NFL Nation: Danny Abramowicz
From their first season in 1967 to the paper-sack-wearing Aints days, the franchise has endured a lot to win their first NFC championship and finally reach the Super Bowl.
"It didn't take us but 43 years to figure it out," said Archie Manning, a local icon who quarterbacked the Aints and still resides in New Orleans.
To get an idea of how much pride Saints alumni are feeling in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIV, I asked Danny Abramowicz, Conrad Dobler, Henry Childs, Bobby Hebert and Manning to share their memories of some not-so-pleasant days.
Abramowicz (an original Saint -- drafted in the 17th round -- and Pro Bowl receiver and later a Saints broadcaster): "I can remember running out on the field the first day, opening game at Tulane Stadium in front of 85,000 people. We ran the kickoff back for a touchdown, and it went downhill."
Hebert (a Baton Rouge, La., native and Saints quarterback from 1985 through 1992): "It was always 'Wait 'til next year.' They didn't have a winning record their first 20 years."
Abramowicz: "We were involved with one of the biggest fights of all time [Oct. 8, 1967 against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium]. All the fans were pouring out onto the field. We had a guy on our team named Doug Atkins, who really was a freak of size. The last pass to me in the game against the Giants was a Hail Mary-type thing, and it was incomplete. I look up the field, and they had Doug pinned down and were beating him with helmets.
“I thought 'Well, I better get out of there.'
“In Yankee Stadium, you had to go through dugouts. I looked back one last time to see what was going on and missed the top step. My head hit the top of the dugout. I had to go back to the locker room and sit down in a chair. Guys were coming in with their shirts torn, and they were bleeding. A lot of silly stuff happened in those times."
Manning: "You never get used to losing. The Saints can tell you, the Colts can tell you, when you win those games, the next Sunday comes around too quick. It's such a great feeling. The atmosphere is so good. But when you lose, that next Sunday almost won't get there."
Abramowicz: "People came to our games for the halftime shows. We had Al Hirt, Pete Fountain. There were some great times, but an awful lot of bad times, a lot of butt-whippings."
Abramowicz: "The lowest time in the franchise for me was in 1973. We opened the season, and everyone's fired up. Everyone thinks we're going to the Super Bowl on opening day. If you don't feel that way, then get the hell out of the game.
“We opened against the Atlanta Falcons, and that was our big rivalry at the time. They beat us that opening game, 62-7, just whipping the you-know-what out of us. This wasn't the Dallas Cowboys. This was the Atlanta Falcons. That was, in my time, the lowest.”
|Joe Montana, Danny Abramowicz and Walter Payton were pretty good buys. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
A rookie receiver on a rookie franchise in 1967, Danny Abramowicz was halfway through the preseason when coach Tom Fears sent The Turk for him.
Defiantly, Abramowicz went to the meeting but violated the protocol.
The contract he got as a 17th-round pick out of Xavier was worth $17,000 and when he joined the team he had sought out Fears.
|Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images|
|Wide receiver Jerry Rice provided pretty good value for being picked 16th in the 1985 draft. |
"When I reported to training camp, I said 'Coach, I know you don't even know who I am, but all I am asking for is a fair chance,'" Abramowicz remembered in a recent phone chat from his home in Steubenville, Ohio. "He said O.K. In those days we played six exhibition games. Three games into the exhibition season I was on special teams and never got to play a down at receiver.
"The Turk knocked on my door and said, 'bring the playbook' and I did not bring the playbook. I went downstairs into coach Fears' office and I said, 'Coach, you didn't give me a chance, I'm not leaving.' He said, 'You're serious, aren't you?' And I said, 'I'm as serious as a heart attack.' So he said, 'OK, go back to your room, I'm going to give you a chance.' I walked out the door and wiped my brow and said, 'Wow, that worked.'"
Abramowicz played receiver in the next game and played well, becoming a staff favorite. In the regular season, an injury to a starter got him his next big chance, and he wound up his first season with 50 catches for 721 yards and six touchdowns. Two years later he was a first-team All-Pro.
"He caught everything he ever touched," said Eddie Khayat, the defensive line coach for those Saints. "He had great hands, he could go deep, he was so tough. And I don't think I've ever been with a coaching staff that pulled so hard for a guy to make the team, because he was all-out all the time and tough on special teams."
We break from the form for this blog entry, which includes no significant AFC South hook.
Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Research and Mark Francescutti of ESPN Stats & Information worked through a formula and came up with our list of the 50 All-Time Best Buys in the draft and we jumped at a chance to write about it.
Receiver Jerry Rice of the 49ers, the 16th player selected overall in the 1985 draft, tops the list. His teammate quarterback Joe Montana, the 82nd player selected overall selected in 1979, ranks second.
Only three players represent the AFC South division: Peyton Manning, one of just five overall No. 1 picks on the list; running back Marshall Faulk, who started out as a Colts' first-rounder; and Billy (White Shoes) Johnson of the Houston Oilers.
And the best stories are of guys like No. 33 Cleveland defensive back Ben Davis (439th in 1967), No. 30 Dallas defensive tackle Larry Cole (drafted 428th overall in 1968), and No. 25 Abramowicz.
Told he ranks ahead of Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Joe Greene, O.J. Simpson, Deion Sanders and Terry Bradshaw, Abramowicz wondered about the criteria, which factors in draft position and is explained fully with the in the box to the right.
"That must be a stacked deck, how did I get in there?" Abramowicz said. "That's awesome. I think the world of all those guys, they were great players."
Five Cowboys are on the list. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt was Dallas' long-time chief personnel man and easily recalled the stories of four All-Time Best Buys (he left the Cowboys before they drafted Emmitt Smith, No. 9 on this list), including No. 14, guard Herb Scott, drafted 330th out of Virginia Union in 1975.
Brandt said Scott had a bad body coming out of college -- not unlike Alabama's Andre Smith right now -- but film showed he never got beat in games. According to Brandt, scout Dick Mansperger deserved the credit for finding Scott. At that time, Mansperger focused exclusively on traditionally black universities.
The guard ranked 50th on the Cowboys' board, they drafted him 280 spots later and he was a two-time first team All Pro who played in three Super Bowls and won one. How's that for value?
"Coach [Tom] Landry called me in during training camp and he said, 'I want to trade John Niland,'" Brandt said, referring to the guard who'd been to six Pro Bowls. "I started laughing. He said, 'Herb Scott is an unbelievable football player. If we can trade Niland now coming off a Pro Bowl year...' Well, we traded him and that enabled us to get [receiver] Tony Hill, who was a very good player for us.
Abramowicz went on to coach for Mike Ditka in Chicago and New Orleans. Now, he's part of "Crossing the Goal", a program that airs on the Catholic Network EWTN, and he's written a book, "Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint." Married for 43 years, he's got three kids and four grandchildren.
During his best year in 1969, the Saints called on him as a fill-in punt returner, even though he'd not done it since he played at St. Peter's grade school. He fair caught the first one as he was instructed, then got brave and decided he could return the next one. He wound up hit "like a truck over a rooster," his front teeth smashed in, the start of dental issues that the 63-year old said has included 14 root canals.
But he was a quick learner when it came to NFL survival. Stitched up and sent out for a third punt in that game, he made the prudent play.
"Before the ball got through the cheeks of the center's rear end," he said, "I had both hands up in the air."
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