Long before the team flexed its muscle as surprise Super Bowl winners in 2010, the New Orleans Saints' history was checkered by mediocrity. The Saints were once not-so-lovingly nicknamed the 'Aints by their long-suffering fans. Drew Brees and company have outgrown that term, but the franchise traveled a bumpy road to make the transition from cellar dweller to legit contender.
Forgettable Beginning Starting from the team's inaugural season in 1967, New Orleans seemed to be operating under a voodoo curse. The Saints finished with losing records in each of their first twelve seasons as a franchise before finally clawing out an 8 to 8 finish in 1979. It would take New Orleans another eight seasons before the team finally posted a winning record for the first time. One of the lowest points came in the 1977 season when the Saints were blown out 33 to 14 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that lost its first 26 NFL games before taking down New Orleans. Saints quarterback Archie Manning and running back George Rogers provided the few moments that didn't force fans to wear paper bags during this era. Manning claimed NFC MVP honors in 1978 after passing for a career best 3,478 yards and seventeen touchdowns. Rogers finished as the NFL rushing champion as a rookie in 1981, churning up 1,674 yards.
Climb to Contender Fortunes finally changed for New Orleans in the late '80s when new owner Tom Benson brought in Jim Mora as head coach. Under Mora, Louisiana native Bobby Hebert emerged as a star and helped the Saints post a .500 record or better for seven straight seasons. The team snapped a skid of 21 straight losing seasons with a 12 to 3 record in 1987. Behind Hebert and Mora and running back Reuben Mayes, the Saints posted three consecutive winning seasons from 1987 to 1989 and reached the NFL Playoffs three straight times from 1990 to 1992.
Hurricane Katrina New Orleans sank back into mediocrity by the late '90s. The future of the franchise in Louisiana was jeopardized when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The Superdome was heavily damaged along with much of the city and the Saints were forced to play their home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge. Many fans wondered if Benson would move the team to another market, but the Saints owner pledged to keep the team in Louisiana and stick with New Orleans as it rebuilt from the post-hurricane devastation.
Brees Brings 'em Back Before the 2006 season, New Orleans changed its fortunes for the better when it brought in Sean Payton to be the head coach and signed Drew Brees to be the starting quarterback. Experts questioned whether Brees could do anything for New Orleans since he was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Brees not only played, but he propelled the Saints to a historic turnaround and took the team from a 3 to 13 record to an NFC title game appearance. Brees did even better three seasons later when he helped lead New Orleans to its first-ever Super Bowl. The Saints made the most of it, using a third-quarter onside kick to spark a second-half rally and claim a 31 to 17 upset victory over the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts. With that one win, decades of futility and frustration were erased to the joy of Saints fans everywhere.
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