Archie Manning and his boys can score at will, but the defense can blow it. The Saints squandered a 35-14 lead over Oakland last year, a 31-20 lead over Atlanta and a 12-point lead over Green Bay. That's right. Green Bay. But the Saints also were only a whisker away from a playoff spot, and that's enough to keep the fans buying tickets to the Superdome.
What a nice offense New Orleans has—Manning and those two horses in the the backfield, Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath; good receivers such as Henry Childs and Wes Chandler; and a very solid offensive line, led by one of the NFL's most underrated players, Center John Hill. With such horses as Left Guard Emanuel Zanders and Left Tackle J.T. Taylor doing quiet, unpublicized work. Manning had plenty of time to spot his receivers last year. The sack total dropped to 17, second lowest in the NFL, and the line picked up the nickname Archie's Bunker.
For years it was feared that Archie would turn into a basket case before he ever learned what the NFL was all about. He was the classic example of a young quarterback rushed into action too soon—before the club had time to draft a line to protect him.
No. 1 draft pick Stan Brock of Colorado was handed the right tackle spot, and he's still there. Also, Guy Benjamin was acquired from Miami late in the preseason and will serve as Manning's backup.
The Saints' defense is as shaky as ever, though. No. 2 draftee Dave Waymer, who was supposed to assume command at right corner, has been up and down. But Reggie Mathis has moved in for the retired Pat Hughes at weak-side linebacker, and if 6'6", 228-pound Joe Campbell, converted from defensive end, where he was a bust, ever gets the hang of strong-side linebacker, the Saints might be able to stop somebody.
A far-out rumor is that Eric Harris, the All-Canadian cornerback signed by the Chiefs this year, could be heading to New Orleans. The Saints made the best qualifying offer for Harris, but the Chiefs, who had originally drafted Harris, matched it and he was theirs. But in K.C. they say that Harris is unhappy that he's a Chief, not a Saint. He nursed a leg injury during the entire preseason. K.C, the word is, might get tired of waiting to see what he can do and, instead, trade him to New Orleans. Wouldn't that be an unexpected bonus?
A word to the people of SAN FRANCISCO. Be patient. The 49ers are moving in the right direction. They needed an offense, so in his first year Coach Bill Walsh created one, moving the 49ers from next to last to sixth in the league in total offense. San Francisco approached the 1980 draft almost stripped of choices, but made some quick deals and wound up with 11, most of which were right on the money.
Earl Cooper, the big, smooth, pass-catching fullback from Rice, has been so impressive that the 49ers were able to trade Wilbur Jackson to Washington for a pair of second-round draft choices. That's Frisco's version. The Redskins indicate they didn't give up more than a No. 3 next year. Whatever they received from the Redskins, it shows that the 49ers have added a depth factor they didn't have before.
Jim Miller shores up the 49ers' punting; Jim Stuckey is making a run at Jimmy Webb's defensive end spot; and Bobby Leopold, an eighth-round linebacker out of Notre Dame, is giving ex-Cowboy Hollywood Henderson a fight for a starting job, a new experience for this child of nature.
Walsh has tried to perform psychological magic with Henderson. First the praise route. "He will give us quality play.... He will give us that experience of being with a winner...." etc. Next came word from Henderson that if he was such a star, then he wanted his contract upgraded. The matter was calmed down, but then word came out that Hollywood was not taking his practice chores as seriously as some of the other 49ers. That's why it's nice to have a young draftee around to push him.