RICK CLEVELAND: Era of the Aints lost on today’s Who Dat nation

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

JACKSON

My premise for today: This new generation of New Orleans Saints fans is spoiled.

They don’t know how good they’ve got it.

They get upset if Drew Brees throws an interception. They become apoplectic if the Saints lose a game.

They are spoiled, period.

Since Brees and Sean Payton joined the band in 2007, the Saints had won 79 games going into this past weekend’s game with Carolina. We are talking not quite seven seasons here.

Here’s some perspective: Over their first 18 seasons, beginning in 1967 and ending in 1984, the Saints won a grand total of 78 games.

That’s right. They’ve won more games in the last seven seasons than they won in their first 18.

Yes, the Saints really stunk it up against a bad St. Louis team recently. But here’s what you need to know about that: They used to do that every Sunday.

Back in the bad old days, the Saints were so bad that management used to put on elaborate halftime shows to keep fans coming to the games. They couldn’t even get that right. During one halftime show – the reenactment of the Battle of New Orleans – a cannon backfired, blowing three fingers off one of the participant’s hands.

That was 1970. By then, I was 18 and sitting in the press box with my father. He had his binoculars on the scene. “Rickey,” Dad said, “that poor guy ain’t playing. His hands are on fire.”

And that was just halftime. The carnage during the games was worse.

It all began when the NFL awarded the New Orleans franchise to the Mecom family, which put 27-year-old heir John Mecom, Jr., in charge. He was a dashing young man, who knew absolutely nothing about running a pro football team. The Saints drafted several players older than Mecom in that first expansion draft.

Manning comes to town

In 1971, the Saints drafted one Archibald Elisha Manning with their first round pick. Suddenly, there was hope. Then the Saints tried to lowball Arch in negotiations.

When the Saints made their first offer at John Vaught’s ranch house, just west of Oxford, Vaught interjected, “You must be joking. Archie made more than that at Ole Miss.”

Archie saw all the ineptitude first-hand, beginning with his first pre-season game. The Saints were playing the Buffalo Bills who had a famous running back who could really run.

Even Saints coach J.D. Roberts noticed. He turned to Manning on the sidelines, “I don’t know who that No. 32 is, but he sure can run.”

Yes, O.J. Simpson sure could.

In his first regular season game, Manning led the Saints to a stunning upset of the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints were three points down with time for one play remaining. The ball was at the Rams’ one-yard-line. Archie called timeout to go over to the sidelines and get the play.

“We’re going for it!” his coaches kept yelling.

Archie kept waiting for the play call. He never got one. The referee came and got him.

So he went back to the huddle and called what he would have called at Ole Miss. He rolled out to his left and dove in for the winning touchdown.

For most of his career, Manning was the best player on the worst team in pro football.

Once, during still another miserable season, the coaches sent the play in by a tight end who Archie didn’t even recognize.

“Who are you?” he asked.

The guy introduced himself.

The guy had signed that day. He was cut later that same day.

The play did not work.

Not many plays did work back then.

So no matter what happens this next week and, perhaps, in the playoffs, today’s young Saints fans have no idea how good they’ve got it. Spoiled. That’s what they are. Spoiled.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@ msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.