It is the New Orleans offense, not the defense, which carries the team, thanks to three of the Saints' first-round selections who have panned out—Manning, Running Back Chuck Muncie and Wide Receiver Wes Chandler. Manning, the top choice in 1971, was plagued by injuries for years; two arm operations sidelined him for the entire 1976 season, and he considered quitting football. "I thought I'd go back to Mississippi and raise pigs or something," Manning says. "I was discouraged. My arm hurt and we were getting the stew beat out of us. The reason I didn't quit was that I didn't know how to go about it." Last year, healthy for the first time since 1973, Manning threw for 3,416 yards and was named the NFC Player of the Year.
Muncie, the No. 1 pick in 1976, ran for 54 yards against the Broncos and needs just 310 more in the final six games to become the first Saint ever to reach 1,000. "Chuck is playing twice as well as he ever has before, which makes him about half as good as he can be," says one teammate.
When Manning goes to the air, his deep threat is Chandler, the No. 1 choice in 1978. Chandler was only a part-time performer at wide receiver last season. This fueled suspicion that the Saints had wasted still another first-round pick. Some critics questioned whether the 5'11", 186-pound Chandler was big enough for the NFL. Well, before this season began, Chandler brashly predicted he would catch 80 passes, something no wide receiver has done since Dave Parks and Lionel Taylor in 1965. Chandler caught three on Sunday in Denver and has 44 for the season. He leads the NFC with 783 yards.
Chandler says he wants to be recognized as the greatest receiver in pro football. And if he is, he would like to be known as the Count, a reference to Count Dracula who, Chandler says, was widely recognized as the greatest at his specialty. Be that as it may, Chandler can content himself for the time being with the knowledge that at last the Saints are showing some very sharp teeth.