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saintz08 01-27-2004 12:55 AM

3rd times the charm
 

Delhomme joins former Saints duo



Sunday January 25, 2004


Peter Finney


Before Jake Delhomme, there were Billy Kilmer and Kerry Collins.

Remember?


Kilmer was a Saints quarterback in 1970 and, two seasons later, a Super Bowl quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Collins was a Saints quarterback in 1998 and, two seasons later, a Super Bowl quarterback for the New York Giants.

As we dive into the Roman Numeral Week XXXVIII, let's hope the pride of Cajun country has better luck next Sunday than the onetime fleur de lis guys who blazed the path.

Remember?

After proving a quarterback could get to the championship game with a six-pack gut and a knuckleball, Billy Kilmer threw three interceptions against Miami, and the Dolphins and their "no-name" defense completed a 17-0 season with a 14-7 victory.

In the case of Kerry Collins, at the tender age of 27, it was four interceptions in a 34-7 pounding at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, a year in which Collins, playing for his third NFL team, proved you could bounce back from years of boozing, from being labeled a "quitter" by your teammates.

"So much depends on timing and good fortune," Kilmer said about his trip from a virtual outcast to the summit.

After coming into the league as a first-round pick of the 49ers, Kilmer almost lost a leg in an automobile accident (one doctor was in favor of amputation), fueling the will to succeed. Picked by the Saints in the expansion draft of 1967, he won the starting job from Gary Cuozzo, who had cost the franchise a small fortune in draft choices. Despite helping to keep an NFL version of the Keystone Kops afloat, he was traded to the Redskins after the 1970 season for fourth-round and eighth-round choices.

"The owner wanted to bury me behind Sonny Jurgensen," Kilmer said of a trade pushed by John Mecom Jr., whose relationship with the quarterback was icy. "My pride was hurt, because I went sort of cheap, but there was nothing I could do about it."

That is, until Jurgensen was injured. Kilmer took over the offense for George Allen's "over-the-hill gang," a bunch of veterans the crafty Allen collected by trading draft choices for quality experience.

When he was a Saint, Kilmer's only serious moment in the national eye came in training camp, when he was asked to give actor Charlton Heston (preparing to film the forgettable movie "Number One") some technical pointers. "I can't imagine me teaching anyone how to pass," said Kilmer. "All I can tell you is Heston (who also starred in Ben Hur) could drive a chariot better than he could throw a football."

As a Redskin, Kilmer found himself talking Xs and Os with President Richard Nixon, who showed up at practice several times. "The president liked drawing up plays for George," Kilmer said. "It got some laughs, but believe me, he was a student of the game. After we lost to the Dolphins, he was still a Redskin fan."

In the case of Kerry Collins, it was Mike Ditka who tossed a life raft to, in the words of the head coach, "a lost soul." Collins was drafted by the Carolina Panthers as a franchise savior. Two years later, he helped put them in the NFC championship game. The following year, it all unraveled. Collins was drinking, and his coach, Dom Capers, was suggesting the quarterback had "lost the team," lost his heart for the game. Carolina cut him.

Feeling Collins was worth the $100 waiver price and the $746,000 salary over the last 11 games of the '98 season, Ditka rolled the dice on a player Carolina fans were calling "Vodka Collins."

So what happened? Collins finished with a 2-4 record as a starter, throwing for four touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a team that wound up 6-10.

Whereupon, it was the Giants and Coach Jim Fassel tossing a life raft, and Collins arriving on a team that was putting a defense in place, had some skilled people on offense and would enjoy a storybook 2000 -- that is, until the Giants were eaten alive by the Ravens' defense in Super XXXV.

Three Roman numerals later, what do we have?

We have Fassel out of a job and, on paper at least, we have Collins the No. 1 quarterback of the New York Giants.


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