Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Not up for Sainthood, still seeing stars

Drew Brees has been a Super QB for the Saints; think Tony
Romo will ever have a pose like this? (Lyons/Getty photo)
     Did something Monday night that I rarely do: I watched a New Orleans Saints game. And it was fun.
      I saw an NFL team that is popular in the Ark-La-Tex and seems to know how to win consistently.
      This was one day after I watched the other team popular in the Ark-La-Tex that is consistently a .500 team -- win one, lose one, beat bad teams, lose to good ones (and sometimes lose to bad ones).
      I am not a Who Dat? guy, never have been. I'm not anti-Saints, either. When they won the Super Bowl in 2009, it was a great story, especially what Hurricane Katrina did to the city and area and team four years earlier.
      But when the Saints first began playing, the team with the star on the helmet was beginning to win big and was the most exciting team in the NFL. I've rooted for the Dallas Cowboys for 50 years; I didn't want to switch then, and I don't want to switch now.
      Let me clarify one thing -- I watched the Saints' game on replay. Dancing With The Stars has priority here on Monday nights. And I'm better off watching the Cowboys on replay, too -- so I can choose if I want to watch or not.
      Anyway, here I am writing about NFL teams. I can no more do anything about "fixing" the teams I root for than I can fixing the government shutdown. But at least writing about the NFL, I'm writing about something that matter
      I saw a Saints team with an exciting, some unstoppable offense, a hard-hitting. opportunistic defense, and a head coach who is confident, brash, decisive, innovate, daring and sometimes -- according to media friends -- arrogant. He did, after all, get his training from Bill Parcells.
      Sean Payton is a lot of things Jason Garrett -- nice guy -- is not.
      I saw a quarterback wearing No. 9 who is confident, smart, efficient, accurate as can be, a media darling -- and winner of one Super Bowl title. This guy is Pro Football Hall of Fame material.
      The Saints' offense almost always has receivers running wide open.
      The other NFL No. 9 I watched last weekend is, in my opinion, not all that smart a player (how many times can you throw to a double-covered Jason Witten, as he did repeatedly last Sunday?). He's mistake-prone (fumbles, interceptions, taking sacks) and so often struggles to get his players lined up for plays.
       Tony Romo has some of what Drew Brees has, but he doesn't know much about winning big games, or a lot of little ones. However, it's hardly his fault alone that the team is mediocre. He doesn't have enough good players around him. His offensive line is good at holding, false starts and giving up sacks.
       The Cowboys' offense often struggles with everything. Where was Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter of their two losses? Over on the bench yelling at people?
       I previously have expressed my frustration with the Cowboys owner and (laugh here) general manager, and the head coach.
       Even coaches with good track records become average with this franchise, just as Hank Stram, Bum Phillips and Mike Ditka did with the Saints. Which shows it's the players' ability that counts, not necessarily the coaches.
      Payton and Brees brought their magic to the Saints in 2006; by 2009, that meant Super Bowl gold. That one title matches the total number of Cowboys' playoff victories over the past 16 seasons.
        Of course -- and everyone who's been around knows this -- it wasn't always this way. For their first 20 years, the Saints were as bad as any franchise in NFL history; the Cowboys in that time were as good as any franchise.
        The rivalry then? What rivalry? The Cowboys won 11 of the first 12 times they played the Saints, and the one loss -- in the season, 1971, that the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl -- was a Craig Morton gift at Tulane Stadium, the kind Craig often bestowed on the other team (such as in Super Bowl V).
            Now, to show you how this rivalry has turned, the Saints have won seven of the last eight meetings; the only Cowboys win came in 2009 -- the season the Saints won the Super Bowl -- at a time when New Orleans was 13-0 and cruising toward the playoffs.
            Sure, the Cowboys had the game won on Thanksgiving Day 2010, leading by four points, time running down, and completing a long pass. But in what has become typical Cowboys luck, receiver Roy Williams (remember him?) had the ball simply taken out of his arms by a Saints defender at the New Orleans 11.
              It took Drew Brees five plays to drive the Saints 89 yards for the winning TD with 1:55 remaining.
              That game was classic of what's become of these franchises. The Saints had a 17-0 lead, frittered it away because the Cowboys showed a lot of fight, and then the Saints won it at the end while the Cowboys faded away.
               It was interesting to see Tim Fletcher write about the Saints-or-Cowboys-on-TV debate (when only one game can be shown in the market) in The Shreveport Times a couple of weeks ago because that's exactly what we were writing about in the mid-1980s when I was at the old Shreveport Journal.
              The argument used to be that the Saints were Louisiana's team so they should be on in Louisiana. Counter argument: Dallas is three hours away from North Louisiana, a ride down I-20. New Orleans is five hours away, a tougher trip.
              Football-wise, no argument. The Cowboys were by far the better team to watch.
              But starting in 1987, when the Saints were 12-3 -- their first winning record ever -- and made the playoffs for the first time, and the Cowboys began their decline under Tom Landry (even The Man in The Hat couldn't keep his winning touch forever), it was an argument.
              Still, it took another 13 years before the Saints won their first playoff game. By then, the Cowboys had slipped into mediocrity; only three times in the last 14 years have they won 10 games in one season, and promptly lost in the playoffs.
              So all these years later, the Cowboys have become the Saints, the Saints have become the Cowboys.
              This Cowboys team, so far, looks mediocre again, making a Hall of Fame QB out of Philip Rivers last Sunday, for instance. Chargers receivers ran free all game and Dallas never found a way to cover tight end Antonio Gates. San Diego was more dominant than the final margin (30-21) showed.
               The Saints are 4-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl year, all is forgiven for Coach Sean Payton (suspended last season for the ugly Bountygate/lying scandal), Brees looks like Superman again. The running game looks so-so at best, but flipping those passes in the flat to Darren Sproles (seven catches, 114 yards, more than 16 yards per play Monday night) takes care of that.
              The defense, coordinated by the wild-haired, loudmouth Rob Ryan -- whose Cowboys defenses the previous two years couldn't spell turnover -- might be as good or better than the Super Bowl-winning defense of 2009 (which wasn't all that great, but knew how to get the football).
              Bottom line: The Saints look like a Super Bowl contender, the Cowboys look like a contender for a .500 record, maybe. But it's early, things could change.
              I'm still not going to say, "Who Dat?" and I'm pretty tired of seeing it on Facebook. But I think I recognize good football when I see it.
              The teams meet Sunday night, Nov. 10, in the Superdome. Any chance Dancing With The Stars can be moved up one night?


  1. From Jimmy Russell: You are right. What really gets me is that everybody every year picks big things for the Cowboys, but they fall far short. As I have said many times, at one time, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson thought they invented football. Look at Jerry’s track record over the last 20 years. I guess he thinks it is everybody else’s fault. Needs a professional to run his team and him be the owner. He certainly can have input and if he wants say no to some things, [but it] will never happen. Jimmy can coach but who can forget the beating he took his last playoff game with the Dolphins? Everyone thought he was a sure thing to take them to the Super Bowl. Hope the Saints demoralize the Cowboys.

  2. From Cynthia Aillet Murry: I enjoyed this. I was a huge Cowboys fan and enjoyed meeting Tom Landry. Still hope they will make a comeback. Wasn't a big fan of the Saints, but always hoped they would make it and, boy, have they ever. You know, Nico, we can be for more than one team.

  3. From Thomas Aswell: For my 70th birthday, my two sons-in-law took me to the Saints-Dolphins game. It was my second Saints game ever. The first was Oct. 19, 1969, when Johnny Unitas picked them apart. I went just to see Unitas and wasn't disappointed. But neither was I disappointed Monday night. We had 40-yard-line seats about halfway up. Great seats and great game and I can truthfully say I've never in my life heard so much noise. Tiger Stadium is loud, yes, but the crowd noise there is not trapped inside a domed stadium.

  4. From Patrick Booras: Great column. I always pull for both the Saints and Cowboys to win. I am a bigger Saints fan. Wish one day they would meet in the playoffs; an NFC Championship meeting would be too much. ... Hope, hope, this year if the defense stays healthy, I think the Saints are going a long way into the playoffs, maybe Super Bowl-bound. While I like Peyton Manning, wouldn't it be something if the Saints were the team to deny him, a New Orleans native, a second time in a Super Bowl game.

  5. From Maxie Hays: I have always admired Tom Landry and the Cowboys, but I was a Terry Bradshaw/Pittsburgh Steelers fan back in the day and the Cowboys couldn't beat them. Also, a Jimmy Taylor/Green Bay Packers fan and the Cowboys couldn't beat them, either. Am not a Cowboys fan now; could not stand Jerry Jones from his beginning with the Cowboys. Enjoyed your blog. I have always been a Saints fan, especially when Archie Manning played. Did you watch "The Book of Manning"? It's a must-see. Best college football game that I ever saw: Ole Miss-Alabama, 1969, Manning vs. Scott Hunter, Bama won 34-33. It was a "who had the ball last" game. I was pulling for Ole Miss.

  6. From Joe Ferguson: Well-written and right on target. You are the man.