Saints will have life after Ricky

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2000

I’m not terribly superstitious. I may wear a specific jersey for every away Saints game, and I may only drink from a 1987 NFC West Runners-Up commemerative Saints mug on Sundays, but I don’t honestly believe that either of these habits have any bearing on what the Saints do on the football field.

By that same rationale, I don’t believe the Saints organization is cursed.

Admittedly, only four winning seasons since 1967 might make some think a voodoo hex has afflicted the team. Ricky Williams’ ankle snapping like a twig on the exact moment he reached 1,000 yards is downright creepy.

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But I don’t think the team is cursed, and I don’t think the Saints’ season is over just yet.

The cards are certainly stacked against them. Ricky accounted for 43 percent of the team’s offense before he went down, and he won’t be back in the lineup unless the Saints are still playing in January, a flight of fancy before a six-game winning streak made New Orleans a playoff contender.

The Saints face Oakland today, followed by St. Louis, Denver and St. Louis again before the regular season is up. Oakland has this season’s leading MVP candidate in quarterback Rich Gannon, and last year’s MVP and MVP runner-up, St. Louis’ Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, should be healthy in time to face the Saints.

Ricky is just the latest in a string of New Orleans injuries. Tight end Cam Cleeland, who was supposed to be the anchor of a new West Coast offensive scheme, was lost in the preseason, as was veteran cornerback Steve Israel. Middle linebacker Charlie Clemons was lost for the year and wide out Jake Reed’s broken leg has him out indefinately.

But it is because of these injuries to starters that I think the Saints still have a shot at making this a season for the ages. Well, not the injuries themselves, but the way the team reacted to them.

Cleeland’s loss was devastating, but we’ve had to endure it for the three years in a row – Cam’s good, but he’s not exactly durable. But instead of relying on a host nobodys (what’s Scott Slutzker doing these days), the Saints this time had veteran Vikings starter Andrew Glover to fill in. He dropped a few passes early in the season and has been bothered by a nagging back injury, but he has steadily improved along with the rest of the offense.

Israel never played a regular season down, but with the No. 1 pass defense in the league, no seems to mind. Credit, in part, his replacement, Kevin Mathis, a pickup from Dallas.

Clemons was replaced by Darrin Smith, formerly of Seattle, who is playing Pro Bowl football.

Reed was replaced by Willie Jackson, a possession receiver who was one of Blake’s favorite targets in Cincinnati.

See a trend here?

This team has depth for one of the first times in its existence, a credit to general manager Randy Mueller and the front office who sought out and signed these players.

For every season in recent memory, a key injury ended the year in the minds of players and fans. Two years ago, for example, the Saints started 3-0 before quarterback Billy Joe Hobert went down for the year. The Saints went from there into a downward spiral that ultimately led to the dismissal of coach Mike Ditka, his entire staff and most of the team.

In the Saints second preseason game this year against the New York Jets, New Orleans lost Cleeland and Israel for the year, and starting safety Rob Kelly broke his leg. If this team was going to give up, that was a fine time to do it.

They didn’t then, and they won’t now.

Nick Adams is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3632 or e-mailed at