METAIRIE — At first glance, 310-401 speaks only to the cumulative wins and losses recorded by the New Orleans Saints in 46 colorful, bittersweet seasons.
The numbers say nothing about the good and bad times, the ups and downs and rights and wrongs the franchise has experienced under fledgling owner John Mecom (1967-84) and current owner Tom Benson (1985-present).
The 310-401 record by itself are lifeless digits strung together.
But once inside those numbers, compelling stories usually can be found within each game, such as:
- Not only did the Saints suffer their sixth loss of the season last Sunday at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, but it also marked the 400th loss in franchise history counting the playoffs.
- In Week 5, the Saints beat the San Diego Chargers for their first win of the season. It also represented the 300th all-time regular-season victory in franchise history. In addition, quarterback Drew Brees set an NFL record with a touchdown pass in his 48th consecutive game, breaking the mark of 47 set by Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas in 1960.
- Then, the Atlanta Falcons pulled off the improbable Thursday night at the Georgia Dome, beating the Saints 23-13, intercepting Brees a career-high five times and halting his remarkable TD game streak at 54 games.
Thus, the Saints are 5-7 and on playoff life support with four games remaining.
You probably already knew that.
But did you know in Game 243 of the Saints’ existence, Superdome officials received a bomb scare during the final regular season game played on Dec. 18,1983, the same game Mike Lansford of the Los Angeles Rams kicked the Saints out of a potential first playoff berth?
“I remember somebody in security leaned over and whispered in my ear to leave the press box the moment the game was over,’’ longtime Saints stats crew chief Bob Remy recalled. “We didn’t learn of the bomb threat until later. It was the strangest damn thing.’’
News of the bomb threat apparently was for press box ears only and not common knowledge around the stadium.
“As I recall, Superdome security and NOPD thought it was a hoax, but they were taking every precaution to get people out of there,’’ former Saints executive Greg Suit said. “They did a quick sweep of the press box and then it was over.’’
Lansford’s 42-yard field goal with two seconds remaining gave the Rams a 26-24 victory, sending the Saints into the offseason with an 8-8 record under third-year coach Bum Phillips. On May 31, 1985, after 18 futile seasons of failing to post a winning record or making the playoffs, Mecom sold the team to Benson for $70.2 million.
“If Lansford misses that field goal and the Saints go to the playoffs, Mecom might have stuck it out a while longer and Tom Benson might not be the Saints’ owner today,’’ WGNO-TV sports director Ed Daniels said. “When the Saints didn’t get in the playoffs in ’83, I think Mecom got ‘franchise fatigue.’
“We’ll never know. But I think Mecom finally said, ‘enough is enough.’ ”
On the other hand, Benson probably feels he can’t get enough after experiencing more highs than lows during his mostly successful 28-year run as NFL owner, beginning with his team’s historic 31-17 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
That season, the ball seemed to perpetually bounce the way of the serendipitous Saints, proving again there is an ultra-fine line between winning and losing in the NFL.
Just ask former Saints coach Jim Mora who won 125 games in 141/2 seasons as head coach in New Orleans and Indianapolis, but nary a one in six playoff games.
Asked the hardest to swallow of his four playoff losses in New Orleans (versus Minnesota, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia), Mora replied: “All four. All of the playoff losses were tough, although maybe the one in Chicago was not as bad as the other three in the dome.’’
In fact, Mora said, the losses throughout his NFL coaching career (78 in New Orleans, 34 in Indianapolis) seemed to linger longer with him than the wins (93 in New Orleans, 32 in Indianapolis).
“I think the longer you’re in the business, losing got harder and harder for me, tougher and tougher on me,’’ Mora said. “It’s hard to come back from a loss; it’s just hard. As a coach, you’ve got to really fight it because you’ve got to bounce back. You’re facing your coaches and your players in a couple of days, so you got to put on a face that you really don’t feel.
“You have to, so you do. But it’s not easy, believe me.’’