Everyone loves lists. Everyone (at least in this city) also loves the Saints. So, why not combine the two?
This project began when a reader asked us about ranking the best players in Saints history. Since WWLTV.com had done that list prior to the 2009 season, we began to think about something that can always be discussed.
Immediately it turned to the most clutch plays in Saints history. This isn’t the definitive list; you may, in fact, disagree with some of the placements or some of the plays.
But what can’t be disputed is that the plays on this list were all memorable in their own right.
Our definition of clutch goes a little something like this: A big play, and in one case, series of plays, in a big game at a crucial moment in time. It’s a play that if it doesn’t happen, the outcome is likely changed in the game.
Several on the list came from the Super Bowl-winning season but that’s expected. Several did not.
And anyway, what better way to get people geared up for the season should a new Collective Bargaining Agreement come to fruition soon.
No. 9: Standing Tall in Pittsburgh
For 20 seasons, the Saints couldn’t get above .500. Just couldn’t do it.
The closest they came was 8-8 in 1979 and 1983 but in both seasons, late-season losses snatched a winning record away from New Orleans.
And that’s what makes the 1987 game against Pittsburgh so key and it’s why the defense’s two goal-line stands in the final minutes could be considered so clutch.
“I was just a boy during the ‘87 season but I remember watching the Dome Patrol and company stone the Steelers on four straight plays at the goal line,” current Saints radio sideline reporter Kristian Garic said. “Maybe one of the best goal line stands in NFL history. (It was) certainly a big one.”
New Orleans was 7-3 heading into its showdown at Three Rivers Stadium knowing a win would clinch a winning record (1987 was a 15-game season). Yet, in previous seasons’ attempts at securing a winning record, the Saints had failed. So this wasn’t a sure thing.
With the nation watching on CBS and Tim Brant and Hank Stram announcing, the Steelers took a 14-3 lead into halftime.
The Saints, though, ran off 17 straight points to take a 20-14 lead late into the fourth quarter.
The first goal-line stand should have won the game.
Pittsburgh worked its way down to the Saints’ 4-yard line. On second down, the Saints stuffed Merril Hoge. An incomplete pass on third down left the Steelers in a fourth-and-goal situation.
That’s when Sam Mills, one of the best linebackers in Saints history, stuffed Frank Pollard at the goal line, a play that many likely remember as the one that gave New Orleans a winning record for the first time ever.
And yet, the defense was forced to come up big once again shortly thereafter. New Orleans took a safety on fourth down instead of risking a blocked punt and that gave Pittsburgh the ball back.
Again the Steelers worked their way into the red zone. This time, the defense sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Mark Malone for a seven-yard loss.
On the final play of the game, Dave Waymer intercepted Malone and for the first time in the history of the franchise, the Saints were going to finish the season above .500. It also helped the Saints go to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Saints held Pittsburgh to 284 total yards, sacked Malone four times and forced six turnovers.
But it’s the goal line stands that will forever go down as a series of the biggest plays in Saints history.
Our panel: Tom Planchet, former WWL-TV sports producer and current operations manager for WWLTV.com; Scott Cody, WWL-TV Sports Reporter/Anchor; Adam Ney, WWL-TV Sports Producer; Danny Rockwell, WWL-TV Sports Producer; Garland Gillen, WWL-TV Sports Photographer and Reporter; Mike Hoss, former WWL-TV Sports Reporter and current WWL-TV anchor; Larry Holder, CBSSports.com writer and The Sports Hangover radio show co-host; Gus Kattengell, The Sports Hangover radio show co-host; Kristian Garic, WWL Radio host and Saints radio sideline reporter; Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com NFC South writer; WWLTV.com contributor Ralph Malbrough; Bradley Handwerger, WWLTV.com Sports Writer.