Saints Pivotal Moments
1971 Rams: "Archie Is a Saint."
With the second pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints took Ole Miss QB Archie Manning. Saints nation was excited by the selection. T-shirts that said "Archie is No. 1," "Archie is our boy," or "Archie is a Saint" sold like hotcakes. Since veteran QB Billy Kilmer was traded to Washington in the off-season, Manning started in his very first regular season game in Tulane Stadium against the Los Angeles Rams.
Archie was not the only young Saint on the opening day roster. As he said in the book, The Football Game I'll Never Forget, "Not one guy on the squad was older than 30. In fact, we had 13 rookies on the roster, and many other players were in their second or third sea­sons."
The late summer Crescent City heat almost did Archie in before the game began. Man­ning recalled: "They'd just installed turf in Tulane Stadium, and it must have been about 130 degrees on the field." He always did his stretching before each game but also decided on some extra pregame sprints in anticipation of running for his life behind the Saints' weak offensive line. Manning: "I went to the locker room after warmups and told Danny Abramowicz that I didn't think I could go. I had not one ounce of energy left. I felt like I was about to pass out. I was scared to death." Danny told his new quarterback to change his clothes, drink some liquids, and cool off. "After that, the adrenaline got me pumped up again, and I was all right," Manning said.

L-R: Archie Manning, Danny Abramowicz, Dave Parks
A lackluster first half ended 3-3. Then the Saints jumped out 17-3 in the third. The touchdowns came on Archie's 6y pass to WR Dave Parks and a 1y plunge by Bob Gresham.
The Ram offense finally got into gear late in the third quarter. After another field goal, Roman Gabriel threw a 29y touchdown pass to RB Les Josephson to cut the deficit to 17-13. The visitors seemed to have the game won when they took a 20-17 lead with 4:57 on a 1y plunge by Josephson, and Saints rookie Skip Butler's 48y tying field goal went wide with 1:55 left.
However, the Saints, using their timeouts, forced a punt, and Archie had another shot from his 30 with 1:24 on the clock. If Archie was to lead a comeback, he needed help, and he got it from an unlikely source.

L-R: Bob Gresham, Tony Baker, Hoyle Granger, J. D. Roberts
Rookie RB Bob Gresham from West Virginia had carried the ball just once in the six preseason games and was lucky to make the taxi squad the Thursday before the opening game. But he was activated at the 11th hour Saturday when it became apparent that Tony Baker wouldn't be able to go because of injury.
Gresham carried 21 times for just 42y on the day. But he made a crucial play on the Saints' first possession of the second half. On 3rd down from inside the LA 20, Manning's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and soared high into the air into the arms of Marlin McKeever. But gritty Gresham muscled the ball away from the LB to make it 1st-and-goal from the 3. Three plays later, Archie hit Dave Parks in the end zone to break the 3-3 tie.
Gresham made an even bigger contribution on the first play of the do-or-die final drive. The Rams paid no attention to him when he circled out of the backfield. So Archie threw to him for a 37y gain to the LA 33. After an incompletion, Manning crossed up the defense by calling a draw play to FB Hoyle Granger to the 25 with 0:47 left.
Manning-to-Abramowicz gained a dozen more with 35 ticks to go. Granger got three on a short toss. The clock stopped with 23 seconds showing after Manning missed Danny in the corner of the end zone. But wait. A flag. Jim Nettles was called was interference. 1st down at the one!
RB Jim Ford tried to ram in over the right side but met a stone wall. Manning overthrew Abramowicz in the end zone to run the time down to 0:03.
Coach J. D. Roberts decided to disdain the easy field goal for the tie in those days be­fore overtime. Manning: "J.D. Roberts just kept saying 'We're gonna go for it.' One of the assistants said we should do this and another said we should do that and the next thing I knew, the ref was tapping me on the shoulder and telling me time was up. And they hadn't even called a play. Danny met me about halfway to the huddle and asked what they called, and I told him they hadn't called anything. So I called a little bootleg rollout."
As Archie took the snap and rolled left, "I told myself that I couldn't throw it. I had to run it. I put my head down and bowled into the end zone, with the ball coming loose at one point. As he lay in the end zone, I thought to myself, 'You can't take this touchdown away from us.' We had worked too hard and come too far to lose like this." When the nearest official raised his arms, 70,915 went wild.

Manning scores on last play.
As jubilant fans ran onto the field, the Rams vigorously disputed the touchdown. DE Deacon Jones bellowed: "A blind man could do a better job. Manning was on the one and dropped the ball on the way down. ... Jack Youngblood recovered on the one."
Archie said after the game: "I fumbled the ball, but I hit the ground first. That's a real tough call for an official." Today, of course, the play would be reviewed.
The officials finally cleared the field so that Skip Butler could kick the PAT to make the final score 24-20.
Manning years later: "So, was it really a touchdown? Did I fumble before I crossed the goal line? I honestly don't know and, looking back, I don't really care."
Bob Roesler started his article on the game in the Times-Picayune the next day like this.
"Yes, America, there is a superman. His name is Archie Manning and he wears a Saint uniform. Sunday this miracle man gave New Orleans a 24-20 victory over Los Angeles.
It was absolutely fantastic, unbelievable. It was Archie Manning at his absolute best when he was needed the most."