As we reflect on those memorable moments from the decade, we take a look at the Top 20 photos from Saints director of photography Michael C. Hebert from 2010-2019.
As the new year approaches and a new decade is set to begin, we reflect with NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier and take a look back at ten defining moments for the Saints franchise from the past 10 years.
No. 1: When Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Saints in 1985, the franchise never had had a winning season. From that year until his death in 2018, the franchise won its only Super Bowl (XLIV, in 2010) and posted 13 winning seasons – and in the year of his passing, the Saints went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
He married Gayle Benson in 2004, and she continues to uphold the standards that Benson established. The first two regular seasons under Gayle Benson were '18 and '19, the first of which resulted in an NFC South Division title and trip to the NFC Championship Game, and the second, a 13-3 regular-season record, NFC South Division title and another playoff appearance.
No. 2: After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Saint needed something big. They needed a shot of adrenaline. They needed an infusion of talent. What they got was a bolt of lightning. From April 27-29, 2017, during the NFL Draft, New Orleans mined a mother lode: cornerback Marshon Lattimore and offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the first round; safety Marcus Williams in the second round; and running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive end Trey Hendrickson in the third round.
True, the franchise added more parts in free agency, and it already had some really good parts to begin with. But the importance of that draft class only is surpassed by the impact of the famed Class of '06 because the Class of '06 provided the foundation for the Super Bowl champion Saints. The Class of '17, meanwhile, has been the foundation of three consecutive seasons of 11-plus victories, three straight NFC South Division championships, and playoff advancement to the divisional round ('17) and the NFC Championship Game ('18), with the '19 playoff results pending. Lattimore and Kamara were NFL defensive and offensive rookies of the year, respectively, and Kamara was second-team All-Pro as a rookie; Ramczyk was an All-Pro in his second season; Anzalone is a rare every-down linebacker; and Hendrickson a significant member of the defensive line rotation.
No. 3: Remember when the Saints strictly were an "indoor" team, incapable of winning tough games on the road and, definitely, unable to win a road playoff game in the cold? Only the lack of a road playoff victory was true, but the narrative took on a life of its own because of that fact.
On Jan. 4, 2014, the Saints slayed all the dragons with a 26-24 road victory over Philadelphia in a Wild Card game. Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired had the Saints jubilant at Lincoln Financial Field, where New Orleans rode four Graham field goals, a touchdown pass by Drew Brees and a touchdown run by Mark Ingram to win to post the first road playoff win in franchise history.
No. 4: Who knew what the Saints were getting when they signed Brees as an unrestricted free agent in 2006? Seriously, though. Who knew? Because Brees was working his way back from a devastating shoulder injury, one concerning enough that one suitor (Miami) cooled on its interest and pursued another player.
Turns out that, eventually, what the Saints got was the NFL's all-time passing leader. That's who Brees became on Oct. 8, 2018, in front of a raucous, sold out, Monday night football crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, courtesy of a 62-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith. Once Brees joined the Saints, and worked like heck to make sure his injured shoulder was better than ever, he began an assault on the NFL record books that, perhaps, wasn't matched before and hasn't been matched since.
No. 5: More Brees history. We could fill up a library with that category, but for here, we'll make room for one more significant NFL record: On Nov. 16, 2019, in the Superdome, he became the NFL's all-time touchdown passes leader with No. 540, a 5-yard toss to tight end Josh Hill in the third quarter. That record is a work in progress; if Brees remains healthy and plays another two, three seasons, it will become a mark that will be difficult to surpass, regardless of the NFL's cyclical tilts toward offense. As fate would have it, Brees would have broken the record weeks before he did, and perhaps not inside the Superdome, if he hadn't suffered a thumb injury and missed five games earlier in the '19 season due to surgery and rehab. But Brees and the Superdome always seem to find one another when the time comes for the future Hall of Fame quarterback to establish an NFL mark.
No. 6: Got room for an NFL record that doesn't belong to Brees? Try on this one for size: Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison set the NFL record with 143 regular-season catches, in 16 games, in 2002. Michael Thomas needed 15 games to break it in 2019.
Thomas entered the 15th game of the season 10 catches short of tying Harrison's mark, and caught 12 against the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 22. The 11th reception – the record breaker – was a 13-yarder in the fourth quarter that initially was ruled a 14-yarder, and touchdown, but was overturned after review. Thomas, after a run play lost a yard on first and goal, caught a 2-yard touchdown pass to cap his day.
No. 7: Under Coach Sean Payton, New Orleans has produced some of the most prolific offensive teams in NFL history. None ever has been better than the 2011 Saints, who shredded opposing defenses regularly. That season, the Saints gained 7,474 yards – an NFL record that remains – and scored a franchise-best 547 points. Six times, the Saints scored 40 or more points in a game and 10 times, they scored at least 30.
Many believe that the '11 Saints were better than the '09 Saints who won the Super Bowl. Instead, New Orleans' playoff appearance concluded in epic fashion: After beating Detroit 45-28 in a Wild Card game, the Saints fell to San Francisco, 36-32 in overtime, on the road in their Divisional Playoff game.
No. 8: Call it a Sophomore Slump, The Second Year Blues, or just the league figuring you out. However it's labeled, what it means is this: Often, there's a dip in production after a standout rookie season – especially if that rookie season concludes with the player being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Alvin Kamara didn't get the memo. In his second season, 2018, Kamara produced a stat line for the ages: 883 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 194 carries, and 709 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 81 catches. And he sat out the regular-season finale because the Saints already had secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the playoffs. His 18 touchdowns tied a franchise single-season record and the 14 rushing touchdowns were a team record. He finished sixth in the league with 1,800 all-purpose yards and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl his second straight year.
No. 9: It wasn't much of a big deal in January 2015 when the news broke, perhaps because front office moves often aren't all that sexy and newsworthy unless a team is bringing in a new general manager-type person. But when the Saints hired Jeff Ireland to help revamp their draft process, the ripple developed into a tidal wave. The Saints' assistant general manager/college scouting director hasn't batted 1.000 – no one does – but during his tenure, the Saints have added franchise-altering, league-changing, foundational talent.
Since '15, the Saints have drafted guard Andrus Peat, cornerback P.J. Williams, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, receiver Michael Thomas, safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle David Onyemata, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive end Marcus Davenport, receiver Tre'Quan Smith, center/guard Will Clapp, center Erik McCoy and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. All 17 were drafted on Ireland's watch.
No. 10: The wait to create a Ring of Honor for the Saints simply was because the team wanted to guarantee that inductees would meet the highest of standards. When the team presented its first class of inductees in 2013, that hurdle was cleared, and has been by each inductee thereafter.
The initial class included Pro Football Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson and Willie Roaf, along with Saints legend and Saints Hall of Famer Archie Manning. Two years later, the fourth inductee was The Great Dane, kicker Morten Andersen, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. The fifth inductee was former Saints owner Tom Benson, posthumously in 2018. And the sixth member, also posthumously inducted, was defensive end Will Smith in 2019.
As we close out the year, check out the Top 20 photos from Saints photographer Michael C. Hebert from 2019.