For the past few weeks I have shared some past New Orleans Saints memories as told to me by legendary sports broadcaster Buddy Diliberto and his writings and commentaries at that time.
The response from the stories has been terrific and so here is another Buddy D draft day story.
"In 1972 the Saints finished 2-11-1 and John Mecom, the owner at that time, decided to give J.D. Roberts another year as head coach," said Diliberto. "The first move he made in 1973 was to give Dick Gordon the job as Saints executive vice president/general manager. Gordon was a Houston friend of Mecom and a former astronaut. Gordon was really mobbed wherever he went because at that time astronauts were like rock stars and he was a very intelligent guy, but he didn't know anything about pro football, other than watching it."
"The Saints had the second overall pick in the 1973 draft behind the Houston Oilers and the best player in that draft was LSU quarterback Bert Jones, but the Saints had Archie Manning and the Oilers had Dan Pastorini. Neither was going to select Jones to keep him so the consensus was that one of those two teams would trade the rights or the position to select Jones and get back a king’s ransom. That also was a very talent rich draft, but days before the draft I got a call from John Steadman, who is one of the legends in the newspaper business in Baltimore and he covered the Baltimore Colts. He told me the buzz was that the Colts were trying to make a deal with the Saints for the second overall pick. "
"The Colts had the 10th overall pick that year and an early second round pick and so my first thoughts were that the Saints would be stockpiling picks and this was a really bad team so they needed all the help they could get, but the official word came in that the Saints dealt the second overall pick in the draft to Baltimore for defensive end Billy Newsome and the Colts fourth round pick-which they used to select a solid linebacker in Jim Merlo, but got no value at all in that deal.
But to be honest it did seem like something this crazy organization would do. I immediately called former Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer who was with the Washington Redskins and he told me that Newsome was a pretty good player, but he wasn't worth anything near that type of pick and that he really thought the Saints got suckered again. And sure enough he was right and it has to go down as one of the worst trades in the history of this franchise and it became a pattern with them and the Colts. First the trade for quarterback Gary Cuozzo in exchange for the top pick in the 1967 draft (defensive end Bubba Smith, a third round pick that same year and a good center prospect in Bill Curry-who they got in the expansion draft from the Green Bay Packers) and then they traded a second round pick to the Colts in 1969 for running back Tony Lorick, who had knee issues and the Colts used that pick to select linebacker Ted Hendricks and he is in the NFL Hall of Fame.
The guy behind the scenes in Baltimore was former Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and he traded franchises in 1972 with Robert Irsay and now he was the owner of the Los Angeles Rams and the Saints and Rams were in the same division. Rosenbloom had gotten close to Mecom personally and Mecom believed anything Rosenbloom told him. He later hired Carroll's son, Steve, to be the Saints general manager in the late 1970's. I was told that Carroll had a lot to do with talking Mecom into that deal. Steadman told me that Joe Thomas, the general manager of the Colts, told him that he was willing to give up just about anything to get Bert Jones, but the Saints took his original proposal, not on the spot, but after the owner approved it. Mecom took the original offer and a lot of problems with this team early on was that they had no one in the organization that had a strong opinion about anything and many times they were just taking the advice of others. That deal was a perfect example along with the Cuozzo and Lorick trades and the decision to spit in the face of the commissioner Pete Rozelle and sign Dave Parks away from the San Francisco 49ers in Year 2 and the Commissioner forced them to give up two first round picks in exchange for tight end Dave Parks.
John Mecom, Sr., told me at that time the decision to sign Parks and try to get him for nothing was something Carroll Rosenbloom talked his son into doing. I think this was the first shot of an NFL owner to openly try and force some form of free agency, but Rosenbloom let Mecom take the bullet for him because he was eyeing a move to Los Angeles and he thought that the lure of playing in California would appeal to many players. Mecom was suckered into that situation with everything early on and really until the day he sold the team."
"In that 1973 draft with the second pick they could have selected John Hannah from Alabama who goes down as one of the all-time greats at offensive guard or halfback Chuck Foreman, who was the guy I think they would have picked had they kept the choice, tackle Jerry Sizemore who was a really good NFL player or defensive tackle Dave Butz, but they virtually got nothing back from a value standpoint, nothing. Newsome was a pretty good player and they actually got back a first round pick in exchange for him from the New York Jets, but Bert Jones when healthy was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and the Saints got a solid starter at defensive end-who also had some deep off the field problems and a decent linebacker. It goes down as one of the worst trades ever for this franchise and that is saying a mouthful. The one good thing about that draft was that they picked defensive tackle Derland Moore from Oklahoma in the second round. Derland has to go down as one of the best and most underrated football players this franchise ever had. The younger group of reporters today never give him his props as a Saints football player, but he was a really good football player and one of the toughest guys around. He was one of the few players along with Archie Manning that every personnel person and coach would ask me about during the off-season. "