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Saints' winning streaks are nice, but incomplete!

by J.W. Miller on 11/05/18

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing long winning streaks, like the Saints currently enjoy with seven in a row. In fact, they are quite preferable to long losing streaks of which they have enjoyed more than we need to recall. All I am saying is that upon reviewing the history of Saints winning streaks of seven or more, I’ve got to say that Tom Petty was right when he sang “Comin’ down is the hardest thing.” 

I say that with some authority, having been involved in three of those long winning streaks, all of which ended abruptly and did not produce the result we all hoped for. Fortunately, my streaks all occurred in the previous century, so we will not discuss those of more recent vintage, such as the eight-game skeins of 2011 and 2017. The winning streaks that I remember came at a time when such things were new and strange and had never been experienced by Saints fans who were more accustomed to wearing Schwegmann’s bags over their heads rather than caps with a fleur-de-lis on the front. You might think this is ancient history, so consider it a public service for those Who Dats who do not remember life without GPS, shopping on your cellphone or American Idol. 

Quick Quiz: In the first 20 years of the Saints’ existence, what was the longest winning streak during any one season? Six? Five? Keep going. Four! Sorry, Charlie, but between 1967 and 1986, the Saints never won more than three games in a row. If you find that hard to believe, consider that they had a handful of entire seasons in which they didn’t win three games. 

Things changed in 1987 after a narrow loss to the 49ers prompted Coach Jim Mora to beat his team across the backside with his now famous “we ain’t good enough” ship’s rope. At 3-3, the Saints would rush out to the longest streak in team history when a 23-14 win at the New York Giants on November 22 was their fourth straight. So consider how fantastically impossible it seemed when they reeled off another five wins for nine wins in a row and a 12-3 final season record and their first playoff appearance in team history. 

That game started out like just another victory with a 10-yard Bobby Hebert TD pass to Eric Martin on the first series and the Saints defense forcing a punt. But Saints punt returner Mel Gray fumbled the kick which led to a Minnesota field goal, and then it really got bad. Anthony Carter showed how punts should be returned, and 84 yards later, the Vikings would never look back. What a crusher! Nice winning streak but playoff disappointment. 

The 1987 season triggered a turn toward respectability for the franchise and expectations of more winning streaks. It almost happened again the next season after a disappointing 34-33 opening loss to, who else?, the 49ers. The Saints won their next seven games and were eying the playoffs when the Rams limited the Saints’ running game to 33 yards and rode four Mike Lansford field goals to a 12-10 upset. The Saints struggled to a 3-5 record during the second half and missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Nice winning streak but playoff denial. 

Three years later, the Saints won their first seven games and looked as though 1991 might be their year. But the next week a stubborn Chicago Bears defense forced two fumbles and held the Saints’ running game to 51 yards in a 20-17 win at the Superdome. Despite winning their next two, the Saints struggled but held on for an 11-5 record and their first division championship in team history. Then in the playoffs, division runner-up Atlanta crushed Who Dat hopes with a 27-20 victory. Nice winning streak but playoff disappointment. 

So my lesson today is this: The mother of all winning streaks - the 13-0 run to begin the 2009 season - should be the model. Do it like the 2009 team. Winning streaks are nice, but they don't count for much without wins in the playoffs!

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