Ode to the Billy Joes

Brees’ brilliance causes darkest days of Saints football to be laughable
Photo Rusty Costanza

As the dog days of summer arrive and the sports world seemingly stagnates, hope is in full bloom as NFL teams begin their preseason regimen.

The New Orleans Saints opened training camp at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on July 29, with a goal of improving on a lackluster 2014 season, which saw them get knocked out of the playoffs in the second to last game of the season by the archrival Atlanta Falcons.

For most of the Saints’ 48-year history, last season’s 7-9 record would be considered palatable. But for the past 10 years, it has become simply unacceptable. The main reason for that is Saints captain and quarterback Drew Brees.

Like much of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the flood that followed the storm, the Saints have served as an embodiment of the city’s recovery. The waters that filled the city when levees and floodwalls crumbled washed away much of the lethargy that previously plagued the city. Looking back on the pre-storm Saints, fans can now lightheartedly joke about the team that was assembled in our city’s name. Think back to the end of the last millennium. In the late ’90s, the Saints’ offense was lead by not one, but two Billy Joes.

Both had New Orleanians thinking about jumping off the Mississippi River bridge.

With all due respect to Mr. Hobert and Mr. Tolliver, I think I can speak for the entire Who Dat Nation in saying I’m glad those days are over. As starters, the Billy Joes led the Saints to a 6-17 record, winning just 35 percent of the time.  

In 1997 and 1998, the Saints finished 6-10 in the old NFC West. In 1999, they dropped to 3-13. In his three years in New Orleans from 1997-1999, Hobert went 4-8 in 12 starts, completing 50.2 percent of his passes for 2,031 yards, 13 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 66.1 quarterback rating.

Tolliver played for the Saints for two seasons. He started 11 games, going 2-9, completing 53.3 percent of his passes for 3,343 yards with 15 TDs, 20 picks, and a QB rating of 69.2.

Those teams were lead by head coach Mike Ditka, a Hall of Fame player and coach of Super Bowl XX winners the Chicago Bears. While Ditka had the pedigree, it was obvious that the game had bypassed him by the time he paced the sidelines of the Superdome.

Ditka was followed by Jim Haslett, who led the Saints to a division crown with a 10-6 record in 2000, but the team was mediocre for the next four seasons — winning as much as they lost. In the flood-ravaged 2005 season, the Saints went 3-13. Haslett was shown the door, and neither he nor Ditka have been a head coach since.
The Saints’ fortune turned forever in 2006 with the hire of head coach Sean Payton and his insistence on signing quarterback Drew Brees. Having been released by the San Diego Chargers and passed on by the Miami Dolphins due to a perceived bum shoulder, Brees came to the Saints with something to prove. It was the best hire the Saints have ever made.

Brees’ run in New Orleans has been magical. He immediately made the Saints a competitor, leading the team to the NFC Championship in his first season and a Super Bowl title in his fourth. He has been a bright spot for New Orleans, as well as the NFL. The 36-year-old QB has two years remaining on his contract. He’s due $26.4 million this season and $27.4 million in 2016.

In the “Billy Joe” era, a Saints fan could buy a ticket for $5. Now 77,000 people are on the waiting list for season tickets. Much of that should be credited to Brees. A year ago, he said he feels like he can play until he’s 40. I’d like to see the greatest Saint retire in New Orleans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints and Brees work on an extension that would reduce his salary cap hit and keep him in New Orleans until he retires. He deserves it. And so do the fans.

QB          Years          Starts         Record         Completion %         Yards         TDs          Ints          Rating
Hobert        3                 12               4-8                    50.2                    2,031          13             14             66.1
Tolliver        2                 11               2-9                    53.3                    3,343          15             20             69.2
Brees          9                143            87-56                  67.5                  43,685         316           141            98.8


Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.



Categories: The Magazine