One of the season's surprise success-story teams, the NFL's New Orleans Saints, will line up in St. Louis Sunday without the two Saints who did the most to turn things around this fall in the Superdome.

They are Jeff Blake, the quarterback who broke a foot in the first quarter of the Oakland game Sunday as New Orleans' winning streak ended at six, 31-22, and Ricky Williams, the running back who broke an ankle seven days earlier.

"Injuries are by far the worst thing about football," Oakland owner Al Davis says. "It's such a beautiful game until people get hurt."

You can look it up: Injury luck controls the destiny of every good pro club.

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Injury Luck Good and Bad

The Denver Broncos present the most conspicuous recent example of NFL injury luck--good and bad.

Like most champions before them, and after, the 1997-98 Broncos escaped serious injury to win consecutive Super Bowls.

Then in 1999-2000, Denver lost many of its best players, running back Terrell Davis and quarterback Brian Griese among them, and can't get back to the top.

Injury luck influences other sports, too, but it's seldom the controlling influence elsewhere.

When you hit a home run, you rarely break an ankle jogging around second base.

You seldom break a foot dunking a basketball.

In most sports, injuries are a nuisance.

In football, they're a menace.

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Wounded Saints Hit Cleanly

Because human beings are involved in eight or 10 violent collisions on every play of every NFL game, sports fans expect and accept injuries as a fact of life in football.

Still, some of football's worst injuries are suffered on fluke plays.

More than one seemingly superbly-conditioned running back has taken a season-ending hit from himself--while cutting sharply, perhaps, to evade an opponent.