On September 12, the New Orleans Saints open their 2021 regular season by taking on the Green Bay Packers.
The game was originally supposed to be in the newly renamed Caesars Superdome. It was relocated to Jacksonville because of damage caused by Hurricane Ida.
For the first time since 2005, the Saints will have a player other than Drew Brees to open the year as their starting quarterback. Brees had been the team’s quarterback for the last 15 season openers and 245 of their last 256 games.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jameis Winston replaces the retired Brees behind center for New Orleans. He’s had an up-and-down career since coming into the league as the Number 1 overall selection of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Winston becomes the 16th different quarterback to start a season opener in New Orleans franchise history.
Here are how his 15 predecessors fared in their season-opening debuts for the Saints.
Kilmer was the first quarterback to take a regular-season snap in franchise history. He beat out trade acquisition Gary Cuozzo in training camp.
The Saints’ inaugural season got off to an explosive start when John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After that, the more talented Rams dominated the action.
Los Angeles pounded Kilmer all afternoon and outgained New Orleans 462-299 in total yardage. Gilliam’s kickoff return was the only time the expansion Saints reached the end zone that day.
Kilmer started the first three games of the 1967 season and went 0-4 as a starter that year. He’d start the next three season openers for New Orleans.
Kilmer = 0-4 in opening day starts
Manning was the Number 2 overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. He’d lead the team to its first-ever win on opening day, despite taking a beating from the Rams defense.
The New Orleans defense was equally tough on the Los Angeles offense and QB Roman Gabriel. The Saints held the Rams to just 11 first downs and 262 total yards, while New Orleans successfully controlled the ball most of the game.
Trailing by a field goal late in the game, the rookie Manning led his team on a march into L.A. territory. Manning bullied his way across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the drive and seal his first NFL win.
Manning would quarterback the Saints for ten of the next eleven seasons. He had some talent at the skill positions, but little protection upfront or defensive support throughout his career.
Manning = 2-8 in opening day starts
With starter Archie Manning sidelined for the year after elbow surgery, the Saints initially turned to Scott, a four-year veteran that backed up Manning throughout his nine-year NFL career.
New Orleans stood little chance against the Vikings, a perennial contender that would go on the represent the NFC in Super Bowl XI in 1976. Minnesota raced to a 30-3 halftime lead, rolling up 449 total yards and 28 first downs for the game.
The punchless New Orleans offense managed only 9 first downs and 132 total yards, turning the ball over three times. Scott went just 2-6 as a starter during the 1976 season, splitting time with Bobby Douglass.
Bobby Scott backed up Manning until 1981. He was 4-10 during his career as a starter, kicking off the season just this once in his career.
Scott = 0-1 in opening day starts
Stabler was signed after being released by the Houston Oilers after the 1981 season. Shortly into the strike-shortened ‘82 season, the Saints traded long-time starter Archie Manning to the Oilers.
Stabler’s first start with his new team did not end ideally. The New Orleans defense held St. Louis to just 150 net yards and recorded six sacks. However, the Saints turned the ball over four times and couldn’t put points on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter and down by 21 points.
Ken Stabler had a Hall of Fame career but was a shell of himself by the time he reached New Orleans. A four-game losing streak in December and inept offensive production doomed any postseason hopes for the Saints.
Stabler opened the 1983 season as the New Orleans starter, also against the Cardinals. He left the game after just one pass attempt with an injury. Dave Wilson replaced him and quarterbacked the Saints to a 28-17 victory.
Stabler retired during the 1984 season.
Stabler = 1-1 in opening day starts
Needing a change at quarterback, Saints coach Bum Phillips traded for Todd, an interception-prone veteran for the New York Jets. He’d get his first start with New Orleans during the 1984 season opener against bitter rival Atlanta.
The game was a back-and-forth affair with the Falcons offense dominating. The Falcons rolled up 249 yards on the ground and 422 total yards but turned the ball over three times.
New Orleans fell victim to four turnovers themselves, including 3 interceptions by Todd and a sack for a safety. A late turnover set Atlanta up for a game-clinching field goal.
Todd had an abysmal year for the Saints in 1984. He threw 19 interceptions against just 11 touchdowns and went 6-8 as a starter, completing just 51% of his throws.
Todd’s tenure with New Orleans lasted only two years, appearing in two games as a reserve in 1985.
Todd = 0-1 in opening day starts
Replacing Richard Todd as the Saints’ starting quarterback in 1985, Dave Wilson was a first-round pick by the team in the 1981 Supplemental Draft. He’d gone 3-5 as a starter over the previous three years as an injury replacement for Todd, Archie Manning, or Ken Stabler.
Wilson was simply atrocious in the 1985 opener against Kansas City. He completed just 2 of 22 attempts for 30 yards, throwing 2 interceptions and getting sacked 3 times.
The Chiefs racked up 504 total yards and raced to a 33-3 lead before Richard Todd replaced Wilson in the second half. Todd tossed three touchdown passes but also threw for 2 interceptions in the rout.
Wilson started ten games for the Saints in 1985. He went 3-7 as a starter, completing just 49.5% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. USFL refugee Bobby Hebert replaced him in the starting lineup by week 11 and finished out the year.
Wilson = 0-1 in opening day starts
Hebert was a star with the USFL’s Michigan Panthers and Oakland Invaders. He was one of several players who defected to the NFL when their league folded.
Hebert, along with former USFL linebackers Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson, helped turn the Saints into contenders in the late 1980s.
The turnaround wouldn’t happen this day against bitter rival Atlanta. The Falcons rang up 442 yards and 28 first downs against the Saints’ defense. New Orleans managed only 176 yards and 14 first downs of their own as they were blown out at home.
Hebert, in particular, had a frustrating afternoon and a frustrating year. He started just three games in 1986, throwing 8 interceptions and just 2 touchdown passes. Dave Wilson started the other 13 games for the Saints, having little success and wasting a strong performance by an up-and-coming defensive unit.
Other than a yearlong holdout in 1990, Hebert would be the team’s starting quarterback for the next five seasons. It was the longest tenure at that point in franchise history, behind only Archie Manning, and the most successful
Hebert = 3-3 in opening day starts
After a 26-15 record over the previous three years and the first playoff berth in franchise history, Bobby Hebert sat out the entire 1990 season embroiled in a bitter contract dispute.
John Fourcade, a strike replacement player in 1987 and Hebert’s backup for three seasons, opened 1990 as the team’s starter.
Fourcade and his team’s opening day challenge was against NFC West rival San Francisco, the defending back-to-back Super Bowl champions. In a brutal defensive battle, the Saints took a 9-3 lead into halftime.
Neither team achieved 270 total yards, but the 49ers made more second-half plays than the offensively challenged Saints to come away with the narrow victory.
Fourcade was supplanted as starter by Steve Walsh, an early-season trade acquisition. Walsh went 6-5 as a starter, but neither quarterback was able to establish a competent offense.
The 8-8 Saints snuck into the playoffs because of their ferocious defense, but their bumbling offense doomed them to a first-round postseason exit.
Hebert returned in 1991, leading New Orleans to the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. Fourcade’s last NFL season was with the Saints in 1990.
Fourcade = 0-1 in opening day starts
Hebert left after the 1992 season to join the hated Atlanta Falcons. The Saints signed the veteran Wilson, who had played for Atlanta the previous year. Wilson beat out Steve Walsh in the preseason to win the starting job.
His first game as Saints starter would come against perennial playoff contender Houston. After an early Oilers touchdown, the New Orleans defense took over, forcing five turnovers and recording 4 sacks. The Saints rattled off 33 unanswered points to cruise to an easy victory.
Wilson got off to a promising start before age, injuries, and inconsistencies caught up to him. The Saints started 6-2 over the first half of the season but lost six of their last eight games to miss the playoffs.
Wilson stayed with New Orleans as a backup in 1994 before winning a Super Bowl ring as a reserve with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.
Wilson = 0-1 in opening day starts
The Saints swung a trade with the division rival Rams to land Everett, a consistent Pro Bowler, and productive passer. Everett was expected to provide an explosive passing attack, but the Saints’ once-dominant defense was aging as they entered 1994.
Kansas City had the upper hand all afternoon against the New Orleans defense, tearing off 460 total yards. Everett and the offense could not keep up, with four turnovers worsening their case.
New Orleans did indeed have a better passing attack after Everett’s arrival. He set new team records for passing yards and touchdowns in 1994 and 1995. Unfortunately, a deteriorating defense and putrid running game turned the Saints into a mediocre team.
The once-proud ‘‘Dome Patrol’’ defense was gone by the time Everett came to New Orleans. Two inconsistent years turned into a total 3-13 collapse in 1996, forcing the Saints to rebuild an old team that couldn’t retool thanks to poor drafting.
Everett = 0-3 in opening day starts
The 1997 Saints came into the year with a new coach in Mike Ditka, who replaced the successful Jim Mora. Ditka’s three-year regime also included a quarterback carousel that would become a nationwide joke.
Heath Shuler got the first shot. Shuler was a high first-round draft bust with the Washington Redskins who was traded to New Orleans early in the 1997 offseason. His New Orleans career would be even less impressive.
Shuler was horrid in his debut with the Saints. He was benched in favor of Danny Wuerffel midway through the game. Wuerffel fared no better, completing only 4 of 12 passes as the Saints committed five turnovers on the day.
The St. Louis running game took control of the contest as the Rams pulled away for an easy victory.
Shuler was one of four quarterbacks to start a game for the Saints in 1997. He, Wuerffel, Billy Joe Hobert, and Doug Nussmeier combined to compete for only 49% of their throws with 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. Shuler’s last NFL snap was with the Saints in 1997.
Shuler = 0-1 in opening day starts
BILLY JOE HOBERT
Hobert had gone 2-2 as a starter after being picked up on waivers by the Saints in 1997. He won the starting job during 1998 training camp, but the New Orleans quarterback position would again be a revolving door.
Hobert and the offense were unimpressive against the Rams. They were supported by a strong effort from the Saints defense, which recorded six sacks, forced two key turnovers, and scored a touchdown.
Danny Wuerffel replaced an injured Hobert, who would miss the remainder of the season. Hobert, Wuerffel, Billy Joe Tolliver, and Kerry Collins all started games for Ditka’s quarterback merry-go-round in 1998. Collectively, their statistics were slightly improved, but the Saints floundered their way to another 6-10 finish.
Tolliver returned to start a 1999 season-opening win. It was one of three victories on the year for the 1999 Saints, after which the Ditka era mercifully came to an end.
Hobert = 2-0 in opening day starts
Another new coach and another new quarterback for the Saints in 2000. New coach Jim Haslett brought in veteran free-agent QB Jeff Blake in an attempt to right the many wrongs from the Ditka fiasco. Blake’s tenure, like so many before him, got off to an inauspicious start.
Safety Sammy Knight put the Saints in front early with an interception return for a touchdown. The rugged New Orleans defense did their part, holding Detroit to just 187 total yards. Blake and the offense struggled, however, and could not reach the end zone.
New Orleans got off to a 1-3 start under Blake. Behind a ferocious defense and solid offensive balance, the Saints rolled off six straight wins to put themselves in playoff position. Unfortunately, Blake suffered a season-ending injury in week 12.
An inexperienced Aaron Brooks took over at quarterback for Blake. He helped the Saints to an unlikely NFC West title and the first playoff win in franchise history. Blake was never able to win back his starting job from Brooks and departed New Orleans after the 2001 season.
Blake = 0-1 in opening day starts
Buoyed by a strong finish and a resounding playoff win in 2000, Brooks was anointed the starter in 2001. New Orleans was behind 6-0 at halftime of their season opener but rebounded strong.
Blake led an efficient second-half performance by the offense. They were aided by their powerful defense, which recorded 5 sacks, forced 3 turnovers, and held the Bills to just 251 yards.
The Saints were the definition of inconsistency throughout 2001. They were still sitting in solid playoff positioning until dropping their last four games to stumble to a 7-9 finish.
Brooks was a microcosm of the entire Saints team from 2001 to 2004. Quarterback and team, on both sides of the ball, possessed a great talent that could defeat any opponent, but also fell tantalizingly short of expectations.
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 ravaged the entire region and sent the Saints into disarray. After a 3-13 finish that year, New Orleans would again look for a new coach and quarterback to lead the franchise.
Brooks = 3-2 in opening day starts
A relatively unknown assistant named Sean Payton got his first head coaching job with the Saints in 2006. He signed an undervalued quarterback named Drew Brees to run his offense. That combination would re-write NFL history books for the next 15 seasons.
Brees and the overlooked Saints would start their first two games of the 2006 season on the road while the Superdome finished its post-Katrina repairs.
Brees had an efficient day but was supported by a powerful running game and a stifling defense that held the Browns to only 186 yards and recorded five sacks.
New Orleans stormed their way to a shocking division title and a run to its first-ever conference title game. They were led by a top-ranked offense and the league’s number one ranked passing attack.
Brees would go on to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. He was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history, finishing at or near the top of every single season and career passing record.
However, even the iconic Brees had his struggles in season openers.
Brees = 6-9 in opening day starts
The Saints have a 19-36 all-time record in regular-season openers. The fifteen different quarterbacks before Winston that have opened the season for New Orleans have just a 5-10 record in their first season opener.
Those quarterbacks have completed less than 50% of their passes, throwing for a combined 19 interceptions and just 11 touchdowns.
Jameis Winston has gigantic shoes to fill when stepping behind center in place of Drew Brees. New Orleans history tells us that his initial start might not be pretty.
This content was originally published here.