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Barry Hirstius

Saints Need to Turn Superdome Back Into “The Palace of Malice”

11-13. In the National Football League, it represents a losing record --- and for the New Orleans Saints, it represents a steep decline of their previous dominance of opponents inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome for the past 3 seasons.

As it's been well documented, the Saints have had 3 consecutive losing seasons; finishing 7-9 all three times and missing the NFL Playoffs in all of those years.

And as much as injuries or poor performance can be pointed at or singled out as reasons for the Saints' lack of success in that stretch of time; it's also been their inability to psychologically overwhelm their opponents with fear within the confines of their home stadium as they once were able to, that is as much to blame than anything.

It wasn't all that long ago that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, or the Louisiana Superdome for those of you over age 35, was one of the most difficult venues in the entire NFL for visiting teams to have to play at and attempt to come away with a win.

More often times than not, it was nearly an impossible task.

The Superdome once upon a time was a proverbial "house of horrors" for the road team, or as I like to personally refer to it as: "The Palace of Malice" --- because you already knew in advance that you were going to go in there only to have something BAD happen to you.

Photo courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

But yet surprisingly, the Saints have lost 13 of their last 24 home games over the past three years worth of back-to-back-to-back 7-9 finishes; falling far short of the previous standard of excellence that they established in 2 of the 3 seasons just prior (2011 and 2013) to that, when they went undefeated (8-0) twice in those years excluding the throwaway "Bountygate" season of 2012.

If you count their 6-2 home record during the 2009 Super Bowl season, the Saints were 26-6 at home from 2009 thru 2013, a winning percentage of a whopping 81.25 % success rate.

So what happened to them?

Why the sudden drop-off in 'holding serve' at home?

Saints head coach Sean Payton was asked this question not all that long ago by ESPN Saints beat writer / reporter Mike Triplett; and gave this typical response in his usual blunt but pull-no-punches (and refreshingly honest) assessment:

“Look, it’s a pretty easy science: Play well.

So did we spend time in the offseason working to win more games? Yes,” 

“But for us,” Payton said, “it’s playing well.”

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Obviously the Saints have not played well in the past 3 seasons, and that more than anything is the biggest part of the problem.

The blame is definitely not on the Saints fans themselves, who over the course of time dating back to the early 1980's; have provided the Saints franchise with a notable reputation League-wide as one of the most deafening and difficult home environments for visiting teams to have to try to overcome.

The Superdome, when it's at a 'fever-pitch', is ear-splittingly loud --- so loud that one can barely even think without being mentally distracted by the overwhelming sound of it.

However, it wasn't always that way.

Back in 1975 when the Superdome first opened, the building was more of a physical marvel for Saints fans; who had been used to the old, open-air Tulane Stadium in uptown New Orleans where their home games were played from their inaugural 1967 season through 1974.

Photo courtesy of The Louisiana State Library

It wasn't intended to be used as a 'home-field advantage' in the same sense that it's used today, but rather a place where fans could enjoy the game without the threat of inclement weather (specifically rain) or especially in the case of New Orleans being in southeastern Louisiana, the at-times overbearing heat and humidity.

Photo courtesy of The State Library of Louisiana

New Orleans at times can be one of the few places in the entire nation where you can still "break out in a sweat" from near 90° temperatures filled with heat and humidity, while the rest of the country is preparing for the bitter cold arctic air that ushers in Winter from Autumn.

When the Superdome first opened in that 1975 season, it was essentially nothing but a big 'echo chamber' and almost eerily quiet by today's standards, for two main reasons.

Reason #1 was because Saints fans in those days didn't have much to cheer about, because the team was horrible. 

The Saints were the laughingstock of the NFL at that time, and viewed as one of -- if not THE WORST -- franchise in the entire League.

In that first year in the Superdome during the 1975 season, the Saints were a walking disaster.

Despite the new stadium, they finished the year with a 2-12 record, which was 3 wins less than they had won the previous season (5-9) in 1974. They tied the San Diego Chargers that season for the league’s worst record.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Then-Saints head coach John North, who suddenly had been put in charge of the team when they were already 4 games into the 1973 Pre-Season (after then-owner John Mecom had fired the previous head coach -- J.D. Roberts -- immediately on the spot in the locker room following an embarrassing loss 31-6 loss to the Patriots, in what was a meaningless exhibition game); was also fired himself following a 38-14 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the 6th game of the 1975 season.

Director of Player Personnel Ernie Hefferle took over for the franchise's final 8 games. His only win that year in his short time as interim head coach that season was his first game in the Superdome: a 23-7 victory at home over the hated Atlanta Falcons.

Long story short: the Saints were a comedy of errors at that time, and Saints fans didn't have a whole hell of a lot to cheer for.

And Reason #2?

Simply because Saints fans at that time didn't realize the "power" that they could have over a game, by helping to dictate its outcome by using the reverberation of sound and loud noise, to their (and the Saints team's) advantage.

It wasn't until the 1983 season under then-head coach Bum Phillips, that the Saints and their fans realized that the Superdome offered a distinctive home-field advantage --- when they threatened to make the NFL Playoffs for the first time in their history and sold out the Superdome in a handful of games that year.

Those sold-out games were the first indication to the team and its fans as well as the outside world, that the Superdome could be used as a weapon of sorts, by making it a place that no opponent wanted to find themselves at with a game on the line.

Photo courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

The Saints fell short of the Playoffs in that 1983 season (8-8), but the knowledge of how sound could be used as an advantage and not a disadvantage; was something later capitalized on by the team's next head coach, Jim Mora, during "The Dome Patrol Era" of 1986 to 1992.

Now some 30 plus years later, this current version of the New Orleans Saints franchise still wields that same power.

Unfortunately, they just haven't been able to use it in their own favor. 

With the upcoming 2017 model of the Saints team needing all of the help that they can possibly get in what many consider to be a "make or break" season this year, they certainly would like to be able to regain that dominance that they once enjoyed not all that long ago.

Photo courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

A dominance that until just recently, now seems as if it was more a part of some long-faded and lost ancient time of a bygone era.

The Saints need to get their "swag" back at home, if they expect to break the 3-year streak of 7-9 finishes and 3 consecutive years worth of being stuck at home watching the NFL Playoffs on TV, instead of being a part of them.

The Saints need to turn the Superdome back into "The Palace of Malice" --- and make everyone feel unwelcome, in a city well-known otherwise for its wonderful charm and warm hospitality.......

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, grew up as a long-time New Orleans Saints fan who followed and now covers the team for a span of over 40 plus years. Most importantly, he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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