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Barry Hirstius

After Horrible Start, 2017 Saints Need To Look Back at 1990 Saints for Inspiration

For the New Orleans Saints, starting off the season with an 0-2 record is becoming customary. Now in what is the 4th straight season and 5 out of the last 6 years, the Saints franchise already finds themselves in a 2-game "hole" and 2 games out of the lead inside their division, with the 2017 NFL regular season not even 3 weeks old. 

For New Orleans, it's just been one bad thing after another so far in 2017; and to say that Saints fans are disappointed with the team's rapid decline from "middle of the pack" down to the bottom tier of the NFL in the season's first 2 weeks, would be a huge understatement.

The worst part is that every day, there's always something else happening that seems to add to the distractions that have already enveloped the organization in recent weeks.

The trade the other day of former 2015 1st Round pick Stephone Anthony to the Miami Dolphins for a 5th Round pick in next year's 2018 NFL Draft is a testament to that fact, since it once again placed focus on how many draft picks in recent seasons have turned out to be "busts".

But regardless if one of the biggest reasons for the Saints' recent failures are either deficient talent evaluation or rather just a simple lack of execution (or both), New Orleans STILL has a whole 14 games left to play; and even though it might actually feel like it, the 2017 Saints season is not done yet.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe

Anything can and usually will happen in the NFL; and the Saints getting their collective act together and turning things around after such a disastrous start, isn't completely out of the question.

Can this 2017 version of the New Orleans Saints turn things around?

Probably not; but with 14 still games to go, it would be foolish for other teams and opponents to write the Saints off and count them as an "easy W" on the schedule.

We might think that head coach Sean Payton is a lot of things right now, but one thing that he and his team are not, are "pushovers".

Payton will never allow himself or his team to quit fighting, nor should he even consider it.

“These guys are grown men, and they understand the sense of urgency we have to play with and we have to practice with now starting with two losses,” Payton told reporters at his Tuesday morning press briefing.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Saints of course this week travel to Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, to face the (2-0) NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers; with the prospect of an 0-3 start staring them directly in the face.

“(Carolina) is a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said to the media on Tuesday, “but we’re just waiting to break the seal. I feel like it can be this week. I hope it’s this week.”

5th year veteran middle linebacker A.J. Klein, who played behind Panthers All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly with Carolina, told reporters Tuesday morning that the Saints are capable of doing much better than what they've shown for the first 2 weeks of the season.

“Going to Carolina, we have challenge ahead of us,” Klein said. “I can’t sit here and sugarcoat stuff. We’re just a step behind. All the pieces are there. Early adversity, it’s what you do with it.”

Klein -- along with Payton and Brees -- all make valid points.

To a man, this Saints team isn't about to throw in the towel, nor should they.

While some fans may have already jumped off the proverbial Saints "bandwagon" for what's likely the millionth different time in their lives, the Saints players themselves don't have any choice but to continue playing the games on the schedule --- and hope that the results of the next 14 weeks turn out to be much more favorable than the first 2 weeks have been.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Brees told reporters yesterday that he understands in the Saints fans' frustration, but still hopes that they haven't given up on the 2017 season or the team just yet.

QUESTION: Fans are frustrated -- (do you have a) message to the fans?

 Brees: "We believe. We believe in ourselves. I hope that our fans believe in us, too. I believe they do"

If Brees and this current Saints team needs any inspiration to keep believing in themselves, then perhaps they should look no further than to the team's nearly 51-year history; and take a quick look back at the Saints 1990 season.

The 1990 team was one of then-head coach Jim Mora's "Dome Patrol" era teams, and like this year's version also started off at 0-2.

But unlike the current Saints team's biggest issue at the moment -- the worst defense in the NFL -- that Saints team had issues on the offensive side of the football.

In fact, in those first 2 games of the 1990 season alone, the Saints failed to score a TD, settling for a total of 5 Morten Andersen field goals instead.

As WWL New Orleans TV and Radio football analyst Mike Detillier told WWL TV.com contributing writer Ralph Malbrough last week: the issue for the Saints then was at quarterback.

Then-starting QB Bobby Hebert, who had been benched at the end of the 1989 season by Mora in favor of back-up QB and local NOLA hero John Fourcade, decided to hold out of 1990 Training Camp.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Times-Picayune

Fourcade had went 3-0 as a starter at the end of that 1989 season, and fans expecting a red-hot battle in Training Camp to see who would be the Saints starting QB for the upcoming 1990 season; were instead witness to a prolonged war of words between Hebert and then-General Manager Jim Finks.

Finks was notorious for being a no-nonsense, "old school" type of administrator (one of the reasons that he and Mora, an ex-Marine, got along so well), and the expectation was that instead of giving Hebert a new contract, he would trade him for his insubordination and go with Fourcade as the team's new permanent signal-caller.

Said Detillier to Malbrough: “Finks refused to trade him. He wanted Bobby crawling back at his price to play football with the Saints. He knew Bobby grew up in Louisiana, had a home here, his family was here and thought he could break him down. It didn't happen.”

Hebert called Finks' "bluff", but surprisingly didn't trade Hebert. Instead he decided to move forward with Fourcade, which would come back to bite him squarely on the ass once he realized that Fourcade didn't have any of the "magic" that he had in the final 3 games of the 1989 season.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Saints' 0-2 start and 15 total points scored on offense under Fourcade in the first 2 weeks of the 1990 regular season, seemed to have been the point when Finks would finally relent and sign Hebert.

But --- he did not.

As Malbrough notes in his article: instead of caving and signing Hebert, Finks instead shocked everyone when he decided to trade a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick to the Dallas Cowboys for for their back-up QB, former University of Miami Hurricanes QB Steve Walsh.

Most NFL analysts and observers at that time thought that the move bordered on insanity, given that Walsh -- who the Cowboys had selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 1989 NFL Supplemental Draft -- had already been surpassed by Cowboys starting QB Troy Aikman on the Dallas depth chart that summer.

Detillier says Walsh’s rookie salary from his Dallas contract signed the year before was especially appealing to the cost-conscious Finks. “He knew John Fourcade couldn't get it done and Steve Walsh was signed to a long term deal.”

Getty Images Sport Mike Powell

The trade occurred after the Saints' 1st win of the season in Week #3, a 28-7 win over Arizona that was powered by a stout Saints defense and rookie RB Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.

However, as Walsh learned the Saints offense, the team continued to struggled under Fourcade -- and by Week #8 (the Saints had a Bye Week in Week #4 that year) as Walsh had taken over as the starter, the Saints found themselves near the bottom of the NFC standings with a (2-5) record with only 9 games left in the 1990 regular season.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Season over, right?

Not at all.

As Malbrough notes: despite scoring 20 or fewer points 11 times that year, the 1990 Saints won 6 out of their last 9 games to finish 8-8 and make the playoffs.

It wasn't "pretty" by any stretch, and the Saints even needed help getting into the Playoffs because of a complicated tie-breaker procedure, which forced them to cheer for a Atlanta win win over Dallas (yes, Saints fans were cheering for the Falcons) in those two teams' season-ending game at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.

Saints fans everywhere had to swallow their pride and put their "Falcons hate" aside, by openly rooting for the Falcons to win -- or perhaps in this particular case as far as they were concerned: simply just for the Cowboys to lose.

Atlanta defeated Dallas by a score of 26-7, which left Dallas at (7-9) and gave the Saints one last chance to make the Playoffs -- in their 1990 season finale at the Superdome against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football on New Year's Eve.

Morten Andersen's 24-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining gave the Saints a heart-stopping and hard-fought 20-17 win, and sent Saints fans happily into the streets after the game to celebrate the 1991 New Year. 

The Saints made the postseason as the 6th and final seed in the NFC; and became the 5th team in NFL history and first since the merger to finish the season with a .500 record or lower and make the playoffs.

They were also the first team to do it since the NFL schedule extended to 16 games.

Sadly the Saints were no match for the Chicago Bears the following week in the NFC Wild Card game, and their season ended with a 16-6 loss in the cold and windy confines of Soldier Field in downtown Chicago.

John H. Reid/Getty Images

Finks would eventually sign Hebert in June 1991, and he remained a Saint for 2 more seasons before joining the Falcons in 1993 NFL Free Agency. Fourcade was eventually released during the 1991 off-season, while Walsh remained with the organization until joining the Bears in 1994 Free Agency.

And the moral to this entire story?

Never give up. Never stop fighting.

Nothing is over, until it is actually over.

Have the Saints disappointed us so far this season and for the past 4 years straight? You know they have.

And I'm not going to insult your intelligence and try to convince you otherwise.

The Saints look absolutely terrible so far and have very quickly fallen all the way down to near the bottom of the NFL in just a few years time, and only just a few years removed from being a championship-caliber team.

But with 14 games still left to play, ANYTHING can happen --- just as it did for those 1990 New Orleans Saints....... 

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist 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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