The New Orleans Saints remain the only team in the NFL not to have ever won a playoff game, and Saturday in their covered back yard, they were done in by one of their own.
The Atlanta Falcons beat the Saints, 27-20, in an NFC wild-card game when wide receiver Michael Haynes, a track man who played the trumpet rather than football for Joseph Clark High in New Orleans, scored on a 61-yard pass play with 2:41 remaining in the Superdome before 68,794.
“I was a Saints’ fan as far back as I can remember,” Haynes said after carrying the Falcons (11-6) into a second-round playoff game against the Washington Redskins next week. “When I was a Saints’ fan, they weren’t doing very well, and they were never in the playoffs.
“I have a lot of family here. I bought 16 tickets for people today. I can understand the fans’ frustration; my grandmother is still a Saints’ fan.”
The Saints (11-6) have advanced to the playoffs three times in the past four years, but all three times they have been left at the starting gate.
“This leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” said running back Dalton Hilliard, who had given New Orleans a 20-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. “We had the opportunity to make this year very special.”
Haynes, however, continued to bedevil the Saints. He had caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to send the Nov. 24 game in New Orleans into overtime, and then he had caught a 57-yarder to set up Norm Johnson’s 50-yard winning field goal.
On this trip back home, he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Miller in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 17-13 lead, and then he came back to victimize his buddy, cornerback Milton Mack.
“When I come down I hang out with him,” Haynes said. “He had played off me and I hitched. I came back to the ball and then just went around him.”
Haynes, who has raced against Carl Lewis, left Mack behind to contemplate their friendship.
“Haynes’ touchdown was the fastest touchdown I’ve ever seen,” Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville said.
As he closed on Haynes, Mack collided with teammate Sam Mills. Safety Vencie Glenn arrived a moment too late.
“I had him alone,” Mack said. “I thought I could have tackled him, but (Mills) came over and knocked me off him.”
The Superdome went quiet, but the Saints had one more push. They took possession at their 17-yard line and advanced to the Falcon 35 with 1:10 to play.
New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert looked for his favorite receiver, Eric Martin, but instead found Atlanta’s Tim McKyer. McKyer intercepted the pass, ran right and then flipped a pitch to teammate Deion Sanders, who ran for a while before throwing it to teammate Joe Fishback.
Fishback went the remaining distance for an apparent touchdown, but after instant replay officials took a look, they ruled Sanders’ throw an illegal forward pass and took away the points.
“I don’t care if it was forward or backward,” Sanders said. “The whole world saw it. And it was beautiful.”
Glanville, who has directed Atlanta to its first winning season since 1982, said: “We like to live on the edge, but they pushed it a little to the extreme there.”
McKyer has stood tall in victories in San Francisco and Miami. When the 49ers and Dolphins tired of his act, Glanville came calling and it was a marriage waiting to happen.
“Don Shula wouldn’t even let me put on a Walkman,” McKyer said. “I mean have you ever been in a locker room where they play Hammer? If this was a corporation, we’d all get fired. It’s great playing here, because I can be Tim. I don’t have to worry about clashing with the head coach and his ego.”
Hebert was well on his way to being the toast of Bourbon Street. But then he never saw McKyer. “I got fooled,” he said. “It’s just too bad we didn’t do it, too bad we didn’t win.”
Instead, Atlanta and the Saint fan that got away did.
“Hey man,” backup quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver yelled to Haynes, “thanks for the extra $10,000 (playoff money).”