Today is All Saints’ Day and a special day for those of the Catholic faith, but also a special birthday in New Orleans: Today, in 1966, The New Orleans Saints football franchise was born. Indeed, the team is said to have taken its ‘Saints’ nickname from the annual celebration of saintliness – although it is also said to have been inspired by the famous song When The Saints Go Marching In, which has been adopted by the team and fans alike.
The city of New Orleans was awarded the National Football League’s 16th franchise on November 1, 1966 and the team played their first professional game at Tulane Stadium the following year. The team’s very first play – against the Los Angeles Rams – was a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown; only one other team has ever opened their first game with that play – the Miami Dolphins, who happened to do it the previous season.
The Saints lost the opening game and finished that first season with a seemingly dismal 3-11 record, but no other expansion team had won more games in an opening season. New Orleans were a distinctly unremarkable team for many seasons; it wasn’t until 1979 that the Saints managed to finish second in their division with a .500 record. More years of losing seasons continued as the team only managed to achieve one more .500 season between 1979 and 1987. In 1980, the Saints won just one game, finishing 1-15. Not until the 2000 season did the Saints record their first playoff win when they beat the Super Bowl champion Saint Louis Rams 31-28 in a wildcard game.
When Hurricane Katrina brought a devastating storm surge to southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi coast in August of 2005, the Saints were unable to play at their home stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They played their home games that season in San Antonio, Texas and at the Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. They were not to play in New Orleans again until September 25, 2006, home opener against arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints won the game 23-3 in front of a capacity crowd in what turned out to be ESPN’s highest rated program up until that time. For the first time in franchise history, New Orleans enjoyed some serious playoff success, reaching the NFC Championship game, but losing to the Chicago Bears.
The next two seasons were, again, marked by a degree of mediocrity and disappointment for their legion of die-hard fans. In 2007, they finished 7-9 and, the following year, they improved upon that record by just one game, but the 8-8 record was not enough and, once again, they failed to make the cut for the playoffs.
In 2009, New Orleans won their first 13 games but would end the regular season with three straight losses. Nevertheless, their playoff berth was booked. After an overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, the Saints found themselves the center of attention; going into their first ever Super Bowl Championship game in what was to be the most watched television event of all time. It was a symbolic and moving moment for the Crescent City and, perhaps, for the entire United States; New Orleans had risen from the chaos of Katrina and its beloved Saints were on the verge of history. Super Bowl XLIV was played in Miami, Florida and New Orleans faced a formidable Indianapolis Colts team. Despite going down 10-0, Saints Quarterback Drew Brees rallied his team and they won the game – and the world championship – by a score of 31-17.
The current season is not yet going well for the New Orleans Saints, although this weeks’ win over the Carolina Panthers may indicate better things to come: Certainly, the fans are solemn but ever hopeful. Happy All Saints Day and a happy birthday to the New Orleans Saints.
Opinion by Graham J Noble