Steve Sidwell died Wednesday evening. For New Orleans Saints fans of a certain age, he was one of the first members of the team whose name they remembered — for good reasons. He was the Saints defensive coordinator from 1986 to 1994, also coaching the team’s linebackers at times, and he was one of the people most responsible for building, developing, and maintaining the greatest defense in franchise history.
Now he’s gone. So are two of his former linebackers who helped make up the “Dome Patrol” defense: Pro Football Hall of Famer Sam Mills (who died far too young, back in 2005) and fan-favorite linebacker Vaughan Johnson (who passed more recently in 2019). Rickey Jackson, also a Hall of Fame inductee, is still with us as is Pat Swilling.
But the Saints shouldn’t keep putting this off. Installing a permanent memorial to their first great team, insuring that those legendary players will not be forgotten by future generations, should be an easy decision. Saints fans seem to bring it up every summer. And the precedent is there.
Mills has already been immortalized with a bronze statue outside the Carolina Panthers’ stadium in Charlotte; he was a founding member of that franchise as a player and coach before his tragic death, and fans of both NFC South-rival teams came together to celebrate his Hall of Fame induction with his family.
If the Panthers can make tribute to Mills, why can’t the Saints? Why shouldn’t the Saints do it for the entire four-man linebacker corps, the only group in NFL history to be invited to the Pro Bowl at the time in 1992? Their defense powered New Orleans to its first winning season and playoff appearance in 1987. They gave fans something more to root for than Tom Dempsey’s legendary field goal or Archie Manning’s futile heroics.
The Saints recognized them last year with reprints of the iconic posters that young fans all across the Gulf South proudly displayed in their youth, and all four linebackers have places in the Saints Hall of Fame. But they can do more. And they should, with a larger public gesture. Late owner Tom Benson placed a statue of himself in Champions Square back in 2014. The Caesars Superdome is also home to a Vietnam War Memorial near Poydras Street. And of course there’s Steve Gleason’s all-time great “Rebirth” statue, which has become a landmark and pilgrimage for many fans visiting town for the first time.
There’s room for a “Dome Patrol” memorial on the Superdome grounds. There’s appetite for it among the fanbase, too. And with time working against them, the Saints shouldn’t put this easy decision off any longer. People should be given their flowers while they’re still with us to appreciate them. It’s too late for Mills, Johnson, and Sidwell to have that time in the sun. That doesn’t mean the Saints can’t make things right with their families and the legendary players and coaches still among us.