ditka's firing following his 15-33, three-year contribution to the franchise. The two Billy Joes, Danny Wuerffel and a young Jake Delhomme combined to throw 16 touchdown passes against 30 interceptions on that final Ditka team.
Monday Night Football wouldn't be caught dead in the Louisiana Superdome or anywhere else the Saints were playing during that time, as the team didn't appear in that slot for nearly seven years (late 1994 to late 2001). There, of course, were no playoff appearances and reaching the Super Bowl was beyond fantasy.
These days, the Saints are partying like it's NOT 1999.
New Orleans has never been stronger as a franchise and that winning indeed starts as the top. The current leadership of Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Mickey Loomis has transformed the pathetic "Aints" into one of the strongest organizations in all of sports.
Interesting that Payton is now deep into his sixth season and it's more than fun to compare it to the half dozen years listed above. This will be the coach's fourth playoff appearance, with two NFC Championship appearances and the fantasy realized in Miami by winning the Super Bowl to complete the 2009 season. Payton has flipped that 3-13 mark in '99 to 13-3 twice - during the '09 conquest and again this season.
The Saints have played on primetime television five times this year, winning all four Superdome appearances in absolutely dominating fashion. Before his arrival, the franchise had won a total of ONE playoff game. A triumph Saturday night over Detroit in the NFC Wildcard will give Payton six.
And, what more can be said about Brees? He's fired nearly three times the TD passes this year (46) and roughly half the picks (14) than that '99 group finished. His QB rating is 110.6, compared to the collective 59.6 effort by Ditka's anemic swan song. More importantly, Brees has broken more records than were snapped during that ill-fated "Disco Sucks" promotion the Chicago White Sox threw in 1979.
As you know, Brees shattered Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark for most passing yards in a single season, finishing with 5,476. He said Marino indeed called to congratulate him, but didn't send him any Isotoner gloves.
Loomis has certainly been on the hot seat with Saints fans before. He was thought of as a brilliant "numbers guy" that knew very little about football. Well, it's indeed time to give Loomis his due. The Saints have drafted well, done their job in free agency and retained the players that needed to be retained. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham are just several diamonds-in-the-rough grabbed by the current regime in recent years.
And, credit Loomis for the Saints' wealth of talented running backs. You indeed can't have too many players at the position, as last season clearly indicates. The Darren Sproles/Reggie Bush move alone - genius. Now, let's lock up No. 9.
So, party like it's 1999 Saints fans. Because that goodness, it isn't.
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