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Barry Hirstius

Saints G.O.A.T. Changes Over the Years, But None Greater Than Brees

If you're a fan of the New Orleans Saints and you're also over the age of 40, then chances are that you've enjoyed this current Era of Saints football over these past decade or so, than just about anything that's ever happened to you in your entire life.

That's because if you do fall into that specific category of Saints fandom, then you have lived long enough to survive the heartache and pain that came with following and supporting a franchise that for the better part of the first 43 years of its now 51-year existence; was mired in the equivalent of the sport of Pro Football's "hell on earth".

However, that decades-long faith and patience was rewarded with the arrival a little over 11 years ago, of an individual who can only be described simply as what the young folks like to jokingly refer to as "The G.O.A.T." -- an analogy / abbreviation for the term "the greatest of all-time".

That individual's name of course of none other than Mr. Andrew Christopher Brees, known better to his friends and family simply as 'Drew'.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

When describing what Brees has done for the last 11 years since arriving in New Orleans from the San Diego Chargers via Free Agency in the 2006 off-season, their are a few adjectives that can be used such as "great", "superb", and "phenomenal", to name only a few.

But somehow, using the term "G.O.A.T." just seems so much more appropriate.

Yet as it is, a brief examination of previous Saints QB history suggests that Brees wasn't the first player at the position to enjoy the praise and adulation of the Who Dat Nation.

Looking back over the team's 51-year history, only 2 other former Saints QB's have enjoyed the type of "hero worship" that's on par with the level of devotion that Brees has received from fans during his time in New Orleans.

The first of course was Archie Manning.

The Saints and the NFL's #1 overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Ole Miss, Manning played for the Saints for 12 seasons from 1971 through 1981, before he was traded during the 1982 Pre-Season to the Houston Oilers.

Photo courtesy of United Press International

As a native of Mississippi and the first true "face of the franchise", Manning enjoyed a popularity among the Saints fan-base in the team's early days that has only been surpassed just recently by the accomplishments of Brees.

Manning's debut in his first-ever NFL game is still the talk of legendary team moments, which is because that while playing in his first ever game in a Saints uniform, Manning scored on a 1-yard "keeper" against the Los Angles Rams to cap off a thrilling last-second 24-20 victory at the old Tulane Stadium in uptown New Orleans.

But unfortunately, the Saints only were able to win three more times after that in Manning's rookie 1971 season.

Manning spent the rest of his career in New Orleans practically "running for his life" -- as the team's offensive line seemingly year after year, failed to adequately protect him.

In fact, no NFL team gave up as many QB sacks to NFL defenses than the Saints O-Line did in those days. You literally were fearful for Manning's life every time that he dropped back to pass the ball.

In the 1975 season alone, the team's first season moving indoors to the brand new Superdome from the old Tulane Stadium, Manning was sacked 49 times -- which back then was an NFL single-season record. In all, Manning would be sacked a whopping 340 times in the 11 seasons he played with the Saints.

That wear and tear on Manning's body began to take its toll, so much so in fact that sidelined him for the entire next season in 1976 following surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder; and it became evident that the team wasn't ever going to be a Playoff "contender" until they could get Manning some much-needed help.

Eventually, Manning did put together two great 'back-to-back' seasons in 1978 and 1979, which were that for time on par with any QB in the entire NFL.

In 1978 under new head coach Dick Nolan, Manning enjoyed his best season as a pro while throwing for a career-best 3,416 yards with 17 touchdowns and was selected to the first of his two Pro Bowls. Manning was also named 1978 NFC Player of the Year by United Press International.

He followed that up with an unforgettable 1979 season that saw the Saints make a strong push for a first-ever division title and Playoff appearance, but the Saints fell just short while finishing at 8-8.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Unfortunately, the very next year in 1980 the team completely collapsed; and with a portion of the team secretly using drugs (cocaine) both inside and outside of the locker room (Manning wasn't one of them), New Orleans lost a then-NFL record 15 consecutive regular season games in a row and finished 1-15.

Manning's time in New Orleans essentially ended after that, and his overall record as a starting QB during his time as a Saint (35-101-3), still remains to this very day as THE WORST in NFL history among all QB's that had at least 100 starts.

But nevertheless even to this day, Manning still enjoys tremendous adulation and respect from Who Dats for his time in New Orleans.

Manning's career was in stark contrast to the other Saints QB who remains as one of the most beloved players to ever wear the Black and Gold.

In 1985, after the USFL (United States Football League) went out of business; one of the League's star players, former Michigan Panthers and then-Oakland Invaders QB Bobby Hebert -- who grew up "down on the bayou" in South Lafourche and attended Northwestern State (Natchitoches, La.) -- became a Free Agent and made a tour of several potential NFL teams looking to acquire his services, but he eventually decided to sign with his home state Saints.

In 1986, new head coach Jim Mora (a former 2-time USFL Championship-winning head coach) named Hebert the starter, and Hebert eventually guided the Saints to their first playoff appearance ever the following year in 1987.

But Hebert's time as the Saints starter under the front office regime of Mora and then-GM Jim Finks grew a bit contentious, and near the end of the 1989 season, Mora made a decision to start back-up QB John Fourcade, who himself was a local hero (a New Orleans native and former high school star at Shaw).

The Saints won all three games under Fourcade's guidance as the team finished the 1989 season at 9-7; and the 'old school' negotiator Finks decided to play "hardball" with Hebert during their subsequent 1990 off-season contract negotiations.

Hebert ended up sitting out the 1990 season, but eventually returned the following season in 1991 as the Saints won their first-ever  NFC West Division title and reached the playoffs. .

Mandatory Credit: Allen Steele /Allsport

But the turning point for Hebert's career and as a member of the Saints, came at the end of the 1992 season.

During that 1992 season, Hebert started all 16 games as the Saints finished 12-4 and made the Playoffs as the top-seeded Wild Card. But the Saints and Hebert had a terrible 4th quarter "collapse" in a 36-20 playoff loss at home to Philadelphia, and Hebert's time as the Saints QB ended at this point.

Perhaps remembering the criticism levied at him by a portion of some very vocal Saints fans, Hebert eventually signed with the Saints' arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons in 1993 NFL Free Agency, where he was then was immediately reviled by Saints fans for "going to the enemy".

As an ironic result of his departure, Hebert earned his first-ever Pro Bowl appearance with the Falcons in a markedly more pass-oriented scheme; and played a few more seasons in Atlanta before retiring in 1996.

Saints fans eventually "forgave" Hebert when he returned home to Louisiana and began a career in radio broadcasting, which is where he still remains currently as one of the nightly co-hosts of "Sports Talk" on WWL 870 AM in New Orleans.

Photo courtesy of WWL Radio New Orleans

If nothing else, Hebert will always be regarded a "winner" during his time with the Saints, having led them through one its most successful periods in team history (The Jim Mora / "Dome Patrol Era") and finishing with a winning percentage of 65.3% (49 wins and 26 losses).

Like Manning, Hebert is also a member of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.

Undoubtedly, it will now only be a matter of time before Brees joins both Manning and Hebert in that same regard, but not before he first goes into a much bigger destiny which awaits him: the NFL Hall of Fame, as one of Pro Football's greatest QB's ever.

Now entering into his 11th season as the Saints starting QB, Brees' accomplishments read like an encyclopedia of accomplishments.

Here's just a few of the most impressive:

  • Super Bowl XLIV MVP (won title)
  • Five 5,000 yard seasons.
  • Eleven straight 4,000 yard seasons and nine straight seasons with over 30 passing touchdowns, both NFL records
  • First QB in league history to throw 40 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons
  • Broke Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54 consecutive games)
  • Fastest quarterback to reach 40,000, 50,000, and 60,000 career yards passing
  • NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage (66.64%)
  • 128 wins overall (101 regular season and 6 Playoff wins with New Orleans)
  • 452 touchdown passes
  • 63,894 career passing yards (15 NFL seasons)
  • Currently ranks 3rd in career passing yards, pass completions, pass attempts, and touchdown passes behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning

Those feats listed above clearly aren't doing any justice to convey the impact that Brees has made not just only as the Saints QB, but on the NFL as a whole.

Brees has almost single-handedly not only transformed an NFL franchise, but an entire city and a community as well.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY

And even as Brees nears his 39th birthday next January, it's unlikely that he will let up any time soon. He’s still playing at a remarkably high level for a player at his age, let alone anybody of ANY age for that matter.

Chances are likely that Brees can continue playing at a high level for at least another 2-3 seasons (perhaps even more), and if that happens?

Then you'd have to assume that Brees "potentially" could end up re-writing the entire NFL record book for quarterbacks.

It goes without saying that the Saints have had a couple of quarterbacks from their past who were "G.O.A.T.'s" back during their respective eras.

But when it's all said and done, one can only imagine that they'll never be a another QB to wear the Black and Gold, in the same way that it's been worn by a guy named Drew Brees.


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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