FOOTBALL; What hope for the Saints?

There's more than a bit of irony in New Orleans hosting this season's Super Bowl between pro football's best teams, Philadelphia and Oakland. After all, the city's own franchise, the Saints, set a record for futility with 15 losses and just one victory.

The location of the Super Bowl is always determined years in advance, so that there was no way of knowing for sure that the Louisiana Superdome would be a neutral site. But the NFL probably suspected as much, since the Saints have never won more than half their games, although in 1979 it had an 8-8 record.

The team's problems this past season were too numerous to metion. Negative momentum was the worse foe, and the chance to start with a clean slate next September could work wonders. New Orleans, many observers agree, is not that far away from its first winning campaign. The talent is there.

To get back on track, the Saints must hire the right head coach (Bum Phillips , fired by the Houston Oilers, is the leading candidate); persuade quarterback Archie Manning not to retire; and use the first pick in the entire draft wisely. This is the first time in the team's 14-year history it has ever had the top overall selection. The Saints may have to decide between Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, who would help the league's least- productive running game, or Pittsburgh's Hugh Green, the linebacker t hey've long needed to fortify the defense.

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