When I was watching yesterday’s Saints-Vikings game, it reminded me quite a bit of New Orleans’ first postseason game, the 1987 NFC wild card game (there were two wild cards from 1978-89) against Minnesota in the Superdome three days into 1988.
First similarity: the Saints were favored by most of the “experts” who cover professional football. In 1988, the legendary Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder picked the Saints on The NFL Today, as did Pete Axthelm, Tom Jackson and Chris Berman on ESPN’s NFL Gameday. In 2020, nearly all of the Internet writers on ESPN, CBS and Pro Football Focus favored the Black and Gold.
Second, the Saints’ record was nearly identical. The 1987 Saints were 12-3 (their home game vs. the Falcons in week three was canceled by the 1987 players’ strike; games in weeks four, five and six became infamous for their use of replacement players), and the 2019 Saints were 13-3. Both the 1987 and 2019 Saints lost to the 49ers at home. The 1987 loss prompted coach Jim Mora’s “coulda, woulda, shoulda” tirade, which inspired the Saints to embark on a nine-game winning streak heading into the playoffs.
Third, the Saints had to play wild card weekend because the 49ers were ahead of them. In 1987, the 49ers went 13-2, losing only to the Steelers on opening day and the Saints in November. In 2019, the 49ers’ victory over the Saints helped them win a tiebreaker. The 49ers are 13-3 heading into Saturday’s game with Minnesota in Santa Clara.
Fourth, the stakes of the games were similar. In both 1987 and 2019, a Vikings victory in the Big Easy would send them to San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Saints would face a road game in a frigid locale with a win: in 1987, it would be Chicago; this year, it would be Green Bay.
Fifth, the Vikings and Saints did not play in the regular season.
Sixth, a team from Houston won a wild card game at home in overtime the same weekend. In 1987, the Oilers defeated the Seahawks; in 2019, the Texans defeated the Bills. I guess you can add the Seahawks playing on the road after the Saints and Vikings played the same day.
Seventh, the Saints defeated a team from Houston during the regular season at the Superdome. In 1987, it was the Oilers in the 13th game (I was there with my dad and brother); in 2019, it was the Texans in the opener on a Monday night when Wil Lutz made a 58-yard field goal as time expired.
Yes, this year’s game–a 26-20 Vikings victory in overtime–was closer than Minnesota’s 44-10 romp 32 years ago, but this one will be a lot more painful.
In 1987, Saints fans were overjoyed to finally have a winning season and a playoff berth; anything which happened in the postseason would have been lagniappe, as they like to say in New Orleans.
This year, many Saints fans probably had a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality in the wake of what happened in the playoffs of the previous two seasons: the “Minneapolis Miracle” in 2017, when Case Keenum hooked up with Stefon Diggs on the game’s last play for a touchdown after Marcus Williams whiffed on the tackle; and last year’s egregious no-call when the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman ran into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis.
New Orleans was looking good when it won all five games while Drew Brees recovered from an injured wrist, but home losses to the Falcons and 49ers raised red flags.
Now it’s all over for the Saints. As depressed as much of Louisiana feels this morning, it will pale in comparison with how the Bayou State will feel the morning of January 14 if LSU loses to Clemson.
If history continues to repeat, the Vikings will be playing in Seattle or Green Bay January 19.
Six days after beating the Saints 32 years ago, the Vikings went to San Francisco and rolled over the 49ers 36-24, thanks to 227 yards receiving from Anthony Carter, which was then a playoff record. In the second half, Bill Walsh replaced Joe Montana with Steve Young, touching off a quarterback controversy which dogged the 49ers through much of the 1988 season. Montana ended the controversy by winning four games late that season to help the 49ers clinch the NFC West. San Francisco went on to beat the Vikings and Bears in the playoffs before winning a thrilling Super Bowl vs. the Bengals on Montana’s 8-yard TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining.
Mike McCarthy is the new coach of the Cowboys. He’ll now be coaching home games in the same stadium where he led the Packers to victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is going to enter the NFL draft. Players, coaches and fans at the 13 other SEC schools are breathing easier.