Battle of New Orleans: Ditka vs. Katrina

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 17, 2007



By Mark Sandritter
Cold, Hard Football Facts reluctant weatherman
 
Nearly 20 years ago Bob Swerkski and the gang from the classic Saturday Night Live "Super Fans" skit pondered one of the big issues of our time:
 
"Coach Ditka versus a Hurricane ... who would win?"
 
show video here
 
Today, for the first time, in an effort so tasteless that only guys with a small piece of Polish sausage lodged in the lining of their collective hearts would consider it, we attempt to answer a question that has haunted pigskin-kind for almost two decades.
 
Unlike Swerkski and the gang, we today have the gridiron guinea pig that allows us to answer this question: the city of New Orleans.
 
Hurricane Katrina's impact on the city of New Orleans in August 2005 was almost immeasurable. But so, too, was the impact of Hurricane Mike Ditka on the Saints of New Orleans in the late 1990s.
 
Katrina decimated a city, shocked the country and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Ditka decimated a roster, shocked the football world and displaced an entire NFL draft class.
 
Today New Orleans, the city, is still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, the franchise, has never fully recovered from the impact of Hurricane Ditka. Sure, there was the little blip in 2006, when the Saints reached the NFC title game. But New Orleans this year is 1-4 and back to the bumbling Aints we've known and loved for 40 years. 
 
When the Saints hired Iron Mike in 1997, they knew they were getting a Hall of Fame tight end, a beloved NFL personality, an owner of one of the best restaurants in Chicago and, most importantly, a Super Bowl-winning coach. What they didn't know is he would set the franchise back for years with a single blow, or in this case a single draft pick.
 
Ditka's decision to trade all of the Saints picks in the 1999 draft (plus two others in 2000) to acquire the right to grab Ricky Williams left NFL observers confused and prompted many Saints fans to choose paper over plastic. Ditka would later call his time coaching in New Orleans "the worst three years of my life." It's a statement seconded my many Saints fans.
 
Just how could it be possible for a single man to equal the destruction of the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States? The Cold, Hard Football Facts say goodbye to their few remaining threads of moral decency and break out our Tale o' the Tape determine who caused more damage to New Orleans: Hurricane Mike Ditka or Hurricane Katrina.
 
TALE o' the TAPE: Hurricane Ditka vs. Hurricane Katrina
Category
Hurricane Ditka 
Hurricane Katrina
Advantage
Struck New Orleans
1997-99
August 2005
Ditka
Bottomed out at
3-13
27.11 inches of barometric pressure
Ditka
Fastest recorded speed
4.7 40
140 MPH sustained winds
Katrina
Who brought relief
Jim Haslett
FEMA
Katrina
Fed itself on
Warm Caribbean waters
push
Saints win percentage before
.395
.400
Katrina
Saints win percentage after
.478
.378
Ditka
Relied too much on
22-year-old Ricky Williams
100-year-old levees
push
Biggest impact
Tom Benson's wallet
Lower Ninth Ward
Katrina
Symbol of recovery
Deuce McAllister
Hosting Monday Night Football
Katrina
Filled the Superdome
No
Yes
Katrina
Quick response
None
Ditka
Forced New Orleans to rebuild its
Roster
Infrastructure
Katrina
Disturbing image
Ditka
 
Conclusions
1. Bob Swerkski was right!
It seems unrealistic to compare a hurricane to a single man. But Bob Swerski was right: Ditka is no mere mortal man.
 
Ditka left New Orleans with a combined 15-33 (.313) record and anchored down by one of the worst decisions in the history of the NFL. By trading all of the Saints' 1999 draft picks, as well an additional first- and third-round pick in 2000, he mortgaged the Saints future and tied their success to one player.
 
As it turned out marriage wasn't all it was cracked up to be and Ricky Williams wasn't a savior after all. The team of Ditka and Williams went 3-13 in their one year together and then Ditka was gone. The Saints were stuck with one over-hyped running back and a load of missing draft picks, problems that would plague the Saints for years to come.
 
2. Each brought New Orleans from bad to worse
The city of New Orleans was already one of the poorest, most corrupt and most violent cities in America when Katrina struck. The hurricane only compounded and highlighted the city's problems.
 
The Saints of New Orleans were already one of the poorest, most inept and most punchless teams in the NFL when Ditka struck.
 
There have been some horrible NFL teams and some unsuccessful head coaches, but Ditka's .313 winning percentage as Saints head coach ranks amongst the worst. For a comparison, Butch Davis went .407 winning as the head coach of the Tim Couch-led Browns. Before Ditka New Orleans had a .395 all-time winning percentage. Under Ditka it bottomed out at .313. After Ditka the Saints hvae at least sniffed mediocrity at .479.
 
Katrina's impact was also evident on the field, whichever one the Saints happened to be playing on that week. In 2005 New Orleans managed a 3-13 record while playing what amounted to 16 road games. However, the following year the Saints rode the emotion of the Katrina recovery to a 10-6 record and a spot in the NFC championship game.
 
If the first five games of 2007 are any indicator the Saints may be on their way to a full recovery. At 1-4, New Orleans is off to the typical Saints start. And with a lot of infighting, more disappointing play by its big-name stars and a little bit of bad luck, they may bottom out again, reminding us of the glory days of the New Orleans Aints of yore.
 
3. Hurricane Ditka struck without warning
Everybody knew Hurricane Katrina was coming, even if so few responded to the warnings. But hardly anyone anticipated the fury of Hurricane Ditka as it exploded before the 1999 draft.
 
Ditka's 1985 Bears were one of best teams in history. But his 1999 Saints are remembered as the only team to mortgage an entire draft for one player.
 
New Orleans fans expected Ditka to turn the Saints into a winner. Instead, the beloved NFL personality and Hall of Famer left in his wake one of the worst teams in the history of one of the league's worst franchises.
 
The Bottom Line
Obviously, the Cold, Hard Football Facts like to have a little fun. But the truth is that New Orleans is a great American city with unique and unmatched cultural history (not to mention an unmatched culinary heritage, to which we often pay tribute). And, more than two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city remains in full-scale recovery mode.
 
Help is still needed. Saints star Reggie Bush, for example, remains heavily involved in the rebuilding effort. Visit his site, ReggieBushOnline.com, for links to his many partners, such as RebuildingTogether.Org, which, two years later, is still rebuilding homes throughout the Gulf Coast region, with the help of volunteers from around the country.
 
The Saints of New Orleans may be beyond our help. But the city of New Orleans is not.
 
 

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