From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 7, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 7, 1998

Sometimes victories are not confined solely to the win-lost columns.

Respect is not solely for those that emerge victorious but those that strived gallantly in defeat.

New Orleans’ game against New England was one of those times.

The Saints had gotten off to a 3-0 start this season but that record had largely gone unnoticed around the nation. The achievement did not garnermuch attention because it came against the likes of St. Louis, Carolina andIndianapolis, teams that had won one game between them.

It would take a 30-27 loss against New England, a definite playoff contender, to gain the respect that those three wins could not achieve.

Suddenly, others began to take noticed. Even the team’s own fans, many ofwhom have booed this team during wins in the past, were giving the Saints a standing ovation as they left the field Sunday afternoon.

It was an ovation that was well deserved. Against a team that istruthfully on another level than the Saints, they refused to give up. Down10 points twice, the team rallied each time. Where other Saints teams inthe past would have chalked up a loss early, this team almost pulled out an unbelievable victory. And they did it not with talent but withdetermination, hustle and intelligence.

Danny Wuerffel may not be among the best quarterbacks in the game. Hemay lack the size or the arm strength that other quarterbacks possess. Butnever question his heart, his knowledge of the game or his perseverance.

Sacked six times, intercepted twice, Wuerffel kept coming back, finishing with a career-high 278 yards passing and nearly pulling out the game.

The tying score in the final minutes came courtesy of one of the most heads-up plays you will see on a football field. Realizing that thePatriots’ punt to the one-yard could be returned under the first-touch rule, Andre Hastings alertly grabbed the ball out of Earl Little’s hands in the end zone and returned it down the sidelines. Only the equally heads-upplay by Patriots punter Tom Tupa, who brushed Hastings out of bounds, prevented the go-ahead score.

The tying score came on a field goal by Doug Brien. And realizing theSaints needed an experienced holder for such a crucial kick, Mark Royals, who had been injured on a punt attempt earlier in the half, hobbled onto the field to perform the duties.

That the team came so close is a testament to the heart of the team. Thiswas a team that overcame two turnovers, a rushing game that managed a total of 38 yards and a 300-plus passing game by Drew Bledsoe to be tied in the final two minutes. This after overcoming a turbulent offseason, theloss of Winfred Tubbs and Irv Smith to free agency, the preseason hazing incident and the season-injury to quarterback Billy Joe Hobert. Instead oftearing the team apart, the adversity brought the team together, creating a true team.

This team may not have the talent of San Francisco, Minnesota or Denver.

It may struggle for every win it gets this season. And Sunday’sperformance may not show up in the win column at the end of the season.

But for one day, there may not have been a bigger winner in the NFL.

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