SAINTS SAGA - VII
Giants Coach Allie Sherman and QB Fran Tarkenton
Coach Allie Sherman and
Fran Tarkenton
1967 Saints-Giants Action
FB Jim Taylor misses pass
against Giants
Saints QB Gary Cuozzo
Gary Cuozzo
Saints WR John Gilliam
John Gilliam
Saints WR Danny Abramowicz
Saints DB Dave Whitsell
Dave Whitsell
Giants WR Homer Jones
Homer Jones with helmet on
Saints LB Steve Stonebreaker
Saints DE Doug Atkins
Doug Atkins
Take Me Out to the Brawl Game
The inaugural New Orleans Saints team sought the first win in franchise history after three home losses as they invaded Yankee Stadium to play the Giants on October 8.
  • The Saints played the G-men tough which surprised the 14-point favorites and their fans since New Orleans had lost their first three contests by a combined 99-30.
  • For the first time in their brief history, the Saints led going into Q4, 21-20.
  • If they had held on, the game would be remembered as the franchise's first triumph. Instead, the contest conjures images of the fight that broke out as the teams left the field.

The visitors matched the Giants TD for TD in the first three periods, the difference being a blocked PAT kick after New York's third 6 pointer.

  • After Ernie Koy culminated a 60y, 8-play drive on the Giants' first possession with a 1y plunge. The key play was a patented Tarkenton scramble out of the pocket on third-and-four at the NY 46 for 8y. Two plays later, Fran rifled one down the middle to Aaron Thomas, who made a leaping catch at the 10 and continued to the 2.
  • A roughing the passer penalty allowed Gary Cuozzo to lead the Saints 69y for the typing score. The flag negated Carl Lockhart's INT. WR John Gilliam caught a 9y pass and also rambled 15y on an end around when the Giants were massed in the middle on a third-and-one. The TD came on a 13y strike to Danny Abramowicz on a post pattern. Charlie Durkee booted the tying point.
  • The Black and Gold took the lead early in Q2 following an INT by Ray Hart, activated the previous week from the taxi squad. Starting at his 31, Cuozzo connected on a big third-and-ten play to Vern Burke, another taxi squad product, for 21y to the NY 37. Another third down play followed when Abramowicz coralled a pass down the sidelines and cut back to the middle to complete a 27y gain to the 1. Gary sneaked across to make it 14-7 after another Durkee EP.
  • DB Dave Whitsell repelled the Giants' next thrust when he blocked a FG attempt and ran the ball to the NO 41. But Tarkenton came right back on the next possession, engineering an 80y march in 10 plays to tie it up. As usual, a third down conversion played a key role, Tark throwing to Homer Jones to the NO 28. Seven plays later, Tucker Frederickson ran around RE from the 2 to make it 14-14.
  • The G-men had a great chance to take the lead right before the break. The opportunity was set up when NO punter Tom McNeill, under a heavy rush, ran for his life but failed to get a first down at the 37. Tarkenton then hit Thomas to the 11 with 0:02 on the clock. But Les Murdock's easy FG try sailed wide.
The game continued nip-and-tuck in the second 30 minutes.
  • The Giants took the kickoff and traveled 78y in 10 plays to score on Fran's 34y pass to Jones. But Whitsell struck again on the PAT attempt, blocking Murdock's boot.
  • Cuozzo answered right back with a 70y march in eight plays. On the TD, Gary imitated Fran, running out of the pocket and hitting Gilliam when the Giant DB came up to stop the run. The play covered 19y. Durkee converted for a one-point lead.
  • Perhaps the key play of the afternoon occurred after NY punted on a fourth-and-six on the NO 47. But the Saints had 12 men on the field. So the Giants decided to go for it. Tark handed off to the 230lb Koy. A Saint hit him behind the line, but he bounced off and reached the 40 to move the chains. Saints coach Tom Fears said afterwards that he thought the whistle blew after the first hit. A few plays later, Fran connected with Tucker Frederickson to the 11. Then the Human Eel escaped a collapsing pocket and threw to former Ole Miss star Bobby Crespino for the go-ahead TD with 7:53 remaining. The PAT made it 27-21.
  • The Giants got the ball again three minutes later. They moved smartly from their 32 to the NO 11 before bogging down. So former LSU Tiger Wendell Harris came in for the clinching FG. But, incredibly, for the third time of the afternoon, Whitsell broke through and blocked the kick.
  • That gave the Saints 55 seconds to try to pull the game out. Cuozzo moved the ball to the NY 45 with 0:05 left. Facing a prevent defense, Gary ducked a hard rush and fired long to a speeding Abramowicz. The ball was deflected by a defender into the hands of DB Carl Lockhart who was a few feet from Danny.

The play that triggered the fisticuffs occured on the Saints' final drive.

  • Tom Hall snagged Cuozo's pass and ran out of bounds on the NY 45 in front of the Giants bench. Hall collided with Gregg Larson who was standing 5y deep on the sideline. Larson appeared to smash his former teammate at the University of Minnesota with an elbow.
  • Enraged by what he considered a cheap shot, LB Steve Stonebreaker ran clear across the field from the Saints sideline to confront Larson. He lunged at the 250 lb C and yelled at him. But the officials corraled Steve and sent him back to his bench so they could mark the ball ready for the final play.
  • Stonebreaker told DE Doug Atkins: I'm going to get that guy after the game. You with me? Atkins recalls: I was worn out, but I couldn't say no.
  • Sure enough, as soon as the game ended, Steve told Doug, Just follow me. So the two of them looked for Larson as the teams crossed paths heading to their dressing rooms. By the time Stonebreaker blindsided Larson, most of the players had disappeared into the bowls of the stadium or else the ensuing melee might have been far larger.
  • Atkins: Stoney and I were the only ones over there for a while, and they were just working on us. We were in the hornets' nest. I swatted one this way, and one that way. I think we fought all the way from the 20y line down to the 30. At the end of it, I was so tired I didn't know what happened to Stonebreaker. About three or four of them had a hold of me. I was so weak ... I couldn't pick my arms up. I was at their mercy. Some old defensive HB for them was standing about five or six feet from me and was just hitting me with his headgear like he was beating on a drum. ... At 37 I'm getting too old for this kind of thing.
  • Finally, DT Dave Rowe came to Doug's rescue. He hit that whole pile and knocked them all off of me. I was never so glad to see a man in all my life.
  • One of the helmet swingers was Jones. I was just protecting myself, he said afterwards. They were coming across the field at me so fast. I just started swinging my helmet.
  • Even Saints owner John Mecom got involved in the scuffle after viewing the game from the sideline. Somebody took a punch at me and I lost my cool. I threw a punch at Number 81 [DB Freeman White] but I missed and hurt my arm.
  • The brawl spilled into the exits and even into the stands before the coaches and stadium police finally got control. Saints radio color analyst Norm Van Brocklin called it the best fight in Yankee Stadium in years.
  • Stonebreaker told the press: It was worse than a cheap shot. He had no excuse.
  • But Larson had a different take: He was coming right at me. I couldn't get out of the way. That's all I'm going to say.
  • After reviewing films of the game, William Wallace of the New York Times wrote a column vindicating Larson. The film showed it was much ado about nothing. Larson, standing too near the sideline with less than a minute to play, pushed Hall ... and it was a good push. But no elbow was swung.
  • Giants coach Allie Sherman: That was no cheap shot. It was just a collision. Poor Larson feels terrible about what happened.

Postscripts

  • Times-Picayune Sports Editor Bob Roesler had a suggestion: Someone can make a sack full of money if he could talk Steve Stonebreaker into taking up boxing, polishing up his left hook and entering him in the heavyweight eliminations. The Saints LB has everything, a good right hand, speed, size and guts. He proved that on the floor of Yankee Stadium last Sunday.
  • On October 26, Fears named Stonebreaker as one of the team's permanent captains. Stonebreaker is a hard, tough football player. He works himself up for every game and this gives us leadership. He's a man with battlefield experience ...
  • Five days later, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle informed Stonebreaker that he had been fined for his role in the altercation in New York. Steve: I'd rather not say how much the fine was. But you can take my word for it, it was what you might call substantial. No, I haven't paid it yet because I don't have that much "mad money" hanging around. One source pegged the levy at $2,500.
  • Several Saints fans started a fund to help Steve pay his fine. Dozens of checks came in. But Rozelle got wind of the scheme and, perhaps fearing a bad precedent being set, called Saints GM Bert Rose to advise Stoney against using the donations for the fine. So Steve announced that all contributions would be turned over to charity and that he would pay the entire fine himself.
  • Still, Stonebreaker endeared himself to Saints fans, some of whom draped a huge banner over the upper deck railing in the south end zone of Tulane Stadium proclaiming themselves Stoney's Sinners.
Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan (2004)
Profile: Don Reese - I
Cocaine can be found in quantity throughout the NFL. It's pushed on players, often from the edge of the practice field. Sometimes it's pushed by players. Prominent players.

Such were the words of ex-Saint Don Reese in a June 14, 1982, article in Sports Illustrated.

  • Don grew up in Prichard AL, the fourth of 11 children of Albert and Osie Reese.

I didn't smoke or drink ... and a marijuana cigarette was something I only heard about. Education, not pot, was pushed on all of us.

  • Even though his older brother played football at Grambling, Don didn't want to go to college to play football even after he got a letter from Alabama asking if he'd like to be one of Bear Bryant's first black players.
  • His father ran a grave digging company and made Don help him dig the graves. ... if the work made me bigger and stronger, it also made me realize I didn't want to do that the rest of my life, either. College football seemed like a good place to hide.
  • So he wound up at Jackson State, only 180 miles from home, where he became a football hero, so good a DE that he was invited to both the Senior Bowl and Coaches All-America Game.
  • He admits to getting in trouble during college. Little things, mainly. Breaking curfew, jumping the wall to visit Paulette [his future wife] off campus. But drugs were never a problem until the very end, and then only marginally. My junior year, I smoked my first reefer. ... I smoked it fairly often after that, usually after games at parties, and then in the off-season. But if I said I used it more than once every couple weeks, it's probably an exaggeration.
  • Inevitably, he got caught. After the last game of the season, he and some of his teammates and a couple of majorettes were in his room just starting to enjoy some pot when Coach Bob Hill banged on the door. I know what's going on in there, Reese. Just pack your bags and get the hell out of here. We don't want you here anymore.

Nevertheless, Reese was Miami's first round (#26) pick in the 1974 NFL Draft.

  • The Dolphins sent a scout to bring him to Miami to negotiate a contract. We were the only two in first class out of Mobile. "You're in the big time now, baby," he said, "Order anything you like," I ordered a vodka and orange juice. Then a gin and orange juice. Then a bourbon and orange juice. I was flying high.
  • Owner Joe Robbie gave him a $45,000 bonus to sign and a three-year contract calling for $28,000 the first year, then $30K and $30K.
  • His agent, former player Abner Haynes, brought his client back to his place in Dallas "to celebrate." If I knew then what I know now, I'd have skipped Dallas and gotten my rear end back to Prichard. But I was going to be a big shot. In a Dallas Holiday Inn, downtown, I sat in a room and watched some people take out these little brown vials of white powder, pour it on a glass, cut shares with a razor blade, and then sniff it up their noses. My first look at cocaine. I didn't do any. I wanted to, just to try it, but I didn't.
  • He insists he was still clean when he went to training camp, where he was impressed by Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, Larry Little, and the other veterans of Miami's back-to-back Super Bowl seasons under Coach Don Shula.
  • But it didn't take him long to partake of the temptation he resisted in Dallas. I tried coke for the first time that week, right there in a room at Biscayne College in North Miami. ... The next week I tried it again, a little heavier. This time I really felt it - wiinnnnnngggg, opening up my nostrils and going right to my toes and back up again. From then on, I was available whenever it was available. By the time the season started, I was snorting at least once a week. I never paid for it. Not then. I'd guess half the players on the Dolphins - whites as well as blacks - were using it in small amounts, as "recreational" doses, you could.
  • A teammate hooked Don up with a dealer so he could get his own stash when he needed it at $40 a gram, below the going rate because he was a pro player. As you might expect, My want grew just like a cancer. Eventually, he snorted at home and even offered some to his wife, but she tried just one sniff. Unh-unh. That ain't me.

Reese played three years in Miami, where he started 20 games at DT his last two seasons.

I didn't use it before games at Miami, and I don't think many Dolphins did. We sure as hell didn't use it in the locker room. If you're only snorting, you can do without coke before a game. It's after a game that you want it bad. The only real chances we took at Miami were on plane rides back from road games. The coaches always sat up front, and we'd be in the back where it was dark ... and we'd sit and sniff right out of the bottle. Or if we were being extra cautious, we'd slip into the bathroom and sniff it there. It's almost impossible to tell when you're doing that little, especially under circumstances where you're supposed to look strung out.

  • The NFL hadn't addressed drugs at that point. As Reese said in 1982: The league could attack the drug problem in a minute with urine tests, but they steer off that land mine because the Players Association objects so strenuously. It's crazy, really. You object to something that will prove you're doing wrong, and you get carte blanche to keep on doing it. In sports involving dogs and horses, they take tests all the time. And Olympics athletes have to be tested. But they don't dare test the players in the NFL. It's crazy.
  • During this period, it's not surprising that Miami went from Super Bowl champs to 11-3 in '74 to 10-4 in '75 to 6-8 in '76.

Finally, in May 1977, his bubble burst.

  • He and teammate Randy Crowder were set up by a fake buyer and caught in an FBI sting in a hotel room. In the wink of an eye, we had turned from prominent big league athletes to common criminals.
  • The agents offered them a deal. You tell us which players are messing with this stuff and where you're getting it, and we'll let you go. Shula won't know, Robbie won't know." Reese said he didn't know where the stuff they were selling came from. Randy also refused to cooperate.
  • When he got out on bail a few hours later, he went home to find his wife sobbing. The arrests had been on the late news. The next three months were pure hell. Our trial had been announced, and nobody would touch us. My parents were mad. Our friends were sacred to come around. Joe Robbie said the only way we'd ever play for the Dolphins again was if it proved to be a case of mistaken identity.

A plea bargain was arranged.

  • After taking a lie detector that showed they were telling the truth when they said they had not sold drugs at any other time, Don and Randy pled guilty, hoping to get a lighter sentence.
  • The judge sent them to the Dade County Stockade for a year, a sentence that Don called Light if you don't have to serve it, heavy if you do.
  • If the judge thought the miscreants would be drug-free inside the prison, he was sadly mistaken. Don: I came out more stunted and fouled up than ever. There were as many drugs inside the jail as out. We used marijuana freely. Coke I snorted there once. I could have had as much as I wanted, but I was wary.

Both Reese and Crowder hoped to resume their playing careers.

  • Shula surprisingly said that the players "should not be condemned for all time."
  • However, Robbie said they would "never play for the Dolphins again." He even tried to get Commissioner Rozelle to ban them for life, but Pete refused.

A week after his release from prison in August, 1978, Reese signed to play with New Orleans. His acquisition proved to be one of the many mistakes the Saints made over the years.

Continued below ...

Reference: "'I'm Not Worth a Damn,'" Don Reese with John Underwood,
Sports Illustrated 6/14/82

 

 

 

Sports Illustrated Cover

Jackson State DT Don Reese
Don Reese, Jackson State

Dolphins DT Don Reese
Don Reese, Dolphins

Dolphins DT Randy Crowder

Dolphins Coach Don Shula
Don Shula

Dolphins Owner Joe Robbie
Joe Robbie in the stadium named for him

Profile: Don Reese - II

 

 

Saints Owner John Mecom, Jr.
John Mecom

Saints DT Don Reese

Saints RB Chuck Muncie
Chuck Muncie

Saints Coach Dick Nolan
Dick Nolan

Saints Coach Dick Stanfel
Dick Stanfel

Saints LB Joe Federspiel

Saints DT Derland Moore

Saints owner John Mecom made Don Reese "an offer I couldn't refuse."
  • Mecom, with a long history of wasting his daddy's oil money on questionable players, gave Reese a $40,000 bonus and $70,000-a-year salary despite the fact that Don had just spent over a year in prison for selling drugs.
  • According to Reese, Mecom hugged him and said, I don't care what's happened before. You're a Saint now, and I'm glad we have you.
  • Don added: I really liked Mr. Mecom. He was like a little boy over the signing. I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven. Of course, why wouldn't you like someone who just gave you a great contract with no strings attached after you thought your pro career was over? And Reese certainly sized up his new owner quickly when he called him "a little boy."

At first, Reese tried to repay Mecom for his trust in him.

  • Don had his best year as a pro in 1979. He led the team in sacks and was named the Saints' defensive MVP.
  • As a reward, Mecom renegotiated Don's contract to $150,000 a year and gave him another bonus.

Then a difficult situation in his personal life weakened his resolve to stay away from drugs.

  • His second son, Philip, was born two months premature. Weighing only four pounds, 12 ounces, he struggled to live and contracted multiple diseases.
  • Reese: I felt a closeness to Philip that I'd never felt for anyone before. ... it was so sad, watching him stuggle to live. ... I felt so helpless and depressed ... Deep down I think I blamed myself. I thought he was being punished because of me. I know I began feeling sorry for myself again ...
  • Also, cocaine exploded in popularity again in 1980. Everywhere you went, people were talking about it. And the big new item was freebasing ...
  • He says that, except for a few reefers, he stayed away from drugs his first year in New Orleans, partly because he was afraid of getting involved again and partly because the players were afraid of him. DT Elex Price told him that some of the Saints thought Don was an undercover narcotics agent.

One night turned Reese back onto the road to perdition.

  • A group of players gathered at the home of DE Bob Pollard, who had been traded and was out of town. Their intention was to "toot some coke," and Reese foolishly went along with them.
  • He snorted coke but also talked to RB Chuck Muncie about freebasing. As a result, Chuck invited him to his house to try the new method of experiencing cocaine. Don took one pull and threw up. I got sick as a dog. It tasted like raw chemicals. But he admitted: If I am consistent about anything in life, I am consistent about being a glutton for punishment.
  • So two weeks later, he tried freebasing again, this time with Lloyd Mumphord, a former Dolphin. This time it had a sweeter taste that Don liked. He joined a small circle of players, including DB Clarence Chapman, RB Mike Strachan, and QB Guy Benjamin, who freebased together to the point that Don's new habit cost him $1,500 to $1,800 a month.
  • Remember that the NFL didn't start drug testing the players until 1987, and then only for steroids. Commissioner Pete Rozelle, whose leadership made the NFL the greatest sports league in the world, refused to confront the issue despite evidence that drug use was rampant on many teams.

The players accelerated their drug use when the Saints opened their 1980 training camp in Vero Beach FL.

  • Every night was fun night. We were so bold with it, it got to be ridiculous. One time Chuck and I cooked all night long for three nights in a row. Muncie recalled a time when QB Archie Manning came by their room. "Hey, you guys cooking up some soul food?" We were like, "Uh yeah, Archie. That's what we're doing."
  • More than once I came right out of freebasing into team meetings. A coach would be talking, and I'd sit there in a daze, all messed up, breathing hard, my chest swollen, my heart pounding, just dying for another hit and unable to get it. Finally, I said screw the meetings. I started skipping. And every time I missed, I got fined $250. Which meant that I was spending $400 a day for coke in order to screw myself out of another $250.
  • If anybody on the team didn't know what was going on, they were deaf, dumb, and blind. Players would come into the dressing room after being up all night and they'd brag about it.
  • Finally, Coach Dick Nolan asked Don if he was on drugs. Coach, I'd be a fool to be on drugs, he replied. Nolan accepted his answer.

Despite their problems, Reese and his drug buddies thought 1980 would be a good season. All that proves is the rosy picture of life that drug use can put in your mind.

  • After seeing their team finish .500 for the first time in franchise history in 1979, with the sixth best offense in the league, fans anticipated the first winning season in 1980.
  • Instead, the Saints lost their first four games. Reese: I realized we needed help. The players were in the streets at night, going from house to house, getting stuff.
  • Don called the NFL drug counsellor but never heard back from him. So instead, I did something foolish. He told Tom Pratt, his D-line coach. that he didn't want to start anymore. Don claimed he was hurt, which was true because his right knee was bothering him. Nolan and Pratt agreed and started Tommy Hart, but each week they put Don in after Q1. Reese asked to be traded before changing his mind the next day but still maintained that he didn't want to return to the Saints for '81.
  • Amid all the turmoil, GM Steve Rosenbloom was asked if the Saints had a drug problem. I don't think so. ... We are doing everything in our power to monitor the situation. I don't think we have a problem here.
  • When the losing streak reached 12 after a 27-7 loss to the Rams on Monday Night Football, with the fans wearing bags marked "Aints" over their heads, Mecom fired Nolan and named O-line coach Dick Stanfel the interim coach. The owner said that one of the reasons he relieved Dick of his job was fear for the man's health.

Reese presented the new coach with a big problem on his very first day on the job.

  • The Saints practiced in the Superdome because of rain. Reese attended in sweat clothes because of his sprained knee. Twice Pratt admonished him to quit bitching to the media on the sideline.
  • When Don grudgingly returned to the fold, he exchanged words with LB Joe Federspiel. Soon, DT Derland Moore joined the discussion, taking off his helmet and stripping off his pads. Moore said, Why don't you get out of here, Reese. You quit a long time ago. Don replied that Moore had been a loser since he joined the club. The two lunged at each other, throwing punches until several players separated them. Reese then began screaming that the club management and coaching staff were racists.
  • Moore recalled the fight years later. I've never punched someone harder in my life. I seriously wanted to kill that man. I was punching him so hard in the face his head cocked back and hit the cinder-block wall. He just got up and shook it off. You don't do that without being on something. A normal person would not have gotten up from that.
  • Stanfel resumed practice, but Reese hovered on the edge, continuing his criticism and coming close to squaring off with Federspiel.

The next day, Stanfel suspended Reese without pay for the rest of the season.

  • Stanfel: His actions were detrimental to the club and to me. It was an ugly thing but it had to be done. ... Like I told Don, I didn't suspend him. He suspended himself. The penalty and the resulting loss of $30,000 stood as the heaviest disciplinary action ever handed down to a Saints player.
  • However, Reese was in a conciliatory mood. I went to practice all ready to make apologies and everything to everybody, but I never got the chance. He called me right into his office and said I was suspended for ... the rest of the season. I just shook his hand and said OK. I like the man. I respect him. He was doing what he thought he had to do, I guess.
  • Newspaper accounts of the fight and suspension didn't mention Reese's drug problem although reporters had to have some inkling of what was going on within the team. For example, Bob Marshall wrote in the Times-Picayune about Reese: His 1980 season started shakily in training camp, and got worse. After a few weeks, he came in for criticism from Head Coach Dick Nolan for his lack of concentration, and by the third regular-season game had lost his starting job ... By his own admission, Reese has had disciplinary problems most of the season, getting fined on several occasions. "Started shakily" and "lack of concentration" might have been carefully chosen phrases to cover over the real reason for the DT's decline.
  • Reese, of course, didn't reveal the cause of his poor play. My problem was losing. I've given this club everything I've had for two years. But I can't take losing, that's the whole story. I can't stomach it. The thing I'm sorriest about right now is that I've let Mr. John Mecom down. He did a lot for me when I needed help after getting out of jail.
  • Of course, what Reese told reporters was not at all the "whole story." Behind the scenes, Don went to Fred Williams, Mecom's righthand man, and told him what was really going on with the drug problem. Williams promised to tell Mecom not to advance Reese any more of his deferred until Don was "straightened out."

The Saints avoided a winless season by upsetting the Jets in the second-to-last game to finish 1-15.

  • In June, 1981, new coach Bum Phillips informed Reese that San Diego had claimed him off waivers. They gave him a two-year guaranteed contract for $185,000 the first year and $210,000 the second (proving that P. T. Barnum was right when he said, There's a sucker born every minute).
  • In the new city, as Reese said, I was about to make my final flame-out. He was reunited with Muncie, who had made the Pro Bowl in '79 but had been traded to the Chargers after four games of the '80 season when the Saints could no longer stomach his disciplinary problems.
  • The only difference between the drug abuse in San Diego and the drug abuse in New Orleans was that in San Diego more and bigger names were involved, including Chuck Muncie, and the action was a lot more cautious.
  • As soon as Reese arrived at the Chargers' training camp, one of the WRs engaged him in a conversation about how to cook coke. That night, Reese started freebasing again. The next day, Don was amazed that he passed the team physical.
  • He suffered an injury in the fourth game. They shot him up with novocaine so that he could keep playing, but he finally had to have surgery. The club waived him with two games left in the '81 season.

When he returned to New Orleans, he was confronted by dealers whom he owed a great deal of money, including one who fired a bullet to scare him.

  • Reese, in his own words, sneaked out of New Orleans like a thief in the night. He checked into a hospital to get the help he needed and finally wanted to escape his desperate straits.
  • Five weeks later, he checked out and collaborated with John Underwood on his blockbuster June, 1982, article in Sports Illustrated.
  • He reconciled with his wife, and they moved to Atlanta with their two sons. He also claimed to be a born-again Christian. When Don was summoned back to Miami to face charges of probation violation, the judge released him into the custody of the minister who presided over his conversion.
  • Three years later, Reese played DE for the Birmingham Stallions in the United States Football League.
  • Reese died in 2003 at age 52 of liver cancer.

References: "'I'm Not Worth a Damn,'" Don Reese with John Underwood, Sports Illustrated 6/14/82
Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan (2004)

Memorable Games: Vince's Redskins - I
The third Saints squad welcomed Washington for the season opener on September 21, 1969. What might otherwise be a ho-hum game attracted national attention because it was Vince Lombardi's debut as coach/GM of the Redskins.
  • Vince retired as Green Bay coach after the 1967 season that produced the Ice Bowl victory and triumph in Super Bowl II to go with their victory in Super Bowl I.
  • But one year as just General Manager of the Packers convinced Vince that he missed coaching. In addition, his wife Marie suffered from depression and alcoholism and badly needed a relocation.
  • So, when Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams wooed him with an offer he couldn't refuse - coach and GM as well as executive vice president with 50 shares of stock in the club and a salary of $110,000 annually, an astronomical sum at that time - Vince moved to Washington, a city of which he said This is where everything happens.
  • He had his work cut out for him since the Skins hadn't enjoyed a winning record since 1955.
  • So Lombardi, whose arrival in the Nation's Capital a reporter dubbed "the second coming," tried to dampen expectations. In spite of what you've heard, I can't walk on water. Not even when the Potomac is frozen. He knew it would take several years to build a Super Bowl team.
  • When asked at the press conference why he returned to coaching, Vince answered, Because my wife said I was a damn fool for quitting the side lines.
  • At a later date, Lombardi clarified: I made a horrible mistake when I stepped out of coaching, but to go back to it in Green Bay would have hurt people," especially his successor Phil Bengston.

Lombardi's hiring had an immediate, "almost evangelical" effect on the Washington players who previous coach, Hall of Fame QB Otto Graham, had "an affable disregard of discipline, assertinghimself only when the mood seized him."

  • For example, five-year veteran C Len Hauss, hearing the news while on a fishing vacation, "sensed an urgent need to prepare himself for Coach Lombardi."
  • T Jim Snowden became the first Redskin to comment publicly on the news: The prospect of playing for Lombardi frightens me.
  • Young FB Ray McDonald lost 20 pounds thanks to a combination of a new diet and worry about surviving Lombardi's famously grueling training camp.
  • All-Pro WR Bobby Mitchell, who became the Redskins' first African-American player in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in 1962, compared Vince to Paul Brown. You believe in the man. It was the same with Paul Brown. You knew in advance to accept his discipline, you wanted his discipline. ... For a black player, it's the knowledge that you will be treated the same [as the white players]. Mr. Lombardi does not like long hair. He told Jerry Smith [who is white] he could not see how he could catch a ball with all that hair in his face, and the very next day Jerry got a haircut. The word got around. The week before camp opened all the players with those far-out Afros were crammed into the Ashby brothers' barbershop getting their hair chopped off. You've never see so much hair on the floor. ... Mr. Lombardi told us ..., "Fellows, we will win. You believe that." We never believed it before. We were conditioned to losing. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old Mitchell decided during training camp that he didn't have it anymore and retired.
  • Lombardi talked LB Sam Huff, who retired after the 1967 season, into rejoining the team.

The main person impacted by Lombardi's taking over was Christian Adolph Jurgensen III, a 12-year NFL veteran known to the world as "Sonny," who had been with Washington since 1964.

  • The 35-year-old QB was the heir apparent in the league to Bobby Layne, who had made the Hall of Fame while partying non-stop.
  • Jurgensen and Lombardi were as unmatched a pair of seraphim as you will ever see. ... Sonny would seem at a glance to be as relaxed as Lombardi is rigid and as irreverent as Lombardi is proper (John Underwood).
  • Green Bay writers pointed to Sonny's protruding stomach and predicted Lombardi would take it as a "direct personal affront."
  • But Sonny had grown sick and tired to putting up great numbers on losing teams - to the point where he had privately decided to quit after one more year.
  • The first thing Sonny did when he heard of Lombardi's hiring was to call Paul Hornung, another playboy who had been one of Vince's favorite players at Green Bay. Paul told Sonny, Forget everything else you've ever heard. You'll love Vince Lombardi. He'll be fair, and it'll be a whole new deal for you. Look, I played for him, didn't I?
  • Jurgensen met with Lombardi for the first time in February. The first thing Vince told his QB was: Sonny, I want just one thing from you. I want you to be yourself. I'm not interested in all the rest, I just want you to be yourself.
  • Sonny was elated. Wasn't that a great thing to say to a guy? He was telling me he had heard the stories and that it didn't matter. He knew I wasn't Bart Starr and that I didn't want to be. He was man to man with me from the start. I can't tell you how good I felt. ... I've always wanted to play for a coach like him. I wish it had happened long ago, when I had my career in front of me. I felt I'd been playing under a handicap, a cripple for 12 years. ... For the first time in a long time, I was excited about football. I honestly could hardly wait to get to camp.
 Sonny Jurgensen 1968Sonny Jurgensen and Vince Lombardi 1969
L: Sonny Jurgensen 1968 with his gut; R: Svelte Jurgensen with Lombardi 1969
Once summer meetings and then training camp began, the Redskins were not disappointed by their new coach.
  • On the night the players, including an NFL record 51 veterans, gathered for training camp, the new coach gave them an updated version of the speech that began his Green Bay tenure: I've never been with a loser, gentlemen, and I don't intend to start at this late date. ... I want total dedication from every man in this room, dedication to himself, to the team, and to winning. Winning is a habit, gentlemen. Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. If you can shrug off a loss, you can't be a winner. ... I'm going to push you and push you and push you because I get paid to win and so do you. Football is a violent game. To play you have to be tough. Physically tough and mentally tough.
  • His organization and attention to detail were like nothing the Redskins had ever experienced. Jurgensen after the first four days of meetings: His passing game amazes me, the science of it. The consistency of it. It doesn't matter who the QB is, it is always the same. ... He doesn't leave anything to chance. ... You never force the action with Lombardi, you do what the defense shows you to do.
Vince Lombardi at Redskins Training Camp
Lombardi teaches Redskins, including Jurgensen, at training camp.
A reorganization of the NFL put the Saints and the Redskins in the same division for 1969, which meant they would play twice.
  • The Capital Division also included the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
  • So New Orleans played Washington twice, hosting the opener and visiting the Redskins for the second-to-last game of the season.

Continued below ...

Reference: "We're Going to Win - You Better Believe It," John Underwood,
Sports Illustrated
, July 28, 1969
When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss (1999)
Coach: A Season with Lombardi, Tom Dowling (1970)


Vince Lombardi Sports Illustrated Cover
Vince Lombardi 03/69

Redskins LB Sam Huff
Sam Huff

Memorable Games: Vince's Redskins - II



Redskins Coach Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi

Saints Coach Tom Fears
Tom Fears

Saints DE Doug Atkins
Doug Atkins

Saints WR Al Dodd

Washington WR Charley Taylor
Charley Taylor

Saints RB Tony Baker

Saints TE Ray Poage
Ray Poage

Saints DB Bo Burris
Bo Burris

Redskins WR Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith

Washington Owner Edward Bennett Williams
Edward Bennett Williams

Saints WR Danny Abramowicz

Saints RB Don Shy
Don Shy

Saints T Don Talbert
Don Talbert

As the Redskins opener in New Orleans approached, new coach Vince Lombardi praised the opponent.

The Saints are going to be tougher than you think. Forget their exhibition season record. They've got those good big runners - Tony Baker, Wheelwright, Andy Livingston, Joe Don Looney; those guys go 230 pounds and up. They can pound us to pieces. You can never tell about a guy like Looney. He could have a hell of a day.

  • It was interesting that Vince singled out Looney, an extremely gifted RB who had played for the Redskins in 1966 and again in '67 and vexed Coach Otto Graham just as he had defied every other coach he played for, starting with his mentor at Oklahoma, Bud Wilkinson.
  • Now, after a military hitch that included a year in Vietnam, Looney had signed with the Saints swearing that he had "straightened out."

Lombardi sounded almost paranoid in assessing the Saints, who had compiled a woeful 7-20-1 record during their two years in the league.

  • Tom Fears, one-time assistant to Lombardi, coached the Saints whose exhibition season ended with a 42-7 embarrassment at the hands of Detroit.
  • Even though his Packers had not played in the Crescent City, Vince feared the atmosphere in Tulane Stadium. That New Orleans, they're something else. Al Hirt blowing that damn trumpet on the side lines, and they put up two big speakers on either end of the visiting bench, blaring right into your ears. Eighty thousand people screaming every time you've got the ball so you can't even hear your own signals, and when they've got the ball you can hear a pin drop. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to take a pair of wire-clippers down on the side lines, and the first time I hear Al Hirt blowing that damn trumpet in my ear, I'm going to cut the speaker cords. No, on second thought, maybe I'll have someone from the cab squad cut them.
  • Since he grinned after making that statement, the Washington reporters assumed he was kidding, although they didn't know him well enough yet to be sure.
  • Three days before the game, Lombardi signed Frank Ryan when Cleveland put him on waivers. The Ph.D. in mathematics had led the Browns to the 1964 NFL championship and to the finals in 1965. Vince could now breathe easier should Sonny Jurgensen go down just as he felt confident that veteran Steve Bratkowski could replace Bart Starr if necessary for the Packers.
  • Ryan's signing did nothing to enhance Washington's running attack, which Vince spent most of the preseason trying to develop. His best bets toting the leather appeared to be rookie Larry Brown and veteran Gerry Allen although he also picked up Henry Dyer from the Giants two weeks earlier.

The 73,147 (including yours truly) who packed Tulane Stadium on a beautiful Sunday afternoon saw the Redskins start the Lombardi Era with a bad Q1.

  • Tom Dempsey kicked off for the Saints to former teammate Flea Roberts, who ran it back 33y to the 36.
  • Allen ran for 3y, then everything came unstuck. Dyer ran a draw play but was thrown for a 4y loss by massive DE Doug Atkins, an 18-year veteran who had won the 1968 Vince Lombardi Dedication Award presented by the Wisconsin Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.
  • Two straight delay of game penalties moved the Skins back 10 and, of course, enraged the coach.
  • An incomplete pass forced a punt, immediately giving the Saints good position at midfield when Al Dodd, signalling for a fair catch, was belted by a Redskin. (Grind your teeth, Vince!) But the Saints were unable to move, and Dempsey's 57y FG missed a shade to the right.
  • Jurgensen & Company didn't look much better on their second possession. Sonny hit WR Charley Taylor for 7 but misfired badly on the next two. The Saints took another short punt on their 37.
  • Livingston swept LE for 8, then went the other direction for 7 and up the middle for 4. Tony Baker added 5 before QB Billy Kilmer hit Ray Poage on the 35, and the TE hoofed it to the 15. Livingston gained 6, then 4 more for a first-and-goal on the 5. On the next snap, Kilmer calmly tossed to Poage. As Ray caught the ball, the cannon fired, and a defender tackled him, causing a fumble. But the official's arms reached for the heavens. Dempsey's PAT made it 7-0 with 5:09 on the clock.
 Redskins QB Sonny Jurgensen 1969Saints QB Billy Kilmer
The QBs: Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer
The second quarter didn't start well for the visitors either.
  • Tom McNeill's punt bottled up the Skins at their 11. Dyer promptly fumbled, Atkins recovering. The redoubtable Livingston carried around E to the 5, but two Kilmer passes, one to Poage and one to Ernie Wheelwright, failed. So Dempsey booted a 13y FG (the posts still on the goal line) for a 10-0 lead as the throng went wild.
  • Jurgensen finally came alive. As he knelt in the huddle to start the next series, he told his troops they were too nervous. Leading by example, he hit flanker Bob Long on a sideline fly pattern past Bo Burris on third-and-one for 52y. Four plays later, Taylor twisted and jumped high for a 10y TD pass to cut the margin to three.
  • As bad teams are wont to do, the Saints lived up to their name with a generous gift to the opposition. Curt Knight's kickoff sailed 8y deep in the EZ. Carl Ward caught the ball, started to kneel down, then decided to run it out. Bad idea. Hit at the 13, he fumbled, and Mike Bass recovered for the visitors. On the very first play, Jurgensen pumped the ball to WR Jerry Smith (he of the shorter hair) in the EZ, and suddenly it was 14-10 Washington.
  • When the Saints took over, Redskins' owner Edward Bennett Williams, up in the stands, said, Oh, oh, here comes Joe Don into the game. He added to his companions (including reporter Tom Dowling), Did you see in the paper where Joe Don's dog, T-bone, went berserk the other day and got in someone's henhouse? No sooner than they straighten Joe Don out, T-bone goes around the bend.
  • Neither Williams nor his expensive coach needed to worry. Looney skirted LE, where Carl Kammerer jammed him for a 1y loss. That would prove to be Joe Don's total for the day and one-fifth of the yardage he would gain - or lose - in three attempts for the Saints that season before being jettisoned after three games.
  • At halftime, the crowd listened to Ella Fitzgerald team with Hirt on "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans."
 Andy Livingston and Jake Kupp
Andy Livingston follows Jake Kupp.
The Saints struck first after the break.
  • With Livingston carrying four times for 28 and Kilmer connecting with Danny Abramowicz for 9, the Saints moved close enough for Dempsey to trim the deficit to 14-13 with a 43-yarder in spite of a tricky cross wind.
  • McNeill won the next exchange of punts, booming one 52y to the Skins 26. But that's when Jurgensen found his pal Taylor on another sensational play. Though well covered by Elijah Nevett, Charley gathered in the beautiful pass and raced all the way to complete a 51y play. Bragg's conversion made it 21-13 with only eight seconds left in Q3.

The Saints roared back.

  • Alternating passes with Livingston's gutty running, Kilmer completed a gem of a screen to Dodd which gained 30y to the enemy 35. Billy got 17 more with a pass to Poage. A holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 34, but Don Shy gained all of it back and then some, 22y to the 12. A roughing the passer penalty moved N.O. 6y closer. Finally, Andy, behind the blocking of Don Talbert and Jake Kupp, took it over from the 1 to again pull the Saints within 1. (The NFL refused to adopt the AFL's 2-point conversion even after the merger took place the following year.)
  • Reacting the way any competitor would, Jurgensen answered. He calmly completed a 31y aerial to Brown and another for 28y to Smith. When the drive stalled at the 11, Knight ambled on to make it 24-20 with 4:08 left.
  • With ample time to salvage the game, the Saints got in their own way again. Shy picked up his bobble of the kickoff but was downed on the 14. Then an ineligible receiver call and a sack made it fourth-and-18 from the 2. So McNeill took the snap and stepped out of the EZ for a safety with 1:26 showing. Since Las Vegas had proclaimed Washington a 5-point favorite, the 6-point deficit would cost gamblers some money. Williams laughed, Well, nobody can say the Saints are in the pay of the Mafia.
  • The safety gave the Saints a chance for an onside kick from the 20. But Fears elected to punt and hope to stop the Redskins and gain better field position. Roberts returned the kick to his 38. At that point, the Washington owner told his friends, I think I'll light up my victory cigar. Would you like one?
  • But he was almost premature. The Saint D, using up its timeouts, forced a punt that regained possession on the 20 with just 80 seconds left. Livingston picked up 11 against the loose D. Facing a prevent D, Kilmer threw to Livingston twice for a net 4y, then to Baker for 5. Billy sneaked for a first down at the 40 to stop the clock with 0:22 showing. He passed to Shy for 6, then threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock with two ticks remaining. A desperation shot down the field to Dodd was just a fraction too long, with Al diving for the ball inside the 5.

The stats favored the home team and revealed a record-setting performance.

  • Livingston carried 27 times for 142y to break the franchise record for rushing yards in a game, 127 by the traded Don McCall.
  • Two team marks also fell. 217y rushing yards eclipsed the previous standard of 183 as did the 12 first downs by rushing.
  • The Saints led in first downs 20-12 and in total yardage 341-303.
  • Jurgensen hit only 10-of-23 but gained a hefty 220 thanks to the two long completions.

Fears was more angry than despondent about the loss.

  • How the heck can a team play that good and still get beat? We played a heck of a game today.
  • In response to a question about the Redskin QB, he replied: Sure, there's a way to stop Sonny Jurgensen, but how the heck can you get a rifle into the stadium? There's no way to defend against the perfect pass and Jurgensen just wasn't going to miss today. He hit receivers with people hanging on his arms. He hit them while falling down. The only way we could have stopped him would have been to shoot him.
  • Atkins added to what his coach said about Sonny. We had a real good rush on and we must have dumped him a dozen times as he threw the ball. Some guys you can get to by dumping them, but Jurgensen just comes right back and throws it down your throat.

Livingston, seeing his first live action in quite awhile, thanked his coach.

  • I had problems with the Bears, but coach Fears has worked real hard with me and he's been extremely fair. Anything I did today I owe to him and that line.
  • His record performance was tempered by the outcome. It doesn't mean a whole lot in defeat. I've never seen holes like the ones I had today. We came so, so close to breaking off a few long ones ... I mean we were just a half block from gong all the way a number of times.

Lombardi flashed his toothy smile in the locker room.

  • On his defense: We bent a lot but didn't break.
  • On his offense: Our running game left much to be desired. But our passing was great. Sonny, Taylor, and Smith were superb.
  • On the most significant point about the game: This team was down by 10 points and then came back strong. That's just the opposite of the past.
  • Jurgensen chimed in: We are better balanced over last year, our attitude is improved, and by the way (patting his stomach) we're all in much better condition.

MLB Sam Huff, who returned to the football wars after a year in retirement, might have been in good condition but still was one tired individual.

I didn't expect the Saints to run wide so much. Every time that Livingston ran wide, that meant another 20 or 30 yards of running for me to try to catch up with him. After awhile I began to think he just couldn't run wide again, that he must be bushed. But sure enough, there he went around end again.

Sam earned AP Defensive Player of the Week.

Continue below ...

Coach: A Season with Lombardi, Tom Dowling (1970)
Memorable Games: Vince's Redskins - III
After beating the Saints in their 1969 opener, Vince Lombardi's Redskins went 5-4-2 before facing New Orleans again in the second-to-last game of the season.
  • A win would guarantee Washington their first winning season since 1955 when they went 8-4 under Joe Kuharich.
  • QB Sonny Jurgensen led the league in both completion % (62.7) and passing yardage (2729). WR Charley Taylor tied for second behind the Saints' Danny Abramowicz in receptions. RB Larry Brown ranked fifth in rushing (795y).
  • It was a different story on the other side of the ball. The defense gave up more yards than Jurgensen's O gained. Opponents also ran more plays than the Skins.

The Saints stood at 4-8.

  • After three straight wins, they had lost at Atlanta 45-17 the week before traveling to Washington.
  • Abramowicz continued to be a bright spot for the franchise. The WR had become the third receiver in league history with 50 or more catches in his first three years along with Mike Ditka, still playing with Dallas, and Saints' coach Tom Fears.
  • Fears' two big backs, Andy Livingston and Tony Baker, who had given Washington so much trouble in the first game, led the team with 640 and 558y respectively. Andy ranked eighth and Tony, eleventh, on the NFL rushing list.

The weather and the turf combined to create a drab atmosphere at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

  • The temperature was 35° but the 10 mph wind and 72% relative humidity lowered the wind chill to 28 for the 50,354 in attendance. The remains of the Washington Senators' infield was now frozen mud.
  • Lombardi came out in a pair of rubbers, which hardly fit his hardy image. He expected the Saints to run the ball just as they had done for 217y in New Orleans nearly three months earlier.

The game was a Tale of Two Halves, the home team winning the first by a bigger margin than the visitors won the second.

  • QB Billy Kilmer had gone to a hospital that morning for treatment for a stomach virus. In addition, he suffered from a bad shoulder. In retrospect, Fears would regret starting Billy as offensive errors contributed to a 17-0 Redskins margin that backup QB Edd Hargett couldn't overcome.
  • Neither team showed much offensive punch early. After an exchange of punts, Washington capitalized on a poor, low punt by Ollie Cordill that former Saint Walt "Flea" Roberts returned 23y to the N.O. 38. Six plays later, RB Charlie Harraway scored from the 11 with 5:14 on the clock. The key play was a third down Jurgensen pass to TE Jerry Smith for 11y to the 20.
  • The Redskin D came alive at that point and held the Saints without a first down the rest of Q1 and most of Q2. Sam Huff & Company forced a three-and-out, but this time Cordill boomed a 52-yarder to the 1.
  • The Saints nearly got a break when Harraway fumbled but, after a scramble, recovered himself at the 7. (No doubt he feared Lombardi's wrath when he returned to the sideline.) Still, N.O. got good field position on the subsequent punt.
  • But that's when Kilmer made his first mistake. Trying to hit WR Al Dodd on a turn-in, Billy overshot him. Mike Bass intercepted at the 30 and returned the ball 21y to the Saint 45.
  • On third and one at the 36, Jurgensen went for the long ball, throwing deep to Taylor over the middle. But Gene Howard appeared at the last moment to bat down what seconds before looked like a sure TD pass. Curt Knight then missed a 44y FG.
  • After an exchange of punts, Kilmer moved the Saints to a long-awaited first down. But Kilmer threw for Dodd again, but Al and the ball took different paths. DB Rickie Harris snagged the errant pigskin and set sail down the sidelines until Kilmer ran him out of bounds at the 28.
  • Two plays later, Jurgensen hit Smith slanting over the middle to the 15. But the Saints tightened and forced a 19y FG to fatten the lead to 10-0 with 4:14 left in the half.
  • Fears sent in Hargett on the next series, but the rookie couldn't dig out of a hole created by a 15y penalty. So Cordill punted to the Redskin 47.
  • With time waning in the half, Jurgensen needed only four plays to make it 17-0. Passes to Harraway and Bob Long put the ball on the 30. After Bo Burris dropped a sure INT, Sonny hit Harraway out of the backfield, and the 215-pounder rambled into the EZ with 1:12 left.
  • Hargett managed to get the offense moving. The Saints found themselves on the Washington 37 with nine seconds remaining. Fears opted to pass up the FG but, in keeping with the way the half went, the decision backfired. Hargett hit Baker over the middle, and Tony broke two tackles before being hauled down at the 5. Unfortunately, the gun went off before the Saints could stop the clock. The loss of a possible 3 points would come back to haunt them.
1969 Saints-Redskins Action - 1 1969 Saints-Redskins Action - 2
L: DE John Hoffman grabs what he can to stop Andy Livingston.
R: LB Dick Absher (53) and Elijah Nevett stop RB Charley Harraway.
You know Lombardi warned his team that the game wasn't over, but the Redskins didn't play nearly as well the second half.
  • They began Q3 with a six-minute drive that fell 4y short of a first down at midfield. Mike Bragg came in to kick but, when Elijah Nevett charged in from the outside, decided to run around RE. LB Les Kelley tackled him 1y short, giving the Saints excellent field position.
  • Hargett went to his running game, and Baker and Livingston responded by moving the ball to the 24 on two first downs. Andy gobbled up another 14 on a power sweep. After an incompletion, Hargett tossed to Don Shy who was stopped inches short of the goal. Don carried it in over the right side on the next play to finally break the Saints' scoring drought. Tom Dempsey's conversion made it 17-7 with 4:35 left in the period.
  • With Jurgensen not nearly as sharp as he was the first 30 minutes, the Saints defense stifled the Skins on their next possession but roughing the kicker and piling on penalties enabled Washington to move from their 20 to the 43 but no further. Bragg atoned somewhat for his earlier mistake by punting 47y to the 3.
  • Not playing like a rookie on the road, Hargett proceeded to move the Saints 97y. A pass to WR Dave Parks and a reverse by Shy picked up a pair of first downs to the 35. Then Baker took a short pass and ran hard to the Washington 39. Livingston ripped off 15 on the next play, and Ernie Wheelwright tacked on 19 more on the next for a first down at the 5. Huff came in to lead a goal-line stand, and the Skins stuffed Shy twice, Sam leading the charge the second time. But on third down, Ernie weaved through the middle to score standing up. 17-14 with 12:05 left in the game.
  • Lombardi needed his offense to come back to life and it did briefly. Sonny hit Taylor for 20y to the midfield stripe. After another first down on the ground, the Redskins faced third-and-1 at the 30. Jurgensen handed to Harraway. The official fished around for the ball in the pile-up and put it back at the line of scrimmage, a misplacement in the eyes of booing Washington fans. Knowing that a FG would still leave him vulnerable to a Saints TD, Lombardi decided to go for it. But LB Johnny Brewer stopped Harraway short.
  • 5:20 gave the Saints plenty of time to run as well as pass. Baker and Living­ston alternated carries to midfield. Faced with fourth-and-one and a half, Har­gett sent Andy behind RT Errol Linden for 5 to keep the drive alive. Another 3y Livingston gain brought the clock down to the two-minute warning. When play resumed, Edd went back to pass but didn't see Baker in the clear in first-down territory. Instead, he failed to connect with Shy. On third down, DE Marlin McKeever blitzed, forcing Hargett to unload the ball far short of Dodd. On fourth-and-seven, the Redskins again mounted a rush, forcing Edd out of the pocket. It appeared he could run for the first down, but he paused to pump the ball before realizing his best bet was to keep running. LB Harold McClinton knocked him out of bounds at the 42, far short of the marker. Jurgensen ran out the clock with the help of a third-down pass to Taylor.

Despite failing to score in the second half, the Redskins left the field with the ugly win and their first winning season in fourteen years.

  • Reporters questioned the Saints about the final play of the first half.
    Fears: I was pleased with Hargett. We just ran out of time in the first half. We should have come away with some points, but we didn't.
    Hargett: If he [Baker] had been tackled where he was supposed to, we would have been able to kick a FG. But he made a great run. It's just too bad we couldn't get some points at that time. I guess I should have thrown the ball out of bounds to stop the clock so we could have kicked the FG. ... I knew I had to be ready. I knew he [Kilmer] was sick. Even both of his shoulders were hurting him.
  • As to the Saints' last offensive play when he failed to get the first down, Hargett said: I guess it was just a little indecision on my part. I probably could have made the first if I had run with the ball but I hesitated. If I hadn't hesitated, Baker would have been able to throw a block on the LB and would have sprung me loose.
  • Lombardi praised Hargett. He's a helluva kid. He came in an settled down their offense and got it moving. He'll be all right.
  • Washington reporters asked Vince about Jurgensen's daring pass to Taylor in the last minute. What the hell am I going to do? What do you suggest we do on third down? Hell, the way we were moving the ball we might as well pass. We needed the first down. We didn't do much all day. I don't know why. I'll have to wait for the films. Why the hell Bragg ran with that punt I'll never know. Hamburger had the guy coming in blocked. No way he could have got to the punter. But, hell, Bragg's a pro. He must have known what he was doing. He was out there to make the judgment, not me.
  • Another questioner asked the coach if he was disappointed in the season. I feel good about a winning season. I thought we could have one. I've never had a losing season. A reporter's voice rang out, You haven't been here long enough. Who said that? demanded Vince. You really have a lot of faith, don't you? Jesus! Thanks a lot.

It was a good that the Redskins held on against the Saints because they ended the season the next week with a 20-10 loss at Dallas to finish 7-5-2. New Orleans beat the Steelers in their finale to end 5-9 after 4-9-1 in '68 and 3-11 on their maiden voyage in '67.

1969 turned out to be Vince's only season with the Redskins. He died of cancer September 3, 1970.

Reference: Coach: A Season with Lombardi, Tom Dowling (1970)

Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi

Saints WR Danny Abramowicz
Danny Abramowicz

Saints QB Billy Kilmer
Billy Kilmer

Redskins WR Bob Long
Bob Long

Saints QB Edd Hargett

Redskins P Mike Bragg
Mike Bragg

Saints RB Ernie Wheelwright

Saints T Errol Linden

Redskins DE Marlin McKeever
Marlin McKeever

Redskins LB Harold McClinton
Harold McClinton

Dobler Returns to the Dome - I

Cardinals G Conrad Dobler
Conrad Dobler, Cardinals

 

 

Saints G Conrad Dobler
Conrad Dobler, Saints

 

Saints Coach Dick Nolan
Dick Nolan

 

Buffalo Coach Chuck Knox
Chuck Knox

Saints T Stan Brock

The Buffalo Bills traveled to New Orleans to take on the New Orleans Saints on September 21, 1980. The game marked the return of G Conrad Dobler, who had spent the previous two seasons in Black and Gold.
  • Dobler started his NFL career with six fine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl in 1975-6-7.
  • GM Joe Sullivan took a great deal of flak in St. Louis when he traded Con­rad to the Saints before the 1978 season. I trade Conrad Dobler, and all of a sudden the town turns upside down, Sullivan moaned. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll found more than two-thirds of respondents disapproved the deal.
  • Conrad hated to leave what he considered the best offensive line in the league. But any resentment dissipated when he signed his contract with John Mecom. As Dobler explained in his autobiography: I couldn't have been happier about my contract with the Saints. Counting the signing bonus of $60,000 (very modest by today's standards, but a lot of bread for an offen­sive lineman at the time), the $175,000 I made in that first year with New Orleans was more than I had made in six with St. Louis.

Dobler tried to bring the same unity the O-line had in St. Louis to New Orleans.

  • I tried to be a leader, employing the same methods that did so much to create the incredible bonding - such as the fine system, which required members of the offensive line to throw five dollars into a kitty for each sack they allowed or assignment they missed. At the end of the season, we'd use the money to give ourselves a party. ... As it turned out, the fine system was as big a suc­cess in New Orleans ... as it was in St. Louis.
  • The Saints responded positively to their new leader.
    C John Hill: Conrad has a certain persona about him that emanates. Eve­ryone picks it up, the way he talks, the way he acts ... it's a tough, aggressive attitude.
    QB Archie Manning: I'll admit it, I'm a Conrad Dobler fan. There is some­thing special about the guy. Wherever he's been, he's made a contribution. I know I've never been so inspired by another football player. Conrad is the only man I ever met who wears his game face 365 days a year.
  • The Saints O line improved in Dobler's first year with the team, even though a knee injury finished his season after just three games. The Saints went from 3-11 in '77 to 7-9 in '78, the most wins in their 12-year history. In '79, when Conrad played in all 16 games, they reached the .500 mark for the first time. The O-line surrendered only 17 sacks that season, second lowest in the league and 20 fewer than in '78. They were dubbed "Archie's Bunker."

The morning he was to leave for his third Saints training camp, Dobler received a call from head coach Dick Nolan.

  • Conrad, I just wanted to let you know that we have worked out a trade, and you'll be going to the Buffalo Bills.
  • Conrad recalls: I couldn't believe my ears. ... I was really looking forward to helping the Saints finally get over the hump, finally become a winner. And be­sides all that, we owned a beautiful home in New Orleans. We loved it there. The fabulous restaurants. Bourbon Street. It was my kind of town.
  • After explaining that the Saints had placed Dobler on waivers and the Buffalo had claimed him - although the Saints could have recalled him, Nolan told him: We truly appreciate all that you've done for us over the past two years.
  • Conrad, who didn't think much of Nolan, wanted none of that. Save it. I just want you to know that you're making the biggest mistake of your life. You're not going to win without me.
  • Nolan: Well, Conrad, I'm sorry you feel that way.
  • The Saints had drafted Stan Brock with their #1 pick and felt they had enough depth at G.

Bills coach Chuck Knox took advantage of Dobler's knowledge of the Saints as Game 3 approached.

  • Dobler: A week before the game, Knox came up to me and asked, "What can you tell us about these guys?" I didn't hesitate one second before giving him everything I knew, right down to what Nolan ate for breakfast each morning. ... He even had me lecture the Bills' defensive linemen about the Saints' of­fensive line. The players in the meeting room gave me a big hand when I was introduced as Coach Dobler. I made certain to keep the language as simple as possible so I wouldn't lose any of them. [Conrad didn't have high esteem for the intelligence of NFL players in general and D-linemen in particular.]
  • The biggest thing I looked forward to in the Saints' game was the chance to play for keeps against the defensive lineman I had only practiced against for two years. I wasn't practicing real hard at that point in my career. I would let people get by me all the time in one-on-one drills and they would be very proud of themselves.

The Buffalo line improved with Dobler while the Saints' front got weaker.

  • The Bills had allowed no sacks in their first two games, both victories. Knox pointed to the 30-year-old Dobler as a stabilzing force. Conrad has done a fine job for us; he's an inspirational guy, a tough guy, and he's playing well. We're a better offensive team this year. I think the offensive line is doing a better job of blocking.
  • The Saints, on the other hand, had lost both their contests, scoring only 3 points in Game 2 against the Bears.
  • Brock started at RT while Robert Woods moved from that spot to Dobler's old RG position. Nolan admitted that Stan was having trouble adjusting to the NFL. He's had his problems. He's been caught holding and clipping. But he's going to be really good in a year or so.
  • Stan acknowledge his difficulties:This is 100 percent different than anything I've seen in college. It's a different game. I'd call it a learning experience.

Dobler would wage a personal vendetta that Sunday on the Dome floor.

To be continued ...

Reference: They Call Me Dirty, Conrad Dobler and Vic Carucci (1988)
Dobler Returns to the Dome - II
When the Bills visited the Superdome on September 21, 1980, it didn't take former Saint OG Conrad Dobler long to get into it with one of his former teammates. As Conrad recalled in his autobiography:
Conrad Dobler battles Barry Bennett.
UN-SAINTLY WELCOME - Dobler and Bennett
mix it up after a play. Even though Dobler played
for the Saints last season he apparently
wasn't too welcome by his old teammates.
On the Bills' first offensive play, New Orleans DT Mike Fultz, who had had his share of practice triumphs over me, came off the ball real hard and knocked me right on my back. I was really embarrassed - first, because I was appearing in the Superdome for the first time since the trade; second, because I knew the guy was a total blockhead who couldn't spell his own name; third, because I had way too much pride not to have been embarrassed. So five plays later, Fultz left the field with a hyperextended elbow. I can honestly say that that was one of the few times in my career I deliberately tried to hurt someone. We were running the ball, Fultz was pursuing, and as he tried to push off of me, he hooked his forearm just under my right armpit. I pinned it by pulling my arm against my rib cage and dropped straight to the ground. Fultz was too dumb to fall down with me; he resisted, and his elbow gave out.

Fultz's replacement, Barry Bennett, continued the war with Dobler.

On his first play against me he came out swinging, and he pounded me real good the rest of the game. Which was perfectly fine, because he also failed to make a single tackle. That was the primary purpose of my tactics - winning the war, the game, not the battle. I wound up receiving a game ball for the contributions I made to our victory over the Saints. Before and during the game.

The Saints led at halftime thanks to several Buffalo errors.

Joe Ferguson
  • QB Joe Ferguson, a product of Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, marched his troops straight down the field 62y in nine plays for a TD on the Bills' first possession. The TD came on a 12y pass to Grambling's Frank Lewis.
  • But the Saints capitalized on several turnovers to take the lead. The first came on an interception by FS Tom Myers that he called a lucky mistake. I was actually out of position on the play. I took the play-action fake, but I was able to come over in time.
  • His 25y return to the 7, quickly followed by an interference penalty in the EZ, allowed Chuck Muncie to score from the 1 to tie the game.
  • The Bills hung another 7 on the board on their next possession, rookie Joe Cribbs scampering up the middle from 12y out.
  • But four plays later, the Saints scored again thanks to a mistake in coverage. WR Ike Harris gathered in a 44y pass from Manning. Ike: Wes (Chandler) runs a post comeback, and I'm doing an out and up. The S and CB are on me, and Archie is watching to see if they respect me deep, or move up to check Wes. When they moved off me, it was wide open. Newly-signed kicker Benny Ricardo had his PAT blocked.
  • Ricardo would redeem himself with two FGs before the half ended. The first came from 45y following an INT by LB Jim Kovach. The second was 2y longer on the last play of the half after Rickey Ray blocked a 51y attempt by Buffalo.
Ike Harris
The visitors regrouped and dominated the second half, controlling the ball for 10 minutes more than the Saints, ringing up big play after big play.
  • The Bills regained the lead for good with a little over four minutes left in Q3 when Ferguson connected with Lewis on the same play that produced the first TD, this time from the 18. Lewis: It was a play action pass, and Joe did a great job of faking the handoff. ... I was able to get between two defensive backs for the catch.
  • Early in Q4, Ferguson hit TE Mark Brammer for a 2y TD to make it 28-19.
  • Later in the period, Buffalo put the game away on Cribbs' second TD, a 7y run on the first play following Joe's 69y completion to Jerry Butler. The QB threw the ball with LB Reggie Mathis in his face on a blitz. Afterwards, Joe said he saw the blitz coming but did not check off at the line of scrimmage. That's the play I had called in the huddle. It just happened to be the right call.
  • The Saints made the final score a more respectable 35-26 on Harris's second TD reception, this one a 15-yarder.

Both QBs had good days.

  • Ferguson: 22-for-31, 295y, 3 TD, 2 INT
  • Manning: 24-for-34, 285y, 2 TD, 0 INT

The rushing game was the difference.

  • Buffalo: 37 carries for 129y
  • New Orleans: 17 carries for 38y

 

John Hill


Saints' post-game comments
  • Manning: We couldn't get anything going on the ground, got off schedule and let them dictate what he had to do. Then, when we made something happen, we had a penalty.
  • Bennett: It's the same old thing. We shut 'em down for 90 percent of the plays, but on the other 10 percent they pop us for big ones. Seems like we keep putting teams back into the game.
  • Coach Dick Nolan on his O-line, which drew five flags: Some changes may have to be made. ... Last year we were one of the least penalized teams in the league. We've been having holding penalties ... in the last three games. You have to take a look and see what it is.
  • Rookie RT Stan Brock, who was pulled after his second 15y penalty: The first time they caught me for tripping. The second time the official said that Archie had started to run out of the pocket. Therefore, he was a runner and using my hands was illegal. ... It is just a lack of concentration ... Right now I'm kind of down. It is disappointing to lose, but I feel even worse because I feel I defeated myself.
  • C John Hill, who was caught holding once, defended Brock: I believe it is extremely difficult for a rookie to come in and play in the offensive line. On the boo birds among the crowd of 51,154: I don't think there is any way it [the boos] cannot affect you. If you are a human being, you know what the boos mean.
The last Bill off the field after the game, Dobler received loud cheers from the fans still left in the EZ.
  • In the locker room, he clarified his feelings toward the Saints, aiming his ire at just one way, new GM Steve Rosenbloom.
I have no bitterness toward the team, the people in New Orleans, or anyone here except the new management. I can't stand that little so and so [Rosenbloom].
  • With his team 3-0, Conrad hoped to return to the Crescent City to play in the Super Bowl in January.
I have to come back here then if for no other reason than to visit with my many friends here.
  • Presumably, he didn't include Rosenbloom in that number.

The teams continued in opposite directions throughout the season.

  • The Bills finished 11-5 to win the AFC East. They lost at San Diego in the first round of the playoffs, 20-14.
  • When the Saints lost their first 12 games, Nolan lost his job. After losing two more, they finally beat the Jets to finish 1-15. Rampant drug use was a major factor in the collapse after an 8-8 record in '79.
Reference: They Call Me Dirty, Conrad Dobler and Vic Carucci (1988)

Tom Benson Boogeying
Tom Benson boogies 1985.

Angus Lind, Times-Picayune
Angus Lind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saints Coach Bum Phillips
Bum Phillips

Saints President Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones

Saints in Blue and Gold?
The Hornets are not the first pro team that Tom Benson attempted to make over.
  • He purchased a controlling interest in the Saints in June 1985 for $70 million. At that point, the team had yet to finish over .500 in their 19 years of exist­ence and had broke even just twice - 1978 and 1983.
  • Believing the team needed a complete overhaul, he changed coaches, the GM, and most of the front office.
  • In addition, the new owner petitioned the NFL to change the team's Black and Gold colors. Tom wanted to brighten up the team he called the "new" Saints.
  • When he arrived in New York for the league meeting in October, he said, They (the league officials) have come up with some ideas. Yes, we are taking a real good look at a change. Whether it will happen, I don't know.

Times-Picayune columnist Angus Lind had fun with Benson's proposal.

Owner Tom Benson has petitioned the National Football Leaue for new colors for his charges. I think he needs some help making this decision, or the Saints might wind up wearing Mercedes-Benz silver with Peugeot red piping. [Interesting prediction in light of the renaming of the Super­dome.] That's where you come in. Simply select a new color - or colors - for the Saints, and send along a brief, clever explanation of why you think your colors fit the team's personality. ...

To help you along with your selection, I have consulted an expert on color. ...

Part of the problem is that one of the present colors - black - really suits the team. According to my expert, black is associated with somber events. Since the great majority of Sunday afternoons in the Superdome have been somber events, the Saints obviously have been well-attired. ...

What about red? ... Red is sensual, warm and romatic. On the other hand, it also reminds me of Christmas. Christmas is a time for giving to your fellow man. No team in football has a history of giving like the Saints. Red may be the perfect new color.

... Orange, according to my color expert, tends to be a second-class color. Draw your own conclusions.

Brown. Now we may be talking. ... When we're talking brown, we're talking dull. Maybe just the offense could wear brown. ...

Blue. Tom Benson says blue is his favorite color, so you would have to install blue as an odd-on favorite to be one of the new colors, if indeed there are two. ... Blue reminds me of ... how most Saints fans feel after the season.

Purple. Purple in this state belongs to LSU, K&B, Mardi Gras and the St. Augustine Purple Knights. ... Purple is for the haves, not the have-nots. Scratch purple as a possibility.

... "Yellow is a color for shizos," my authority said. "It also has been known to inhibit muscle movement." Label yellow a possibility.

Gray is a neutral color that doesn't come on strong or retreat too far. A team wearing gray, she said, would tend to play a lot of ball between the 30-yard lines, and you wouldn't have a lot of feeling about them, one way or the other. The Saints obviously have been wearing gray for years, and we didn't know it.
The Times-Picayune took a poll of its readers on the question, "Should the Saints change the color of their uniform?"
  • A total of 1,127 ballots poured into the paper's office. 55% voted "no" to a change in uniform color. 45% voted "yes." Additional ballots that arrived after the results were published pushed the majority even more toward "no."
  • Those voting for a change suggested color schemes with one combination being the runaway leader - Mardi Gras purple, green, and gold. Almost 100 ballots cried out for some sort of color pattern familiar to New Orleanians.
  • Those who wanted to keep the current colors seemed to be more adamant in their opinions.
The color combination of black-and-gold is very classy and the Saints uniform is always rated in the top three in national contests.
They look mean in black.
Please don't change. Half my wardrobe is black-and-gold.
I would have to repaint my van.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Black and gold are part of New Orleans, just like red beans and rice and Schwegmann's.
The Saints play like they're dead; their colors fit them perfectly.
If the Saints have money to spend on new uniforms, why not lower ticket prices instead?
  • Others said the colors weren't the team's problem.
The colors are not the problem. Bum Phillips is.
Keep the colors, but please change the entire coaching staff.
Give Bum a black jersey with a yellow stripe down the back to wear when we're ahead in the fourth quarter.
I'm tired of seeing Bum spit on the Dome carpet. It's disgusting.
Don't blow smoke rings about colors, send Phillips back to Oiler country.

On November 12, Saints' president Eddie Jones announced that the colors would not be changed.

Fans were almost 60-40 against the change. Our fans pay the freight and the majority don't want to change. So we won't.
  • Jones said his staff read every one of the ballots and letters that the TP turned over to them.
There was a strong desire to maintain tradition, our black, gold and white. The fans have spoken and we hear what they say.
  • Many responses suggested name changes, dropping Saints for alternatives ranging from Alligators to Roughnecks.
Most name suggestions were tongue-in-cheek. Our name, like our colors, will remain unchanged.
Memorable Game: Payton Gets the Record
The 1984 Saints and Bears both stood at 3-2 as they prepared to face off October 7. Yet the eyes of the nation were on Soldier Field.
  • The reason? Chicago RB Walter Payton needed only 67y to break Jim Brown's career NFL rushing record.
  • The 10-year Bears veteran had amassed 12,246y - nearly seven miles, with a high of 1,852 in 1977 when he averaged an incredible 5.5y per carry.
  • He had topped the 1,000y mark six other times, including 1,610 in '79.
  • If Payton could reach the century mark against the Saints, he would also break Brown's mark of 58 100y games.

The Bears had used the fourth pick in the 1975 draft to select the little known player from Mississippi.

  • Payton did everything with the ball for Jackson State except inflate it. He ran it, threw it, caught it on passes and kickoffs, punted it, and kicked it. A four-year starter, he made the black college all-American team in 1973 after running for 3,563y and scoring 66 TDs to give him the NCAA scoring record with 464 points.
  • Despite toiling in the obscurity of the Southwest Athletic Conference, Walter sat atop most scouting boards at the RB position.
  • Chicago's new coach, Jack Pardee, who learned his football from Bear Bryant at Texas A&M, knew the importance of a durable RB. Jack feared the Cowboys, who had made a reputation for unearthing talented players from small schools, would take Walter at #2. But when Atlanta (QB Steve Bartkowski), Dallas (DT Randy White), and Baltimore (G Ken Huff) all passed on him, the Bears gleefully took "Sweetness," as he was called.
  • Cowboys coach Tom Landry later admitted he seriously considered Walter. It was one of the real difficult decisions I've had to make. He could console himself that his man White eventually made the Hall of Fame himself.
  • Bears head coach Mike Ditka, who was on Landry's staff in 1975: It was simple. Everyone in the room on offense wanted Walter Payton, and everyone on defense wanted Randy White. Tom made the decision.
  • After gaining only 679y as a rookie (still 204 more than anyone in a Chicago uniform the year before), Payton led the NFC in '76 with 1,390y.

And through all the pounding, he maintained his enthusiasm with a perpetual smile on his face.

  • Teammate DT Dan Hampton: Walter's still trying to be the best TB on the 10th-grade team. Mere numbers don't measure the greatness of the man.
  • Walter: I still think I'm a 24-year-old. It's the way I play the game.
  • Hub Arkush wrote in Pro Football Weekly the week of the Saints game: I believe that Walter Payton is arguably the greatest football player of all time. Neither Brown nor (Franco) Harris nor any of the current young turks were or are the team's best blocker, backup punter, plackicker and, possibly, best passer. Payton is.
  • It almost seemed fitting that the humble Payton would break the record at a time when Chicagoans were obsessed with their beloved Cubs, who would meet the Padres in San DIego later that Sunday afternoon in the fifth and final game of the NLCS for a chance to go to the World Series for the first time in 39 years. [I probably don't need to tell you that the Padres won, and Cub fans are still waiting for their first World Series since 1945.]
  • Bears FB Matt Suhey: With the Cubs doing so well, all of Chicago is looking at them. When you get out of the city and out of state, Payton is made a much bigger deal. I don't think people realize what an accomplishment this is.

The sky was gray and gloomy as Sunday morning broke over the Chicago skylight. The air was chilly and wet. Perfect Bears football weather. 53,752, far from a sellout, gathered to watch what they hoped would be an historic event.

  • One article the next day summarized the contest like this: The game was sloppy, marred by botched plays on both sides. If it hadn't been for Payton's quest, the game would have been a sure cure for insomnia.
  • The Saints dropped passes, blew coverages, committed costly penalties on both sides of the ball, and made bad decisions on special teams.
  • Ditka and QB Jim McMahon ditched the passing game in the first half in favor of Walter, Walter, and more Walter. Of Chicago's first 32 plays, Payton carried 14 times.
  • McMahon returned to the lineup for the first time since fracturing his right hand against Seattle two weeks earlier. He was questionable until the opening whistle. After pregame warmups, he told Ditka he could start. He would complete 10 of 14 for 128y and a TD. Jim: Doc did a good job. He gave me a shot and numbed the hand up. I hardly felt it.

The Saints were determined to make it tough for Walter.

  • The Bears drove from their 43 to the Saints 30 before bogging down. The key play was Payton's 19y run to the 26. On the seventh snap of the possession, Bob Thomas boomed a 48y FG at the 9:43 mark.
  • Later in the opening period, Chicago got a break when Todd fumbled the snap and DE Mike Hartenstine recovered on the 23. However, the offense went backward 5y in three plays. So Thomas nailed a 46y 3-pointer to extend the lead to 6-0.
  • Neither offense did much in Q2 until Brian Hansen punted 44y to the Bear 2. When Chicago punted back, the Saints had excellent field position at the enemy 40. Six plays and 2:33 later, Todd passed 15y to RB Wayne Wilson, who ran a corner route that beat LB Mike Singletary for the TD. Morten Anderson's PAT gave the Saints a one-point lead with only 2:45 on the clock.
 Richard Todd fades to pass.
QB Richard Todd fades to pass as Hokie Gajan prepares to block.
The lead didn't last long.
  • The Bears, who had made but three first downs to that point, forgot about getting Payton the record for the moment and launched a 10-play, 80y drive to regain the lead for good. McMahon completed four passes for all but 4 of the yards - 15 and 18 to WR Willie Gault, 18 to TE Emory Moorehead, and 23y to Suhey.
  • It was the first time Jim threw downfield and it caught the Saints by surprise. SS Russell Gary: All game long he was throwing those little flares and screens. There were a lot of different little things that helped them get up the field. We blew a few coverages and he hit a few.
  • Payton dove over from the 1 with just 0:03 on the clock.
Payton scores against the Saints. 
Payton scores just before the half.
The record fell on Payton's 15th carry, which came on the second play from scrimmage of the second half.
  • Walter took a pitchout from McMahon on the Chicago 21 and glided around LE, holding the ball in his right hand like a suitcase or loaf of bread. LB Jim Kovach and a host of other defenders gang-tackled him at the 27.
  • While the crowd gave a standing ovation, Walter is engulfed by players from both teams. After shaking hands with Saints Coach Bum Phillips, Payton jogged to midfield, where he traded a high-five with teammate Todd Bell. Then he gave the ball to an official from the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton OH. Then he asked everyone to get off the field.
  • Payton said later: I didn't want to stop the game and stop our momentum. The thing I was thinking about most was getting the photographers off the field and to start playing again so maybe we could get a quick score. We didn't have enough points. How many superstars would think like that in their moment of glory?
Payton Breaks Record - 1Payton Breaks Record - 2
Payton Breaks Record - 4
  Payton breaks record - 3
Neither offense did much until the Bears finally scored the clinching TD in the final period.
  • Near the end of a scoreless Q3, the home team cranked up a drive from their 25.
  • Keyed by Dennis McKinnon's 21y run to the N.O. 34 on a reverse and Payton's 9y run to the 20 on third-and-five, the Bears traveled 75y in eight plays.
  • The coup-de-grace came on McMahon's 16y pass to McKinnon. Thomas's kick made it 20-7.
  • With Payton adding 66 more yards in Q4, the Bears controled the ball enough to keep the Saints from having any glimmer of hope.
  • Todd did complete a 74y pass to 6'6" Tyrone Young, who jumped over CB Mike Richardson. But since the play started on the 9 following a holding call, the Saints were still 17y short of the EZ. Young didn't help the cause two plays later when he was flagged for illegal use of hands.
  • On 4th-and-17, Todd rolled right. He said he was waiting for WR Lindsay Scott to break into the EZ, but Scott never broke and Todd was tackled after a 7y gain. I should have put it up, Richard said afterwards. It was fourth-and-17, and I'm not going to run in for a touchdown.

Afterwards

  • Walter, who finished with 154y on 32 carries: I'm relieved. I'm just glad it's over and we got a win. For the past three weeks, I've tried to conceal it but there has been a lot of pressure. I'm glad I don't have to do this every week.
  • When asked what he was thinking before the run, Payton replied, winking: Don't fumble. He added: Maybe when the season is over, I can reminisce, but the motivating factor for me has been the athletes who have tried for the record and failed and those who didn't have an opportunity such as David Overstreet and Joe Delaney and Brian Piccolo [all of whom suffered tragedy and death] ...
  • Some writers pointed out that Brown had set the record in nine seasons while Walter was in his tenth campaign. But the rebuttal to that objection was that the NFL was much tougher than in Brown's time (1957-65).
  • Ditka: I think when God said, "Make me a FB or HB," he might have said Sayers or Brown. But when he said, "I'm gonna build the best football player who ever lived, he probably said two names - Jim Thorpe and Walter Payton.
  • Bum Phillips: They had the ballgame won and he had the record broken, and he's out there trying to help a teammate. That's the mark of a great football player. That's why his team respects him. Earl Campbell was like that. I don't like to get beat, but I don't mind if it's Walter Payton who beats me. If you have to get beat, I'd rather it be by a friend.

With his trademark white sweatband still around his forehead, Walter received a call from Ronald Reagan on Air Force One.

  • Hello, how are you, Mr. President, said Payton, holding the phone in one hand and plugging his ear with the other. Yes, I hear you fine ... Well, thank you, I appreciate it. It really means a lot to me. Thank you, and give my best to Nancy.
  • After Sweetness hung up, someone asked him if he was a Democrat or a Republican. I'm an American, he deftly replied.

The Saints ended with a respectable 321y of total offense.

  • Phillips: We didn't sustain anything offensively and we didn't sustain anything defensively. They outplayed us.
  • Todd, who labored through a dreadful 7-of-26 passing day, although three of his passes were dropped: This one was everybody's fault.
  • But the refs flagged them ten times for 68y. The visitors also had four crippling drops in the first half alone.
  • Nothing seemed to click, said TE Hoby Brenner, who had three of the drops. We get something going for a few downs, and then we'd do something to mess up. We were missing a few gears out there today.
  • RB George Rogers gained 99y on 16 carries but only 18 in the second 30 minutes of action. Just give their defense credit, Rogers said without complaining about carrying just five time in the second half. They played when they had to.
  • Todd: Maybe we should have stuck with our game plan a little more. We were moving the ball on them on the ground, but we got away from that at the start of the fourth quarter when we got a couple of touchdowns down.
  • Offensive coordinator King Hill said the Saints "lacked continuity." That was our problem. We stopped ourselves - drop a ball, llne up in the wrong formation, snap a ball on the wrong count. We had a lot of things happen to us that haven't happened in a while.
  • FB Hokie Gajan: It got frustrating. I think my knuckles were turning white. It gets to a point where you try harder and harder and harder, but the harder you try, the worse you get. But it ain't the end of the world.

The Saints would finish 1984 7-9 after losing three of their last four games.

Jim Brown and Walter Payton 1984
Jim Brown congratulates Payton at a ceremony
proclaiming October 22, 1984, as "Walter Payton Day" in Chicago.


Walter Payton at Jackson State
Walter Payton in college

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Payton runs against the Saints
Payton gains against the Saints.

Saints QB Billy Kilmer
Billy Kilmer

49ers QB John Brodie
John Brodie

1969 Saints-49ers Action - 1
Elijah Nevett called for interference on Dick Witcher.

Saints DT Dave Rowe
Dave Rowe

Saints WR Danny Abramowicz
Danny Abramowicz

Saints TE Ray Poage
Ray Poage

1969 Saints-49ers Action - 6
Dave Parks entangled with
Roosevelt Taylor.

1969 Saints-49ers Action - 7
Tony Baker celebrates a Saint score.

Saints RB Don Shy
Don Shy

1949 Saints-49ers Action - 8
The Wheel welcomed after the winning TD.

Saints-Niners Shootout
One of the most action-packed and exciting games in Saints history took place in the Dark Days - 1969.
  • Tom Fears' 2-7 Saints hosted the 2-6-1 San Francisco 49ers of Dick No­lan (who would later coach the Saints).
  • Both teams had come back in the last minutes to win the previous week. Tom Dempsey's FG with five seconds left beat the Giants 25-24 at Yankee Stadium while John Brodie hit Jim Thomas with a TD with 1:45 to go against Baltimore.
  • The game would have particular significance for the ex-49ers on the Saints roster, especially QB Billy Kilmer, who had once operated Red Hickey's innovative "shotgun" offense in the City by the Bay. But the Niners decided to go with Brodie and left Kilmer off the protected list when the expansion Saints selected players in 1967.
  • Two other SF alumni were TE Dave Parks and DE Dan Colchico, who was voted a member of the 49ers all-time team.
  • On the other side of the coin, SF S Roosevelt Taylor would be returning to his native city for the contest.
  • New Orleans had played the 49ers once, a 27-13 loss at SF that maiden season. Kilmer had played a backup role to Gary Cuozzo that day.

71,448 spectators enjoyed the 62° weather but little else in the first half.

  • When the two-minute warning was given, the Saints trailed 21-0. The 49ers had controlled the ball, allowing the home team only four snaps in Q1.
  • The visitors took the opening kickoff and moved 80y in 15 plays to eat up eight minutes en route to a TD that came on Ken Willard's 1y plunge. Bro­die threw just three passes during the drive, completing all of them.
  • The Saints moved to their 46 before bogging down. Olie Cordill came in to punt, but Jerry Strum snapped the ball over Olie's head. He chased it back to the 10, ran out, and booted on the run for a net of 16y.
  • That gave the 49ers good starting position for their second TD drive which was aided by a pass interference on Elijah Nevett at the 9. Two plays later and just seconds into Q2, Cunningham threw a HB pass to Dick Witcher for the TD. 14-0.
  • On the next SF possession, Brodie was so confident of his running game that he went for it on 4th-and-1 at the NO 45, sending Willard into the line. But LBs Dick Absher and Johnny Brewer along with DT Dave Rowe nailed the FB before he could gain an inch.
  • After finally giving the home crowd something to cheer about, the Saints had an opportunity to get back in the game. But they gained only 8y and Dempsey's 55y FG try fell a little short.
  • Starting from the 13 after the runback, the 49ers offense got back in gear and marched relentlessly to another TD. Another pass interference on Nevett, this one in the EZ, set up Willard's second TD plunge with 2:15 on the clock.
  • Now came the momentum changer. Kilmer, with one eye on the clock and the other on the defenses, masterfully moved the Saints to some much­needed points. Billy hit WR Danny Abramowicz for 20y, FB Ernie Wheel­wright for 6, and Parks for 13 to put the pigskin on the SF 22 with 1:22 left after a roughing the passer penalty was added on. Dave was hurt on the play and replaced by Ray Poage. Kilmer immediately went to the newcom­er for a TD to cut the lead to 21-7.
  • The Saints D finally forced a punt. Al Dodd made a fair catch at the NO 43. Fears took advantage of a rarely used rule that allows the receiving team to try an unopposed FG in that situation, but Dempsey's boot was no good.
  • Still, the Saints had something to build on after a half in which the Niners ran 40 plays to NO's 15 and led in total yardage 232-91 and first downs 17-6.
1969 Saints-49ers Action - 2 1969 Saints-49ers Action - 3
L: Saints stop Ken Willard short of the goal;
R: Tony Livingston runs for some of his 83y on 14 carries.
The Saints O needed to take the kickoff and go down and score.
  • Kilmer continued to bomb the 49er D, hitting Dodd for 7, Abramo­wicz for 19, and RB Tony Baker for 26 to move to the 28.
  • Andy Livingston blasted his way to the 12. After an incompletion, Billy fed Livingston again, and he knifed through to the EZ with 11:11 left. Dempsey's conversion made it 21-14.
  • Midway in the period, a 17y Livingston run made it 1st-and-10 at the SF 49. Kilmer, scrambling when his protection crumbled, spotted Abramowicz winging goalward. Billy heaved with all his might, and Danny took it over his shoulder at the 5 and romped over. Demp­sey's boot knotted the count at 21 with 7:03 on the clock.
1969 Saints-49ers Action - 41969 Saints-49ers Action - 5
L: Dave Parks and Al Dodd congratulate Danny Abramowicz after one of his two TD catches.
R: Ray Poage recovers Noland Smith's fumble.  
It didn't take long for the crowd to jump to its feet again.
  • Noland Smith took the kickoff and took a few steps before he was smashed by Poage, who completed his great play by recovering the fumble on the 13.
  • On the very next play, Livingston started to the right, hesitated, then threw to Abramowicz in the EZ. Despite Jim Johnson hanging around his neck, Danny held on for his second TD in less than a minute.
  • The Saints had scored 21 points in 4:40 to take their first lead.

But Brodie had some more magic up his sleeve.

  • He connected with Witcher for 30y to the NO 46. John took the next snap and fired to Jim Thomas for a quick TD to tie the game with 4:47 left in Q3.
  • The fans had barely caught their breath from that big play when Don Shy returned the kickoff 50y to the SF 49. But Kilmer was hurt on the next play as he was thrown for a loss and limped off the field.
  • In came Edd Hargett cold off the bench. A few plays later, Dempsey tried a 53y FG that was partially blocked.
  • The Niners took over on their 20. This time, the Saints pushed them back 10y. Jon Kilgore stood in the EZ to punt, but Forrest Blue's snap sailed over his head for a safety. 30-28 Saints.
  • Shy ran the free kick back to midfield. The crowd applauded Kilmer's return. He gave the ball to Livingston who handed it to Abramowicz racing the other direction. Danny dropped the pigskin, picked it up, and still gained 20y.
  • Next came another HB pass, this time with Tom Barrington the pitcher, to Baker for a first down at the 14. A personal foul added another 7.
  • But three Kilmer passes failed to connect, bringing on Dempsey for a 17y FG. 33-28 Saints.

It didn't take Brodie long to hit the Saints with another one-two punch.

  • He completed a 43-yarder to Thomas to the NO 18.
  • Then a blown coverage allowed Thomas to race free for a TD pass. The PAT put SF in front 35-33 with 12 minutes left.
  • The seesaw game continued as Shy returned the kickoff back 38y from the goal line. Livingston got 6, then Kilmer hit Don for 11. Two plays later, Billy fired to Dodd who fought to the 32.
  • After the D stiffened, Dempsey kicked a 43y FG. 36-35 Saints with 7:54 left.
  • The Saints gave up one first down before forcing a punt. But Kilgore's boot bounced past Gene Howard who retrieved it and turned upfield. But he fumbled at the 13 when hit, and Elmer Colette recovered for SF.
  • An offensive pass interference set the 49ers back, and they settled for a 23y FG by Croatian K Momcilo Gavric. 38-36 SF with 3:10 left - plenty of time to get a least the go-ahead FG.
  • Kilmer shot a 9-yarder to Dodd and a 16-yarder to Parks to the SF 39 with 1:30 left. Within Dempsey's range but it would be nice to move closer.
  • Livingston ran for 5 before Kilmer flipped to Baker who tight-roped down the sidelines to the 16 with 1:03 on the clock.
  • With a FG in your back pocket, take your time. Make the Niners use their timeouts and then score with very little time on the clock. Wheelwright bulled his way to the 3. Then he knifed over for the go-ahead TD. 43-38 Saints with only 26 seconds left.
  • Starting at his 20, Brodie had to go long. But Howard redeemed himself by intercepting at the NO 43 to ignite a celebration of the Saints' third victory in four games.

Afterwards, Fears pointed to the TD at the end of the first half as the turning point.

  • After Billy threw to Poage for that score, we were still in the game. And we popped it to them in the third quarter with 21 points.
  • Asked if he had changed the game plan for the second half, Tom replied, Heck, no. We hadn't seen enough of their defense to see if we should change our offense.
  • He called the win our biggest of the season because it was our first one before the home folks.
  • Wheelwright wanted no part of a hero's role. Man, you're talkoing to the wrong guy. The people up front did a fantastic job. The holes were wide open. Running in the wide open spaces is no job.
  • Livingston also praised the O-line. They did a heck of a job. You know [Don] Talbot and [Errol] Linden played hurt and did a great job. Billy called a good game, too, and we knew we'd get the point at the end if we got the ball back.

The Saints extended their winning streak to three the next week against the Eagles before losing two on the road. A victory over lowly Pittsburgh in the finale gave NO a 5-9 mark after four wins in '68 and three in '67.