New Orleans was awarded a NFL in 1967 born out of the deal to merge the old NFL and AFL. In 1970 when the two leagues fully merged, the Saints joined the Los Angeles Rams in the newly named NFC West along with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers from the old NFC Coastal Division.
As an expansion team in ‘67, all other teams had to provide a list of rostered players which the expansion teams could choose from to help start the Saints’ franchise. One of the most famous NFL books ever written was Instant Replay. A diary of the Green Bay Packers by Hall of Fame Packers guard and kicker Jerry Kramer in collaboration with sportswriter Dick Schaap, the book includes a passage where Kramer sees Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi crying in the hallway. He asked his coach what was wrong. Lombardi replied, “The Saints chose Paul Hornung.” Though Vince was a disciplinarian, his two favorites players were the knuckleheads: RB Paul Hornung and TE Max McGee.
And so the Saints were born by breaking the heart of the greatest coach ever to grace the sidelines.
The 1960s through the 70s
Al Hirt, the famous New Orleans trombone player, was a minority owner of the franchise when they were developed in 1967. Tom Fears, the Hall of Fame former Rams wideout. was their head coach. Their best quarterback in those early years was old man Billy Kilmer who was also a castoff like Hornung.
As a ten year old, I had the unfortunate experience of having to watch this hapless team attempt to play football, a team worse then the Atlanta Falcons. I never got over the first years of the Saints. I had to pinch myself when they actually won the Super Bowl in 2010.
What had the NFL world come to...
In the old days, the goalposts were inside the endzone. In one instance, Fears, sitting on his stool and smoking cigarettes, called for a punt on fourth down as the Saints were backed up on their own goalline inside the five-yard line. The punter got the snap and kicked the ball right into the goal post. The ball sailed right back into the Coliseum bleachers giving two points for the Rams on the safety. The Rams crowd roared with laughter, What a pathetic franchise.
From 1967 to 1979, the New Orleans Saints played a total of 22 games against the Los Angeles Rams winning only 6. Four of these wins were in New Orleans, who originally played in Tulane stadium and didn’t move inside the Superdome until 1975.
During these years I would judge how well the Rams were going to do that year, by whether they swept the Saints. If not, it was going to be long season.
The Saints had Archie Manning at quarterback, father of both Peyton and Eli. No one felt sorry for Archie during those lean years, but as time has passed fans of the game recognize he was the best thing about New Orleans. Who knows how good Archie could have been with a decent team surrounding him.
The 1980s through 90s
In 1985, Tom Benson, a wealthy car dealership owner, acquired the team from John Mecom. Benson was a flamboyant owner who used to strut on the sidelines after a win, few and far between, dancing in the Superdome with his silly New Orleans Saints umbrella.
In 1985, Benson reached out to Jim Mora, who was coaching in the USFL, to turn the franchise around. Prior to Mora, the Saints had stained coaching careers for Hank Stram, Dick Nolan, Bum Phillips and our own current defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips.
But in 1987, Mora finally did it. The Saints reached the playoffs. But after a decade, he was replaced by Mike Ditka who is remembered for his Saints tenure mostly for the monster trade in the 1999 NFL Draft to move up to take RB Ricky Williams.
It was during this period of ineptitude that Saints fans became famous for wearing brown bags over their heads with “Aints” on it.
Typical of this was the longest punt return in NFL history when Rams CB Robert Bailey ran the ball 105 yards for a touchdown because they just stopped paying attention:
The turnaround years 2000-10
The most notable matchup between the squads came in a playoff wildcard game one year after the Rams won the Super Bowl.
Down by just three with 1:51 remaining, PR Az-Zahir Hakim muffed the punt ending the chances of the Rams repeating as champs to lose the game, 31-28.
That loss prompted me to begin to believe that the Superdome is not a safe place for the Rams. As real estate barons constantly remind buyers, location, location, location. In 2001, the Rams lost the Super Bowl in, of all places, the Superdome.
In 2002, the NFL realigned the league’s divisions to better represent geography. The Aints moved into the NFC South.
In 2006, the Saints finally got their act together hiring Sean Payton as the team’s new head coach. Coming over as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys from the Bill Parcells with Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints upset the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts led by Archie’s son Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl.
This Sunday, a new history will be made
Since 2011, these two teams have faced each other just five times and three times since the Rams returned to Los Angeles. The LA Rams 2.0 are 1-2.
This weekend, the Rams have a chance for redemption having lost 45-35 in Week 9.
The Rams still maintain a 41-33 overall record against the Saints. But this game will have ramifications far more important then any preceding game the two have played against each other as the victor will move on as NFC Champions into Super Bowl LIII.
I’m not a Saints hater, but I don’t like Sean Payton. He’s arrogant and has refused to acknowledge any responsibility for Bountygate. Whether you agree or disagree with the penalties the NFL issued, Payton took pleasure running up the score 49-21 purposely against the Rams in 2016. He wanted to make a point since his former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, was on our sideline whom he blamed for ratting on him. He did the same thing again against our Rams in a meaningless preseason game this year.
I’ve come to the opinion that Payton lacks the class to be a two-time Super Bowl Champion head coach.
The Saints will always remain for me that same old expansion franchise I remember over 50 years ago with their fans wearing what I remember them most for...that brown lunch bag over their heads with the rightful name of their team.
The New Orleans Aints.