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saintz08 02-02-2003 11:45 PM

Interesting Article
Hopefully, this is start of something great for Saints
Nick Deriso / Sports Editor
Posted on February 2, 2003
New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett has a telling photograph displayed in his office.

It says a lot about what he'd like the Saints to do. And a lot about what they didn't do this year.

The picture is of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, with four Super Bowl trophies.

"I would like to get one. I would like to bring one to this city," Haslett said, "so that we can take pride in this city - so we can have a past history."

Sadly, it starts with years like this one. It starts with righteous indignation.

This is not something New Orleans fans are used to.

Folks in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Oakland, San Francisco or Miami? Sure. They say words Saints fans don't say ... and often.

Those words are: We should have been there.

You know, in the game with the Roman numerals at the end.

Sure, New Orleans fans are happy when the team slips into the playoffs. But even the biggest Who Dat sits during Saints playoff games with something closer to dread than any feeling of destiny.

But a Super Bowl win by a team that New Orleans beat twice - not to mention four players in today's Pro Bowl - puts the Saints in a unique frame of mind.

We should have been there.

"I hope it was a good learning experience for us," Haslett said. "A lot of teams are in the situation that we are in right now. Hopefully, we are young enough to where we can learn from that."

As the NFL season draws to a close with today's festivities in Honolulu, we look back on a season that must be considered a success.

While there were no playoffs for the Saints, there were also no blowouts this year - which made for nail-bitingly entertaining Sundays.

The team improved on offense to the point where - and this is unusual, too - the offseason consideration can be narrowed to one thing: Defense.

Besides, it's not like playing well is mundane for New Orleans. This is a team that historically contends with all the consistency of a saucer of milk.

Haslett has put them in a position where they can.

That bodes well. History tells us that if you keep knocking, you'll eventually get invited in.

Think Dallas, a team that has been to the NFC championship 16 times since the merger - but has advanced only half the time. Think Oakland, which has appeared 14 times in the AFC championship game - and gone to the Super Bowl just five times.

"We are trying to build here what those teams have had," Haslett said. "That is all this coaching staff, this organization and these players are trying to achieve."

You do it by beating the teams that are good enough to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy instead. The Saints never had.

In fact, four different teams from New Orleans' division have gone to the Super Bowl - the Niners (five), the Rams (three), the Falcons (once) and now the Buccaneers. In those 10 seasons, the eventual NFC champion swept the Saints in all but three years.

The best New Orleans could do was a split with the Rams in 1979 and 2001. (Los Angeles/St. Louis lost both of those Super Bowls.)

That is, until this season, when the Saints beat the eventual conference and league champion twice.

"I worked for two organizations that have had great traditions and had a lot of Super Bowl trophies, so I never saw the frustration until I got here," said Haslett, who was once an assistant at both Pittsburgh and Oakland.

"That is what we are trying to build here," he said. "I want the fans to know that we are trying to build something here that they can really be proud of."

It starts with years like this one.

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