Dome Patrol

The Dome Patrol was the linebacker corps of the National Football League's (NFL) New Orleans Saints during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Under head coach Jim Mora, it formed the second level of defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell's 3–4 defense, considered to be among the most formidable 3–4 defenses in NFL history.

As a unit, all four players were on the Saints roster for seven seasons, from 1986 to 1992, and the players combined for 18 Pro Bowls and ten first-team All-Pro selections while with the team. All four linebackers were voted to the Pro Bowl in 1992, the only time this has ever happened.


Rickey Jackson was drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft.[1] He was the first member of the unit; he played five seasons and was invited to three Pro Bowls before the Dome Patrol was formed.[1] The team did not have a winning record in any of those seasons.[2] In 1985, the Saints defense gave up over 25 points per game, which was seventh worst in the league.[3] In 1986, the Saints selected outside linebacker Pat Swilling in the third round of the draft and acquired middle linebackers Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills from the recently folded United States Football League (USFL).[4][5][6] Also arriving from the USFL was head coach Jim Mora.[7] The defense improved to seventh best in points allowed per game in 1986, allowing an average of 17.9 points.[8] In 1987, the team went 12–3,[lower-alpha 1] posting the first winning record in franchise history as well as its first playoff appearance.[10] The Saints ranked fourth in points allowed per-game in 1988 and went 10–6, but missed the playoffs after finishing third in a strong NFC West division.[11]

The team made the playoffs three straight seasons from 1990 to 1992. Three members of the Dome Patrol were named to the Pro Bowl in 1991, and Swilling was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 17 sacks and forcing six fumbles.[12][13] The Saints defense surrendered the least points of any defense in the league that season and forced the most turnovers.[14] In week three of the season, the Saints defense held the Los Angeles Rams to 120 yards and six first downs, and recorded five sacks in a 24–7 win. "The Dome Patrol really rolled today," said Swilling after the game. "Sam Mills, Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson and me. We got it on, didn't we?"[15] The 1991 season also saw the Saints win their first division title, as they finished first in the NFC West.[7]

All four members were invited to the Pro Bowl for 1992.[16] This remains the only time in NFL history that four players at the same position for the same team have made a Pro Bowl together.[13] Again the defense surrendered the least points in the league, and were second in yards given up.[17] Swilling was the first to leave the Saints after the 1992 season, in a trade to the Detroit Lions, followed by Jackson and Johnson in 1993 and Mills in 1994.[7] Overall, the Dome Patrol combined for 18 Pro Bowls and ten All-Pro selections and made four playoff appearances.[2]

Dome Patrol members

Name Pos. Playing yrs (NFL)
With Saints
Pro Bowls
With Saints
With Saints
Rickey Jackson[1] OLB 1981–1995
6× (1983–1986, 1992–1993)
6× (1983–1986, 1992–1993)
4× (1986–1987, 1992–1993)
4× (1986–1987, 1992–1993)
Vaughan Johnson[5] MLB1986–1994
4× (1989–1992)
4× (1989–1992)
2× (1988–1989)
2× (1988–1989)
Sam Mills[6] MLB 1986–1997
5× (1987–1988, 1991–1992, 1996)
4× (1987–1988, 1991–1992)
4× (1991–1992, 1995–1996)
2× (1991–1992)
Pat Swilling[4] OLB1986–1998
5× (1989–1993)
4× (1989–1992)
2× (1991–1992)
2× (1991–1992)
Simultaneous - 1986–1994
Total - - 20×


The Dome Patrol is frequently cited as one of the greatest defensive groups of all-time,[13][18][19][20] and was rated by NFL Network as the number one linebacker corps in NFL history.[18] In 2012, all four members of the Dome Patrol were unanimously selected for the Saints 45th Anniversary Team.[21] In 2010, Jackson became the first Saints player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[22] Sam Mills later signed with the Carolina Panthers, with whom he earned a Pro Bowl trip and two All-Pro selections, and later was an assistant coach with the team.[6] Mills died in 2005 after two years of battling intestinal cancer.[23] His jersey number 51 is currently the only jersey retired by the Panthers, and he is the only former player in the team's Hall of Honor.[24] Swilling played six more seasons in the NFL after leaving the Saints, and made a Pro Bowl trip with the Lions in 1993.[25] All four players are in the Saints Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.[26][27][28][29][30] Swilling and Mills are also members of the College Football Hall of Fame.[31][32]

See also

Similarly dominant NFL 3–4 defenses and linebacker corps:


  1. The 1987 NFL season was shortened by one game due to a players' strike by the NFLPA.[9]


  1. 1 2 3 "Pro-Football-Reference: Rickey Jackson". Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  2. 1 2 "New Orleans Saints History". CBS Sportsline. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  3. "NFL Stats: by Team Category, 1985". Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  4. 1 2 "Pro-Football-Reference: Pat Swilling". Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  5. 1 2 "Pro-Football-Reference: Vaughan Johnson". Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  6. 1 2 3 "Pro-Football-Reference: Sam Mills". Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  7. 1 2 3 Smith, Jimmy. "The Dome Patrol: The Times-Picayune covers 175 years of New Orleans history". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  8. "NFL Stats: by Team Category, 1986". Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  9. "NFL Lockout: History-1987 Strike". ESPN. August 15, 2011. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  10. "N.F.L.; Miracle for Saints: A Winning Season". New York Times. Associated Press. November 30, 1987. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  11. 1988 New Orleans Saints
  12. "Saints' Pat Swilling takes defensive honor". The Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. December 29, 1991. p. 4B. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  13. 1 2 3 Mays, Robert (December 12, 2014). "How Hard Is It for a Defensive Player to Win NFL MVP? Just Ask These Guys". Grantland. ESPN. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  14. "1991 New Orleans Saints Statistics". Pro-Football-Reference. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  15. "Saint's Heyward rams LA". Toledo Blade. Associated Press. September 16, 1991. p. 21. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  16. "1992 NFL Pro Bowlers". Pro-Football-Reference. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  17. "1992 New Orleans Saints Statistics". Pro-Football-Reference. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  18. 1 2 NFL Network (July 26, 2012). "Top 10 linebacking corps in NFL history". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  19. Farrar, Doug (October 19, 2013). "Remembering Bum Phillips, the unsung defensive innovator". Audibles blog. Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on October 24, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  20. Finney, Peter. "New Orleans Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson's induction was long overdue". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  21. "New Orleans Saints 45th Anniversary Team". New Orleans Saints. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  22. Smith, Jimmy (February 6, 2010). "Rickey Jackson becomes first New Orleans Saints player elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame" (web). The Times-Picayune. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  23. "Obituaries in the News". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. April 19, 2005. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  24. "Sam Mills III". Carolina Panthers. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  25. "NFL 1994 Pro Bowl Gamebook – NFL GSIS" (PDF). NFL. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  26. "Saints Hall of Fame Inductees". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  27. Mickles, Sheldon. "Rickey Jackson - Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  28. "Vaughan Johnson - Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  29. Mickles, Sheldon. "Sam Mills - Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  30. "Pat Swilling - Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  31. "Hall of Fame - Inductee Detail: Pat Swilling". National Football Foundation. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  32. "Hall of Fame - Inductee Detail: Sam "The Field Mouse" Mills". National Football Foundation. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
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