In honor of the bittersweet season the New Orleans Saints have had, we wanted to look back at some of their
It hasn’t always been good for the
Saints. They had a long road before getting to where they are now.
The National Football League awarded its 16th franchise to New Orleans on
November 1, 1966, ironically All Saints Day. Less than a month later, no one
was surprised when the team was named the “Saints.”
The 1967 NFL season began and New Orleans new that creating as much pre-season fan enthusiasm as possible in a city not previously exposed to pro football would be key to boosting support and morale. The Saints made each home game a special event, a “Mardi Gras in Autumn,” with cheerleaders, jazz bands, and high school and college marching bands. New Orleans was destined year-after-year to have poor success on the field but still, they managed to thrill their fans with some exciting victories and memorable moments first at Tulane Stadium and later at the Superdome. Incredibly, the average home attendance was 75K per game!
Their first season they won five of their six preseason games and opened the regular season on against the Los Angeles Rams before a packed house of 80,879 in Tulane Stadium. New Orleans fans will always remember John Gilliam’s 94-yard touchdown return with the opening kickoff even though the Rams eventually won 27-13. A final game victory over the Washington Redskins allowed the Saints to match the 3-11 first-year record attained by Minnesota in 1961 and Atlanta in 1966.
Over the years, New Orleans has seen some major plays and even more major players such as quarterback Archie Manning, running back George Rogers, Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson, wide receiver Eric Martin and placekicker Morten Andersen.
The Saints struggled to become a winning team until 1987 after New Orleans businessman Tom Benson acquired the franchise. Benson immediately hired Jim Finks, a future Hall of Fame administrator, as president and general manager, and Jim Mora as the head coach. The pair soon turned the Saints into one of the NFL’s most potent franchises.
The Saints’ 21st season saw things turn around under Coach Mora. The Saints won 12 of 15 games for a second-place finish in the NFC West. The Saints reached the playoffs four times in six seasons from 1987 to 1992 and won their first NFC West championship in 1991.
Fast forward to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans on August 29 including extensive damage to the Louisiana Superdome. The Saints were unable to play any home games at the Superdome for the entire 2005 NFL regular season as a result. The stadium was also used to temporarily house victims of the storm.
After practicing for approximately a week in San Jose, California, where they had evacuated in conjunction with a pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders, the team set up temporary headquarters and arranged for practice facilities in San Antonio, Texas. The league then announced that although the Saints’ first home game against the New York Giants would be played at Giants Stadium, other home games would be split between Tiger Stadium (the stadium of the LSU Tigers football) at LSU and the Alamodome in San Antonio.
In 2006 Sean Payton took over as head coach. The Saints returned to playing all of their regular home games of the season in New Orleans at the Superdome. Their first game back in New Orleans was marked by a dramatic blocked punt early in the first quarter, with Steve Gleason blocking the punt and Curtis Deloatch recovering the ball in the Falcons’ end zone for a touchdown. It was the first score in the Saints’ first game in New Orleans in nearly 21 months. The Saints won the game and, unexpectedly, went on to have the most successful season in their history up to that time, reaching the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history. Four years later Peyton guided the team to their first championship in franchise history when they won Super Bowl XLIV. In July 2012, “Rebirth”, a statue depicting Gleason blocking the punt, was erected outside the Superdome; a news report commented that the blocked punt “etched Steve Gleason into Saints lore and became symbolic of New Orleans’ resilience in the face of disaster”.
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