Finally! The Saints Put Together a Non-Losing Season!
For the first time in recent years, New Orleans Saints fans where actually looking forward to a new season. Dick Nolan had brought New Orleans their finest season yet the preceding year and there was no reason to expect anything different. Pro-Bowler Archie Manning was back with the same receiving corps. Roger Finnie was obtained from St. Louis to help out an offensive line looking forward to the return of injured Conrad Dobler and Emmanual Zanders. If the defense could get the hang of Nolan's flex defense, things could get interesting.
The collage draft produced only two names that would be remembered. Kentucky linebacker Jim Kovach who played 6 seasons with the Saints, and Texas Kicker Russell Erxleben. Nicknamed "Thunderfoot", Erxleben had had a legendary career at Texas hitting 11 field goals over 50 yards and 3 over 60..... including a record 67-yarder against Rice in 1978. By season's end though, his nickname would be changed to "Blunderfoot".
As opening day against the hated Falcons of Atlanta arrived, memories of the previous years games where still fresh in the minds of these Saints......visions of "Big Ben" and last second scores. Fate would still be unkind to the bearers of Black-and-Gold.
In overtime, with the score knotted up at 34, a deep snap sailed over rookie punter Russell Erxleben's head. Erxleben managed to recover the foiled snap and hurl a desperation pass into the air...... only to be snatched away by back-up running back James Mayberry, who trotted 6 yards into the endzone for the winning score. For the third consecutive time, the Falcons had won in the closing seconds. While offense managed to hang tough (Muncie had 158 yards on the ground) the defense yielded 552 yards to the Falcons.
As the following weeks brought losses to both Green Bay and Philadelphia, the hope of the new season began to ebb away. Tony Galbreath and Wes Chandler handled the kicking and punting duties against Green Bay as an injured Russell Erxleben watched from the sidelines and against Philadelphia, a newly signed Garo Yepremian looked on from the sidelines as Eagle rookie-kicker Tony Franklin (Erxleben's collegiate rival while at Texas A&M) kicked 4 FG's. To further punctuate the loss, 6 foot 8 inch Eagle wide receiver Harold Carmichael made this his 106th consecutive game with a catch, setting a new record and breaking the old mark set by Danny Abramowicz.
At 0-3 the Saints headed to San Francisco to take on the also winless 49ers. Both teams needed a win badly. But the Saints proved they wanted it more as they racked up 30 points and 512 yards of offense. Manning had 338 yards passing alone. Recently acquired Garo Yepremian made his 17th consecutive FG thus setting a new NFL record.
Chuck Muncie had 2 scores the following week as the Saints won their second game of the season against the Giants. After going up 17-0, they held off a Giant rally as rookie QB Phil Simms saw his first NFL action. The Saints held on to win 24-14.
In game 6, Tony Galbreath started the scoring with a 3 yard run to give the Saints the early lead against the Rams. Then they watched the Rams put the next 28 points on the board in what ended up a 35-17 drubbing. Manning threw 5 interceptions.
Going into week 7, things hardly looked promising. With a 2-4 record they where traveling to Tampa Bay to face the #1 defense in the NFL. What looked to be another loss turned into huge upset as the Saints began a rare run for the playoffs. Tony Galbreath and Mike Strachen each rushed for 2 scores as the offense flexed their muscle in a 42-14 blowout over the Bucs. The win put us but 1 game out of first place in the NFC West. The next win, against Detroit, was described as a bar room brawl. Archie actually chased a Detroit lineman from the field after he allegedly had his hand stepped on. Tommy Myers returned an interception 52 yards for a score as the Saints came out on top 17-7. The win put them in a 1st place tie with L.A.
Tied for first place in their division, a 4-4 record, and the #2 offense in the NFC, the Saints traveled to Washington to face a 6-2 Joe Theismann-led-Redskin team. The outcome turned was one the greatest defensive showings of Saint history. The defense set a new team record for sacks.... 7 in all (Elois Grooms had 3 alone). 24 down-and-goal-to-go situations could produce only 10 points for the Skins as the 14-10 win put the Saints in sole possession of first place.
Thunder and Lighting
All-Pro Tight End Henry Childs
The success was short lived. The defense played tough against aging Craig Morton's Broncos but the offense never got on track as the Saints dropped the game 3-10.
A 31-20 rebound against San Francisco (Muncie had 3 Tds) and a 24-38 loss to Seattle brought the Saints facing their old friends..........the Falcons.
This time though, revenge was sweet. Taking no chances, New Orleans went up 24-0 at half time and never let up. The defense had another fine afternoon forcing 6 turnovers and getting 5 sacks. Meanwhile, Wes Chandler set a team record with 205 yards on 6 catches. The 37-6 win snapped a 4 game losing streak to the Falcons.
"Playoffs" was becoming a possible reality. All that stood in the way was the Oakland Raiders on Monday night in the Super Dome. The NFL had gone as far as informing the Saints front office to start printing playoff tickets if they won.
The Oakland Raiders had made history time and time again on Monday Night..... this was only the Saints 4th appearance..... and they had yet to win. Even so, by halftime New Orleans had it's first 1,000 yard rusher in Chuck Muncie and a 28-14 lead.
Unfortunately, the offense that had exploded in the first half, imploded the second. Manning and company could only muster 81 yards of offense as the only score for the Saints was a Kenny Bordeleon 19 yard interception return. NFL legend Kenny Stabler threw 3 fourth quarter Tds. One was a 5 yard hitch to Cliff Branch that turned into a 66 yard score. Branch later caught the go-ahead score as the Raiders came back 42-35.
Playoff hopes where officially dashed a week later after a 35-0 route at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.
The season did end on a upbeat note as we beat the Rams 29-14 to finish with the first non-losing season in Saints history.The defense played big-time again with 6 turnovers and even an Elois Grooms Safety. On Offense, back-up Mike Strachen had a big day with 93 yards and 2 scores.
Despite missing the playoffs for the 11th straight year, the Saints could still point to a few positives. The first ever non-losing season and a second near miss at the playoffs gave something for fans to cheer about. The unusually few injuries to the offense brought Archie and crew much success as they where ranked #6 in the league.
Archie had another fine year. 3169 yards, 60.0 percent completed and a 75.5 QB rating got him his second straight Pro Bowl appearance. Chuck Muncie finally began to fulfill his potential has he became the first thousand yard rusher for New Orleans with 1198 and a league-leading 5.0 yards a carry. Tony Galbreath contributed 708 more on the ground. Wes Chandler led the team in receiving with 65 catches and 1069 yards and Tight end Henry Childs continued as one of the league's best with 51 catches and 846 yards and a Pro Bowl spot. Along with Manning and Childs, Muncie and Chandler would represent the Saints in the Pro Bowl.
For the defense, Tommy Myers made it to Honolulu. He had 7 picks, including the 52 yard score against Detroit. Don Reese and Elois Grooms each had 12 sacks on the year.
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