They say you have to have faith to be a Saints fan. This may be the understatement of all times.
My earliest recollection of the New Orleans Saints came from my grandfather, who was a huge Saints fan and a season ticket holder. He tried to explain what it meant to believe in a team no matter what by telling me the story of a time when he almost gave up on his beloved Black and Gold.
It was Nov. 8, 1970. The Saints were still playing their home games at the old Tulane Stadium on Claiborne Avenue, not too far from where I live now. The Saints were playing the Detroit Lions, and as usual, they were losing. The score was 17-16 and there were two seconds left on the game clock.
The Saints sent in place kicker Tom Dempsey, who ironically had been born without any toes and had to wear a special shoe with a flat front surface, to attempt the impossible 63-yard field goal for the win. The previous record long field goal was only 56 yards.
Seeing the writing on the wall, my grandfather got up from his seat and started making his way to the exit. Before he was able to get out, the ground shook beneath him as the crowd roared.
He turned around to see the entire Saints team rush the field in celebration, Dempsey had made the field goal and the Saints won the game 19-17. By the way, that 63-yard record still stands today.
You just gotta have faith.
I wish I could tell you that most Saints stories ended that way, but I’d be lying, In fact, the hardest part about being a member of the “Who Dat” Nation is not that the Saints lose, it’s the glorious fashion in which they lose.
They bring you right to the brink, right to edge. They make you believe that this game, this season will be different.
Then they let the other team drive 70 yards with one minute left and kick the game winning field goal, leaving the “Who Dats” feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy yanks the football away and sends us flying through the air yelling, “AAUGH!”
There are many examples from my youth from which I can draw the negative inspiration it takes to underline my point. I’m even old enough to have vague memories of the fans wearing brown paper bags over their heads following the 1980 season when the Saints went 1-15.
Let’s see...there is the 1983 season, when the Saints’ playoff hopes came down to the final game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints were up for the entire game and everyone could already taste the playoffs.
But the Rams scored three touchdowns, two off of interceptions and another off of a punt return, to put them in striking distance of a win.
Another Rams drive put kicker Mike Lansford only 42 yards away from victory with six seconds on the clock. The ball went through the uprights and perpetuated the franchise’s seat in postseason purgatory.
There is also the story of the 1987 Saints, who were the first to get to a playoff game, only to be blown out 44-10. Hey, at least they got there, right?
You can’t forget about the NFC West Division Champion 1991 Saints, who started the season 7-0, and got back to the playoffs against Atlanta. The tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory carried on, however, as the Falcons came from behind to win that one 27-20.
But my all time favorite has to be the 2003 Saints. This team really epitomized what it’s like to be a lifelong Saints fan on an emotional level. Here’s a team that started off 1-4, only to have the stars align just right so that if they beat Jacksonville at the end of the season, they could earn a spot in the playoffs.
Trailing by seven with only six ticks left on the clock, the Saints lined up for a second and ten on their own 25 yard line. What happened next was the stuff of legends. The Saints made three awkward laterals that looked more like a bunch of kids playing “hot potato” in the back yard.
The wild play culminated with Jerome Pathon prancing 21 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
After further review, that even I wanted to see, it was determined that all of the laterals were legal and the touchdown stood. Just one small tap from the sure-footed kicker John Carney and we would be headed to overtime. The season would live on.
As the Saints celebrated on the sidelines, John Carney lined up to make the tie official. The snap went back, the kick went up, and he pushed it. Wide right. Seriously. It wasn’t blocked, nor was it a bad snap or a bad hold. He just missed it. Game over. Season over. By the way, the words you’re grasping for are “Oh, good grief!”
Welcome to the “Who Dat” Nation. Price of admission: FAITH!
By now everyone is familiar with the 2005 Saints, also known as the “Katrina Season.” The Saints didn’t really have any home games that year as their “home” games were either played in San Antonio or at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. It’s a good thing nobody was expecting much, because that’s about what we got.
But the silver lining that came from that cloud, other than re-endearing me to the Saints again, was the new focus and new direction of the Saints management. In 2006, head Coach Jim Haslett was finally replaced by Sean Payton, and we all know the rest of the story,
Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita...you can see grade schoolers wearing any one of these guy’s jerseys on any given day in New Orleans. The 2006 season was nothing short of miraculous.
From that awe-inspiring Monday Night Football game when the Superdome was re-opened, to the NFC Championship Game, every snap will be burned into the memory of every member of the “Who Dat” Nation forever.
But now we are back on planet Earth and the Saints have missed two straight trips to the post-season despite having one of the top producing offenses in the NFL. But we just got the news that not only has the deal been cut to keep the Saints in New Orleans through 2025, New Orleans will get to host our 10th Super Bowl in 2013. The lesson: Faith reaps rewards.
How then, you might ask, can anybody be a Saints fan and still keep their sanity? I asked my grandfather that same question all those years ago. He simply answered, “’Cause dey all we got!”
Grandpa was right. You just gotta have faith!