- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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When Gilliam came to camp last month, he stood up before the whole team and told them, "I've battled with drugs. I just hope you'll give me a chance." Stram and the Saints seem willing to do so, and maybe Jefferson Street Joe will become Bourbon Street Joe. That would certainly be better than Junk Heap Joe. And he knows it.
In other departments the Saints seem equally blessed, with two big, surefooted (and sure-handed) running backs in Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath, who scored the game-winner Saturday from one yard out; a plethora of wide receivers, including former Olympic sprinter Larry Burton, who caught the fourth-quarter bomb from Scott; sound, maturing linebackers; and a newfound cohesion that—as of Saturday's game—requires some refining. The regular-season schedule, with the exception of two games against the Rams and one each with St. Louis and Chicago, looks a lot easier than last year's. Remembering that debacle, Stram still cannot bring himself to say it out loud: "Four and 10."
Granted, O. J. Simpson only played a quarter for the visiting Bills on Saturday. The Juice came into camp this year with blurred vision in his left eye, the result of a hard hit by the New York Jets last season. You can't squirt like the Juice if you can't see the glass. Doctors in Buffalo suggested at first that Simpson might need surgery, and his usual ebullience subsided into snappishness. He chewed out management and teammates with unwonted rage. "It was a tough week for me," he recalls, "and I can't remember being that uptight before. I'd wake up in the morning and look at the alarm clock on the dresser in camp...and I couldn't make out the numbers."
"Man," says his best friend, Reggie McKenzie, the pulling guard, "the cat was a basket case. He was thinking the worst. He'd wake up in the dark and think, 'Is this what it's going to be like?' "
But after Bills owner Ralph Wilson flew O.J. to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, specialists there gave Simpson the go-ahead to play. His problem was a tiny hole—self-healing—behind the retina. Fluid leaking in was causing the blur. By Saturday O.J. could see fine straight ahead, with minor blurring to the left side. What's more, he was psychologically sound, once more his leaping, raucous self. "The thing I was really concerned about," he said, "was that I'd have to wear glasses. I look terrible that way."
Behind the crisp blocking of a healed Jim Braxton, the fullback who had gone down in last year's first game with a knee injury, and under the sharp direction of Quarterback Joe Ferguson, back from four fractured transverse processes, the Juice gained 32 yards in five carries. Ferguson gave Buffalo its first score in the second quarter with a six-yard pitch to Wide Receiver Bob Chandler; in the last period, after a field goal, backup Quarterback Ken Johnson brought the Bills to 20-17 by hitting reserve Running Back Curtis Brown on a 53-yard scoring play.
It was New Orleans' night—loud, wet and steamy with victory (for a change). "Hank's multiple offense is really a lot of fun," said Manning. "The fans don't know it, but what you're actually doing is confusing the team you're going to play next week. The sets and shifts confuse the intention. A lot of it doesn't mean a thing, and you end up in the same old vanilla formation after going through 30 other flavors. But what the hell—vive la French ice cream!"