The defensive line is strong and deep, the linebackers improved by the addition of young Tony Guillory (obtained from the Rams) and Jim Carroll (gotten from the Redskins in another trade). The secondary has little speed and only one quality player (Joe Scarpati at free safety). All told, the Eagles will be formidable only when Snead is hot and hitting his good receivers. That is not enough.
The status quo, up to a point, prevails at New Orleans, where Tom Fears is still the head coach. Fears, an intense, dark-browed, glowering man, who at one time was the best offensive end in football, came to New Orleans via Atlanta and Green Bay, and he is, in a sense, a Lombardi. Fears has the same ability to drive a team, set it afire, and he commands the same loyalty. This may pay off. He has a collection of salty veterans, promising youngsters and undeveloped rookies—and a quarterback with the indomitable spirit of a Bobby Layne.
"This is the best team we have had," Fears says. "I'm not going to say we can win it all, because I'm not a dreamer. But with a few breaks, it wouldn't be impossible."
No Harm Dreaming
At least two of his veterans are dreaming: Dave Whitsell and Billy Kilmer. Whitsell, a free safety now after a term set cornerback, played with the Bears in 1963 when they won the NFL title. "We can go all the way," he says. "We are as good or better than Philadelphia or Washington, and you know the Cowboys got to miss Meredith and Perkins. We're ready. We have more good players on this club than we had in Chicago in 1963. I feel good about us."
Quarterback Kilmer, who gives the Saints an inestimable lift, feels the same way. "We can win," says Kilmer, who is playing at 200, down 15 pounds from last year. "We got the line, the runners, the catchers, the defense. This is a hell of a club."
He could be right. The Saints, who have the killer instinct the Cowboys seem to lack, have always been tough. They have adequate runners, may get some zip from erratic Joe Don Looney, and Dan Abramowicz heads up a fine set of receivers. Their defense depends, in some measure, on how well 39-year-old Doug Atkins can accelerate from end and whether the defensive backs hold up.
Kilmer's relief may well be Edd Hargett, a sixteenth-round draft choice from Texas A&M, who seems to have edged veteran Jim Ninowski by performing some last-minute heroics in exhibitions against Atlanta and Houston. Another surprise is 268-pound Placekicker Tom Dempsey, who was born without a right hand and with only half a right foot—the one he kicks with. Dempsey really gives the ball a ride; he kicked a 54-yard field goal against Denver in an exhibition. No surprise, but welcome nonetheless, is the fact that the Saints open at home, playing their first two games against the Redskins and the Cowboys with an assured—and maniacal—crowd of 84,000 roaring them on.
"If we get off fast, we can go," says Fears. "All we need is a little luck."
With that, they can beat Philly and Washington. They will need something else against Dallas.