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Saint Win Comes at a High Price

September 07, 1998|From Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — New Orleans Saint Coach Mike Ditka won his season opener on Sunday but felt a bit like a loser.

The Saints turned two first-half turnovers into touchdowns and had only one turnover of their own in defeating the mistake-prone St. Louis Rams, 24-17.

Lamar Smith had one touchdown on a reception and threw for another on an option play.

But any enthusiasm was muted by a season-ending injury to quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, who ruptured his right Achilles' tendon in the fourth quarter. Ditka held back tears discussing it.

"He's a great kid," Ditka said. "He's my kind of player. It's a big loss for him. I'll miss having him out there this year."

Hobert was injured without contact, dropping back to pass on the artificial turf with 14:20 remaining and crumpling. Hobert was 11 for 23 for 170 yards and one touchdown before being replaced by Danny Wuerffel.

"I wasn't really sure what happened to him," Wuerffel said. "I was just trying to stay mentally ready for the whole game.

"You never know when that big play comes."

The Saints held a 24-0 lead with 4:45 to play in the first half and won despite rushing for only 35 yards in 24 carries and being shut out in the second half.

They were helped mightily when the Rams fumbled five times, losing one of them, and had one interception of Tony Banks' deflected pass that led to a Saint touchdown on the next play.

Four Rams missed tackling Smith on a 35-yard pass play from Hobert. The four were counted aloud when the replay was viewed by a sellout crowd of 56,943, minus 8,150 who might have been able to get tickets to Mark McGwire's home run chase at Roger Maris' record across town.

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