Joe Federspiel meets Franco Harris

Joe Federspiel tackles Franco Harris
Saints linebacker Joe Federspiel brings down Franco Harris

While the New Orleans Saints teams of the early days weren’t known for their defensive efforts, there were a handful of notable plays and players Saints fan could point to with some pride. In the late 1970s, newly appointed head coach Dick Nolan took great pains to improve the woeful defense that the Who Dat Nation was used to. One of his changes was instituting a new defensive system – the “Flex Defense”. The Flex Defense was a defense that reacted to what the offense did instead of attacking. It had been developed by the legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry to counter tactics running offenses used like pulling guards on sweeps and traps. In order for it to work properly you needed disciplined defensive lineman keying on certain offensive players and an exceptional Middle Linebacker. The Saints actually had a linebacker that fit the bill. Joe Federspiel was a veteran defender that was a good as any in the NFL. He had joined the Saints in 1972 as a 4th round pick out of Kentucky and won the starting Middle Linebacker spot. He remained a steadfast fixture of the Black and Gold defense for 9 seasons and in him, Nolan had his stud at the Mike position.
In the picture above, from the 1978 game against the reigning NFL Champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, we find our hero accomplishing his task. And while he seems to be getting the bad-end of the deal, Hall of Fame fullback Franco Harris (#32) is stopped in his tracks nevertheless for a short gain. Fellow Steeler Rocky Blier (#20) appears to be halted as well.
The game ended up a hard fought 20-14 loss. The Saints would only manage 2 more wins the rest of the season to finish 7 and 9. The best record the Saints had as a franchise to that date.

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