3 Wins 13 Loses
Coach: Mike Ditka
First Round Draft Pick: Ricky Williams RB Texas
Run Rickey Run
or Limp Rickey Limp
1999 New Orleans Saints Schedule
Once again, the season began in a storm of controversy. In an effort to revamp their anemic offense, the New Orleans Saints made NFL History by giving up ALL of their ’99 draft picks for the shot at Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams (All their picks, that is, except the 2nd round. That had already been traded to St Louis for former LSU WR Eddie Kennison). Williams, nicknamed “Little Earl”, after another Texas Heisman winner — Earl Campbell. Williams was already being touted as the most prolific running back in college history.
Despite only 1 draft choice, their where some new faces in the black and gold camp. Offensive lineman Wally Williams was signed away from Baltimore. While Ashley Ambrose and Willie Clay, defensive backs from Cincinnati and New England, were added to bolster the secondary. For the first time in quite awhile, the upcoming season showed signs of promise.
Unfortunately, as it usually goes in New Orleans, things took a turn for the worst and another disaster of a season ensued. Defensive stand out Joe Johnson was lost for the season in training camp. And the injuries didn’t stop there. The cost of acquiring Ricky Williams was questioned early on as he suffered a high-ankle sprain in the preseason opener and missed the rest of the preseason (Ricky would suffer a total of 4 different injuries throughout the season). Along with Ricky, Billy Joe Hobert, Billy Joe Tolliver, offensive guard Wally Williams, tight-end Cam Cleeland, defensive-end Jared Tomich, linebacker Mark Fields and WR Brett Bech would all have injuries that, at the very least, would seriously hinder their play throughout the season.
Following an opening day victory over the Panthers, the Saints would drop 7 straight. 5 of the loses came with a Saints lead going into the 4th quarter. In the game against expansion-team Cleveland, the Browns won with 2 seconds left on a Hail Mary pass. Against Atlanta, Morten Andersen (ever heard of him?) provided 2 fourth quarter field goals to beat us 17-20.
Problems were prevalent throughout the Saints organization. The long-awaited return of Billy Joe Hobert from his 1998 injury was short lived as he went down against Chicago in week 3 with a pinched nerve. Billy Joe Tolliver took over and played very inconsistently until week 9 when he played a near flawless game in the Saints first win over the 49ers since 1995. He was playing well the following week against Jacksonville when he went out with a knee injury. A sub-healthy Hobert and Tolliver with an ineffective Danny Weurfeul alternated in and out the next 4 games until hometown favorite Jake Delhomme provided plenty of sparks in a 31-24 upset of playoff bound Dallas. Fred Weary returned a fumble for the game winning TD. The season ended on a most depressing note as we were pummeled by Carolina, 45-13 as Ricky gained only 7 yards on 14 carries.
The defense couldn’t manage the big-play reputation it had acquired the previous season. And while the offense was vastly improved from the year before, it remained plagued by turnovers. Sackman La Roi Glover led the team in sacks with 8.5 and rookie lineman William Whitehead added 7 more. Newcomer Ashley Ambrose hauled in 6 interceptions.
No one escaped the criticism of the fans and media. Mike Ditka was criticized for everything from the Ricky Williams deal to his coaching style (his 1-finger salute to the fans in the Superdome after the loss to Tennessee didn’t help his popularity, though he did later apologize calling what he did “inexcusable”). GM Bill Kuharich was criticized for his… “general management”. Danny Abramowicz for his running of the offense, Ricky Williams for not playing up to his expectations, Billy Joe Tolliver for his many interceptions, pretty much anyone associated with the New Orleans Saints as an organization came under fire. 3 days after the season was ended Tom Benson conducted a major overhaul of the team. Bill Kuharich, Mike Ditka with his entire coaching staff and VP Terry O’Neil were all fired.
Bright spots this year were few. While Hobert, Williams, Tolliver and Kennison all had great games over course of the season, they remained sporadic and inconsistent. Keith Poole continued to be the deep threat he was known for. And Doug Brien had another good year. Willie Roaf made his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance while Mark Fields and La Roi Glover were named as alternates.