Jones: They couldn’t beat the Bucs!

Sports In Paradise By Dale Jones

The Saints lost to the Buccaneers.

Remember? It happened just two days after Christmas. The Cowboys had ruined New Orleans’ perfect season just a week before when Romo and company visited the Superdome to beat Drew and his gang 24-17.

Then, just one week later, the beloved Saints lost to, of all teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It has been quite a ride since the South Louisiana town became the official home of the National Football League’s 16th franchise on All Saints Day in November of 1966.

Ownership did their best to start things off with a bang, putting guys on their roster such as Doug Atkins, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, all future Hall of Famers at the time.

The very first day that season tickets went on sale, the organization sold more than 20,000. Their first season home attendance average was an unbelievable 75,463 per game.

(The Saints lost to the Buccaneers)

Once the team finally hit the field, they came out blazing. They lost only one of their six preseason games, and on the opening kickoff in their very first regular season game, John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff 94-yards for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams.

There were other memorable moments in the early years of the Saints such as Tom Dempsey’s record 63-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lift the Saints over Detroit back in 1970. They moved into the most prestigious football facility of that time in 1975, when the 69,056 seat New Orleans Superdome became their home.

(The Saints lost to the Buccaneers)

Although it took them 21 seasons to finally produce a winning team, the late 80s and early 90s proved to be very good years for the men in gold and black. They made the playoffs four times between 1987 and 1992, including an NFC West Championship in 1991 and then another one in 2000.

The Saints have been coached by greats such as Mike Ditka and Jim Mora and featured star caliber players such as Dave Whitsell, Ricky Jackson, Eric Martin, running back George Rogers and of course, Archie Manning.

(The Saints lost to the Buccaneers)

Chuck Muncie was the Saints first 1,000 yard rusher back in 1979, Billy Kilmer was the first Saints QB to throw for 300 yards. George Rogers rushed for 4,267 yards as a Saint and Archie threw for more than 21,000 yards in his career.

Despite the fact that the Saints are headed to the big dance for the first time in the history of the franchise, or that few players on the Saints’ roster have Super Bowl experience, or that the Colts were the Super Bowl winners just three years ago, this Saints team has been impressive and deserves to be in Miami.

The offense is explosive under the direction of the NFL’s top-rated passer Drew Brees, and the Saints have been virtually unstoppable all season. If indeed the Colt’s Dwight Freeney is too hurt to play, this could mean even more time for the elusive Brees.

(The Saints lost to the Buccaneers)

With the likes of Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell, the Saints enjoy the sixth best rushing offense in the league, compared to the Colts who rely so much on Manning that they are last when it comes to a ground game.

All season long, offensive coordinators have had issues with the Saints defensive strategy. When you have a potent offense like the Saints, and can put up points the way they have all season, it frees up the defense to take a few more chances, and that is what the Saints have done. While they are ranked low compared to other defenses, they have the reputation for causing turnovers, and in a big game, that can be huge.

On both sides of the ball, this team can play. There is no doubt.

But when I look at the overall picture, as much as I want to pick the New Orleans Saints to be the next World Champions of Professional Football, I just can’t do it.

Why?

Because the Saints lost to the Buccaneers – a team that is scraping the bottom of the bucket in almost every offensive category, a team that only won three games all year.

I want to pick the Saints, but if they can’t beat the Bucs, why on earth would anybody believe that they could beat Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Hopefully it won’t take the Saints another 40 years to get back to the big game.

—Hit ‘em straight

—Dale Jones covers sports and news in Baldwin County.