This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
In the late 1960s, there was a C-List movie called Number One. The film featured Charlton Heston as ‘Big Cat Catlin’, a boozing/aging quarterback for the ‘Super Bowl Champion’ New Orleans Saints.
Scenes were shot in Tulane Stadium using actual Saints players, along with other NFL players. In the climatic scene, Catlin is crushed by the Dallas Cowboys defense and appears seriously injured and possibly dead as his wife (who had been cheated on) leaves the stadium and the credits start rolling.
Ben Hur it was not, and years later Heston called Number One the worst movie of his career.
For a couple of generations after the movie was released, the film represented a metaphor of the Saints’ real existence.
Despite going 69-43 between 2006-20012, the Saints’ all-time winning percentage still sits at just .438. Only the Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have worse percentages.
Things are starting to improve though. In February 2010, the Saints won a Super Bowl. And the crop of current New Orleans players are the best in franchise history.
The question now is how many of them have a chance to be named the franchise’s Ultimate Franchise Player?
Amazingly, there are no countdowns to be found for a list of all-time New Orleans players. So I will provide the countdown (just without the NFL Network’s Top-Ten format that seems straight out a World’s Dumbest episode).
And we will not stop until we get to the real Number One.
Although the Saints may have had a shortage of great seasons until recent times, the franchise has had its great moments. On the top of that list is Steve Gleason’s blocked punt in the Saints’ first post-Katrina home game on Semptember 25, 2006, which is now immortalized by a statue outside the Superdome.
Gleason is now equally known for his current brave battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which received well-deserved run during Super Bowl XLVII week in the city. There is little doubt that Gleason’s #37 will be retired in the near future.
29. Ricky Williams (RB 1999-2001)
Considering Mike Ditka traded ALL of his teams draft picks to acquire the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, I guess Ricky does deserve a place on the rankings.
In his three years with the team, Ricky rushed for over 3,100 yards, a decent tenure but not Oh-My-God spectacular. Williams’ peak would come in 2002 and 2003 with the Miami Dolphins.
Perhaps Ricky’s most memorable moment was being clocked by state troopers at over 130+ MPH, which was Terry Allen territory.
28. Michael Lewis (KR/PR 2001-06)
Local NOLA native never played college ball, making a living in various semi-pro and indoor football leagues while also driving a beer truck.
Lewis got his initial shot with the Saints in 2001 and the following year led the league in both punt and kickoff return yardage.
27. Craig Heyward (FB 1988-92)
The 24th overall pick of the 1988 Draft, “Ironhead” was mainly a journeyman with several teams, and had his best rushing seasons after leaving the Saints.
Still, Ironhead was one of the game’s great personalities who passed away way too young at age 39.
26. Kyle Turley (OT 1998-2002)
November 4, 2001 remains one of the ultimate WTF moments as sports fans were busy toggling between the Jets/Saints Sunday night game and a rare classic World Series Game 7 between the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Saints were trailing 16-9 but driving deep into Jets territory when quarterback Aaron Brooks was roughed up by NYJ safety Damien Robinson after a scramble. In the ensuing scrum, Turley ultimately yanked Damien’s helmet straight off his head and proceeded to hurl it.
The personal foul penalty that resulted from Turley’s actions ultimately cost the Saints any chance at winning the game. Turley was nearly cut by HC Jim Haslett after the game and was ultimately fined $45,000 by the team and the league.
These days Turley resides in Nashville as a country music artist.
25. Tommy Myers (S 1972-81)
Have to go old school at some point.
Myers played his entire ten-year career with the Saints, intercepting 36 passes. He picked off seven passes during the 1979 season while earning his lone Pro Bowl berth.
24. Mike McKenzie (CB 2004-09)
Perhaps better remembered for his time with the Packers in the first-half of his career, McKenzie arrived in New Orleans after a long holdout with Green Bay.
He was the team’s top interceptor until 2008, when a couple of knee injuries spelled the end of his career.
23. Dalton Hilliard (RB 1986-93)
The LSU product had a decent eight-year career, but he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Hilliard’s career year was 1989, in which he rushed for 1,200+ yards, caught over 50 passes, and led the league with 18 touchdowns.
22. Eric Martin (WR 1985-1993)
Another LSU alum, Martin is the Saints’ all-time leader in receiving yardage through 2012, although Marques Colston is likely to surpass him during the ’13 season. At the peak of his career Martin had seasons of 85, 68, 63, 66, 68, and 66 receptions.
21. Danny Abramowicz (WR 1985-93)
You know the State Farm commercial where Kerry Wood finally pulls Andre Dawson out of the Wrigley Field ivy? I still don’t know if they were ever able to extricate old Saints receivers out of the bushes of Tulane Stadium.
Abramowicz led the league with 73 receptions in the 1969 season, and he was the symbol of the franchise’s early years. You can catch a nice six-minute clip of him (and the Saints’ epic road uniforms of the day) here. Following his playing days Danny became involved in the ministry in the New Orleans area.
If you watch the NFL Films Super Bowl V presentation, you will see a fan at Will Call scoring tickets left by Abramowicz after a previous would-be customer was told the game was sold out.
20. Joe Johnson (DE 1994-2001)
The 13th overall pick of the 1994 Draft, Johnson spent nearly his entire career with the Saints, recording 52.5 sacks and two Pro Bowl selections along the way.
19. Dave Waymer (CB 1980-89)
Another of the earlier members of the franchise who played a decade with the team and picked off nine passes in 1986.
Waymer retired from football in 1992 and died a year later after an episode that was determined to be cocaine related.
18. Morten Andersen (K 1982-94)
He was a kicker, but I feel compelled to put Morten even higher up the rankings. The 13 years Morten spent in New Orleans was only the FIRST HALF of his career – as Andersen wound up playing 25 seasons in all, spanning 26 seasons.
Andersen is one of the most decorated Saints ever with six Pro Bowl appearances during his time in the organization.
17. Frank Warren (DE 1981-94)
Another player who gets ranked high on longevity, spending his entire 14-year career as a Saint, although he never made the Pro Bowl.
Warren died at age 43 just days after appearing in a HBO piece along with other former NFL lineman talking about dealing with obesity post-career.
16. George Rogers (RB 1981-84)
Another Heisman Trophy winner who was once in the Saints backfield, George was the first overall pick of the 1981 Draft, and he immediately led the league as a rookie with 1,674 yards, which was also a league record at the time for a rook.
Rogers had a short shelf-life however. He would only last seven years in the league overall.
15. Vaughn Johnson (ILB 1986-94)
The first of Jim Mora Sr.’s Fab Four makes an appearance here. Vaughn wasn’t involved much in the pass rush department, but he got enough cred to eventually earn four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances with the team.
14. Bobby Hebert (QB 1985-92)
Memorable personal moment from back in the day…
A Saints-Rams game was on television and a close-up of Hebert was shown with a graphic on his stats for the day and the commentator talking about “A-Bear.”
‘THAT’S HEE-BERT’ yells my Mom, who usually didn’t care about football unless the Packers were involved. It was the same name of a lifelong childhood friend.
Yup, that handle is pronounced a little different in Cajun country.
Hebert got his shot after starring in the USFL with the Michigan Panthers. He never earned Pro Bowl recognition with the Saints, but the team tasted the playoffs for the first time with him at the helm in the late 1980s.
Bobby is also known to get a little excited in the press box at LSU games.
13. Deuce McAllister (RB 2001-08)
Another popular local player who starred collegiately at Ole Miss, Deuce accounted for over 2,100 yards from scrimmage in 2003, one of his two Pro Bowl appearances.
Deuce also earned accolades for his off-the-field work helping the region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
12. Joe Horn (WR 2000-06)
Another unforgettable moment in Saints history: Horn pulling the cellphone from under the goal post padding after scoring on a Sunday Night game. What you may not know is that Horn scored four times in that 2003 contest. In all, Horn earned four Pro Bowl selections in his time in New Orleans.
If you’re looking for some BBQ sauce these days, Joe will definitely be able to hook you up!!!
11. Jimmy Graham (TE 2010-present)
As of this writing, it’s amazing to realize that Graham has only played three years in the league, which is a testament to how quickly he has become one of the marquee players in the league.
Give Graham 5-6 more years and he could be very near the top of all-time Saints greats.
Now onto the top ten…
10. Marques Colston (WR 2006-present)
Colston was one of the great seventh-round draft picks in recent history, and he won a lot of fantasy leagues as a rookie as he was listed as a tight end in many formats as that was his position at Hofstra University.
Colston has been the Saints’ most reliable receiver of recent years, going over 1,000 yards in six of his seven years thus far.
9. Tracy Porter (CB 2008-2011)
If you go by longevity or regular season stats, Porter would not even be listed in this top-30. But authoring the two most memorable plays in franchise history gets Porter very far in the rankings.
8. Wayne Martin (DE 1989-99)
Martin spent his entire 11-year career with the team and is second in franchise history with 82.5 sacks, including 15.5 sacks in 1992.
7. Jahri Evans (OG 2006-present)
A fourth-round draft choice out of Bloomsburg University, Evans has easily become one of the great draft picks in New Orleans history. He has now earned first-team All-Pro recognition in each of the past four seasons.
Midway through his career, Jahri is on the fast track to a possible Hall of Fame berth if he keeps it up.
6. Archie Manning (QB 1971-82)
If you want to go by statistics, including a 35-101-3 record as starter, Archie could be ranked much lower. But it’s not about the statistics, and Archie remains among the largest sporting figures in the New Orleans area.
When the team finally got some talent around him in the late 1970’, Archie responded with a pair of Pro Bowl campaigns and three straight years of completion percentages of 60% or higher.
When it is all said and done, there will be at least three and possibly four NFL franchises that will have a Manning with a retired number in the rafters. The Mannings remain NFL royalty.
If Archie is only number 6, then who the hell are in the top five!!??
5. Pat Swilling (OLB 1986-92)
Some of the architects of Jim Mora Sr’s Dome Patrol crew hold residence near the top of this list.
In his final four years with the team, Swilling recorded 55 sacks. Post-career, Swilling served a term in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
But Swilling at number five?? Obviously a blogger is compiling this list.
4. Sam Mills (ILB 1986-94)
Standing at a mere 5’9”, Mills probably wouldn’t have even gotten a shot at the NFL if not discovered by Jim Mora Sr. while coaching the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars.
Mora eventually brought Mills along with him to New Orleans, and Sam became the glue of the Saints defense, earning four Pro Bowl selections in nine years.
Mora eventually called Mills the best player he ever coached, which is good enough for me to place him comfortably in the top five.
3. Ricky Jackson (OLB 1981-93, HOF)
We finally hit the Hall of Famers.
Jackson ranks second in games played for the Saints, and he recorded double-digit sacks on six occasions, ultimately recording 115 sacks in a Saints uniform.
2. Willie Roaf (OT 1993-2001, HOF)
Roaf did not spend as much time as Ricky Jackson as a Saint, but Roaf was a perennial Pro Bowl selection, seven out of nine times with New Orleans and 11 out of 13 years overall. Pro Football Reference Elo Rater has Roaf checking in at #21.
With that kind of resume, who can I possibly have in front of Roaf??
1. Drew Brees (QB 2006-present)
The case for Willie Roaf is very strong, but Drew Brees has become Saints football, and he appears to still have several years left.
Drew has rewritten the pro football record books since arriving in New Orleans, going over a paranormal 5,000 yards passing on three occasions and breaking Johnny Unitas’ long-stadning record by throwing TDs in 54 consecutive games. Brees has also led the league in completion percentage three times.
Give Brees a few more year and there will be little doubt left on the justification on who New Orleans true Number One should be.
The nomination for New Orleans Saints Ultimate Franchise Player is…