Streak Buster: Tampa Bay 1977

Coach John McKay
John McKay

Coach Hank Stram
Hank Stram

QB Archie Manning
Archie Manning

Gary Huff

No one would disagree that the high point in Saints history is the Super Bowl victory. And there's near unanimity on the low point also – the 1977 loss to Tampa Bay for the first victory in that franchise's history after 26 losses.

The Buccaneers began play in 1976.

  • John McKay, coach of several national champions at USC, left the college game to take over the expansion team.
  • The Bucs lost all 14 games in their maiden season. After one of the games, McKay was asked what he thought of his team's execution. "I'm all for it," he replied.
  • Tampa came to New Orleans on December 11, 1977, having lost all 12 games in their second season. Furthermore, while their D was good, they had scored only 53 points, being shut out six times.

Hank Stram's second Saints squad had won only three games that season.

  • 42-24 at Chicago in Week 3.
  • 27-26 over the Los Angeles Rams Week 7.
  • 21-20 over Atlanta Week 10.

The week before the game, Saints QB Archie Manning promised, "We aren't gonna be the laughing stock of the league." Only 40,124 came to the Superdome to see how wrong he was.

  • The Bucs threatened first, but Dave Green missed a 33y FG attempt. Afterwards, McKay admitted: "I said to myself, 'I've been here before.'"
  • With the visitors taking advantage of what would total seven Saints turnovers (6 INT), Green made his next two tries from 40 and 25y.
  • Then QB Gary Huff threw a 5y pass to Morris Owens to make it 13-0.
  • The Saints didn't record their initial first down until 5:20 remained in the first half. The Buc D confined the Saints to 3y on the ground and 37 passing before intermission.
  • Stram said the Saints wanted to get out to an early lead, but when the Bucs got ahead, "The harder we tried, the worse we got."

The second half produced more misery for the home team.

  • Mike Washington grabbed his second INT of the day and returned it 45y to move the score to 20-0. It was the first TD off an INT in TB's brief history. It didn't take long to double the total.
  • Early in the final period, LB Richard Wood grabbed a pass thrown by backup QB Bobby Scott from the EZ and ran 10y for an astounding 26-0 lead.
  • Manning returned and led a drive by finally put NO on the scoreboard. He ran the final 2y himself, and Rich Szaro added the PAT.
  • Amazingly, TB scored a third TD off an INT when DT Greg Johnson grabbed a batted pass in the EZ. The 33 points represented still another franchise record.
  • Manning threw 11y to WR John Gilliam to make the final score 33-14.

As exuberant as the Bucs locker room was afterwards, that's how somber the Saints were.

  • Huff unwrapped a long, fat cigar that he called his "victory cigar." "I've been carrying this so long, it's stale."
  • The Bucs cited Manning's comments as a key to their victory. McKay chimed in. "Whatever Archie Manning says, I agree with. I think he said it would be disgraceful to lose, and that's what I think they are."
  • Manning told reporters, "I've got nothing to say."
  • Stram: "What a nightmare. It was the worst experience of my coaching career. We're all ashamed for our people, our fans, our organization."
  • Manning and his wife Olivia usually dined out after games with Patricia and Bobby Scott. But Manning told Scott, "I'm not going out in public tonight." So they went to a steakhouse owned by a friend of Archie's who gave them a table near the back with curtains around it. "Believe you me, we pulled those curtains (shut)."
  • On Monday, the Saints came to work expecting Stram to ream them out. Instead Hank told them, "We're not going to look at the film. We're going to burn it up, and I threw it in the can and lit fire to it. The team went wild. They went crazy."

Tampa enjoyed the taste of victory so much that they won their final game the next week also, 17-7 over the St. Louis Cardinals at home. The Saints lost at Atlanta 35-7 to finish 3-11. Shortly afterwards, Saints owner John Mecom fired Stram and replaced him with Dick Nolan.

Dazzling Debut: Deuce McAllister
The Saints front office and coaching staff weren't in agreement that trading Ricky Williams to Miami before the 2002 draft and turning the RB position over to 2001 first-round pick Deuce McAllister from Ole Miss was a wise move.
  • Deuce hadn't impressed many with his off-season work ethic.
  • The coaching staff had to prod him constantly to keep him from coasting.
  • The 6-1 232-pounder hadn't allayed trepidations with his indifferent play in the preseason.

The Saints opened the 2002 season at Tampa Bay in Jon Gruden's debut as Buccaneer head coach.

  • Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Anthony McFarland, and John Lynch led arguably the most ferocious D in the league.
  • Saints O-coordinator Mike McCarthy challenged Deuce in the locker room before his first start as a Saint: "You better swell up, big guy. We're going to pound it all day. We need you."

McCarthy needn't have worried. Whether the coach's words turned the trick or Deuce was just not a "practice player," he gashed the Bucs for 109y on 31 carries.

  • With QB Aaron Brooks adding 260y passing, the Saints won 26-20 in OT.
  • Jim Haslett's third Saints squad dominated the first half, outgaining TB 203-77 to build a 13-3 lead. With Deuce rushing for 67y on 17 attempts, the Saints controlled the clock.
  • 2002 #1 draft pick Donte Stallworth showed his potential with a 41y TD reception that stretched the lead to 20-10. Brooks also threw another 6-pointer to TE Boo Williams for 32y.

Late in the game, the Bucs' remodeled O finally started clicking.

  • Tampa pulled to 20-17 on Brad Johnson's 11y TD pass to Joe Jurevicious with 2:41 remaining.
  • After stopping the Saints, the home team drove from their own 26 to the NO 33, where Martin Gramatica's FG tied the game on the last play of regulation.

The OT ended on a strange play.

  • After the ball changed hands multiple times, Buc punter Tom Tupa dropped back into the EZ.
  • Fred McAfee broke through and forced Tupa to try an awkward left-handed pass to avoid a safety. The wounded duck landed in the hands of LB James Allen in the middle of the EZ for the winning TD with 2:50 left in the OT.

Deuce's performance caused McCarthy to think, "I got me one here."

  • The next three weeks, a trio of the best RBs in the league, Jamal Lewis (17 carries for 53y), Marshall Faulk (6-9), and Corey Dillon (21-59), would gain just 121y in 44 carries against the D that would carry the Bucs to the Super Bowl championship that season.
  • McAllister finished 2002 with 1,388y on 325 carries despite playing some games with a badly sprained ankle.
  • He showed that '02 was no fluke by gaining 1,641 in '03 along with 516y on 69 pass receptions.

Side note: One sports page headline the day after the Saints victory proclaimed: "Brees Sails Past Bengals in Debut As Starter." Little did anyone know at the time that Drew would team with Deuce in 2006 to produce the Saints best season to that point in their history.

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan
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Deuce McAllister
Deuce McAllister
Coach Mike McCarthy
Mike McCarthy
Saints Coach Jim Haslett
Jim Haslett
Aaron Brooks
Aaron Brooks
Donte Stallworth
Donte Stallworth
Fred McAfee
"The Case of the Purloined Playbook"

That was the title one newspaper's headline gave to a story that unfolded in July 1972 and led to an FBI investigation.

  • Karl Sweetan was a backup QB to Billy Kilmer for the Saints in 1968.
  • A native of Dallas, Karl played college ball for both Texas A&M and Wake Forest.
  • The Detroit Lions chose Sweetan in the 18th round of the 1966 draft. When starting QB Milt Plum suffered a knee injury, Sweetan threw a 99y TD pass to Pat Studstill against the Baltimore Colts to tie a league record that can never be broken for the longest passing play.
  • Karl started 8 games for the Lions in both 1966 and 1967, completing 231 passes for 2710y. He threw 14 TD passes but 25 INTs.
  • In his one year with the Saints, Karl appeared in five games, starting two. He went 27-78 for 318y, 1 TD and 9 INTs. Still, Seattle had time to move into position for a 37y FG that missed.

The Saints traded Karl to the Los Angeles Rams before the 1969 season.

  • Sweetan didn't start a game for the Rams in two seasons. He completed 11 passes in 26 attempts for 182y, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs.
  • Los Angeles released him in July 1972.

That's when the story that cemented Karl Sweetan's name in NFL lore began.

  • Knowing that his former team, the Saints, played their NFC West rival Rams twice a year, Karl contacted New Orleans coach J. D. Roberts.
  • A woman (Sweetan's wife?) calling from Dallas offered to sell Roberts a copy of the Rams playbook from the 1971 season. Roberts notified the NFL security office, which, in turn, contacted the FBI.
  • Federal agents set up a string operation in which Roberts met Sweetan and his cousin at a New Orleans motel in the predawn hours.
  • When Roberts paid Karl $2,500 for the playbook, the feds swooped in and arrested Sweetan and his accomplice. They spent a night in jail and were charged with wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. When a magistrate lowered their bond from $25,000 to $5,000, the accused pair were able to return to their home in Dallas.
  • The story made Sports Illustrated, which interviewed Rams coach, Tommy Prothro, as well as Paul Brown, the coach of the Bengals who had originated the playbook with the Cleveland Browns. Both downplayed the value of obtaining a copy of an opponent's playbook.
  • Still, Saints fans would soon wish that Roberts had kept his mouth shut and paid for the playbook after the Saints lost their 1972 season opener in Los Angeles 34-14. New Orleans could have used any help it could get in the 2-11-1 campaign, during which Roberts was replaced by John North.

Ultimately, the case never went to trial.

  • In February 1973, Gerald Gallinghouse, the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans, reported the results of a survey he had made of "numerous experts on pro football." They concluded that the playbook's monetary value was less than $5,000, the minimum amount required for a stolen object transported across state lines to qualify as a federal crime.
  • As a result, Gallinghouse decided not to seek any indictments in the case.ill,

At his arraignment in 1972, Sweetan said, ''Once this is cleared up, I would like to play again.''

  • But he never got another chance in the NFL. He retired to Nevada, played semipro football, and became a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas.
  • When Sweetan died at age 57 in July 2010, stories in The New York Times and other media outlets related the playbook story.
Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan
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Karl Sweetan, Lions
Karl Sweetan


Coach Tommy Prothro, Rams
Coach Tommy Prothro

Gill Fenerty
Gill Fenerty

Pat Swilling
Pat Swilling

Bobby Hebert
Bobby Hebert

Sam Mills
Sam Mills
First: 2-0 Start

The Saints began play in 1967. It took the franchise 25 years to record its first 2-0 start!

Jim Mora's sixth squad began the 1991 campaign against Seattle in front of 68,492 in the Superdome.

  • QB Bobby Hebert, loudly booed after his 17-month holdout, threw his first pass of the Silver Season to RB Gill Fenerty who ran 50y for a TD.
  • Later in the opening period, LB Pat Swilling knocked the ball away from Seahawk QB Dave Krieg as he tried to pass, picked it up on the run at the 15, and took it into the EZ. However, an inadvertent whistle brought the ball back to the spot of the hit and gave it back to Seattle.
  • One minute into Q2, Morton Andersen booted a 47y FG for a 10-0 lead.
  • 23 seconds later, Swilling finally scored his first NFL TD when he grabbed a screen pass and galloped 39y to paydirt.
  • The Saints led 20-7 at halftime before a disastrous Q3 cost them their lead and almost the ball game.
  • The Seahawks outscored the home team 17-0 in the next 15 minutes, including Brian Davis' 40y INT return of an Hebert pass as the period ended.
  • With a little over seven minutes left in the contest, Hebert finally cranked up a drive starting on the 32. With two possession receptions by Eric Martin, the Saints used up six minutes in moving to the 10.

  • Trailing by four, they had to go for it on fourth down-and-goal. Hebert fired the ball between two defenders to WR Floyd Turner for the go-ahead score. All was forgiven, at least temporarily!
  • Still, Seattle had time to move into position for a 37y FG that missed.

The Saints then faced the Chiefs in Kansas City.

  • Once again, Mora's gang got off to a strong start, building a 17-0 lead at intermission. They possessed the pigskin for 24 of the 30 minutes as Hebert threw two TD aerials.
  • Again, Q3 spelled trouble. KC took the kickoff and, running almost as many plays (15) as they did the entire first half (16), drove to the 5, where, on 3rd-and-1, Sam Mills, all 5-9 225 of LB, stonewalled 6-4 270 RB Christian Okoye for no gain. The Chiefs settled for a FG.
  • After the Saints went three-and-out, KC drove for their first TD early in Q4 to close to 17-10.
  • Against Seattle, the O had pulled itself together for a Q4 drive. But this day that didn't happen, forcing the D to hold the fort.
  • After the Chiefs recovered an Hebert fumble, rookie CB Reggie Jones negated the threat with his first NFL INT at the 21 with 13 minutes left.
  • With 4 minutes to go, Mills intercepted QB Steve Deberg and returned the ball to midfield.
  • The Chiefs began one last push from their 21 at the 2:33 mark with no timeouts left. They reached the 15 where they snapped the ball with less than 10 seconds left. Deberg dumped the ball to WR Robb Thomas over the middle, but S Gene Atkins stopped him at the 5. Time expired before KC could line up for another play.

The '91 Saints set a new record for best start in team history every week for seven straight Sundays.

  • They finally lost to the Bears 20-17 in the Superdome.
  • Losing four in a row before capturing their last two, New Orleans finished 11-5 but didn't make the playoffs.
Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort, Book 2, Christian Serpas
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Danny Abramowicz

Coach Tom Fears
Coach Tom Fears

QB Billy Kilmer
Billy Kilmer


Video of John Gilliam's Kickoff Return


Danny Abramowicz, 49ers


Profile: Danny Abramowicz
"Too small and too slow."
  • That was the scouting report on 6-1 195 lb WR Danny Abramowicz, whom the expansion Saints drafted in the 17th and final round in 1967 prior to their first season in the NFL.
  • Another knock on Danny was that he played college football at Xavier University in Cincinnati, which did not compete in a top conference.

The Saints coaches didn't pay much attention to Danny at training camp.

  • When I went to training camp, Coach [Tom] Fears was the head coach. We trained in San Diego, and all I asked him for was an opportunity to make the team, a fair chance.
  • He said he would, but after about three or four weeks of camp, I was mostly on special teams ...

Finally, "the Turk," the staff member assigned to tell players they were cut, came to see Danny.

  • The knock comes on the door, and he says, "Bring your playbook; coach wants to see you." In other words, "You're fired."
  • So I left my playbook, and I went downstairs and burst into his [Coach Fears'] office and said, "You never gave me a chance; you told me you were gonna give me a chance."
  • And he sort of was stunned, and he looked up at me and he said, "You're serious."I said, "I'm as serious as a heart attack," and he said, "OK, go back upstairs. I'm going to give you another week.
  • One of the things I remember most about the whole thing is that I went outside the office after it was all over, and my knees were shaking. And I remember saying to myself, "Whew. That worked."

Given another week to make the team, Abramowicz made the most of the opportunity.

  • Word of Danny's plight spread to his teammates, who rooted for the tough kid they respected for the grit he had shown in camp.
  • QB Billy Kilmer recalls, Danny was a competitor. He wasn't the fastest guy in the world and not the biggest guy in the world. But boy, he had a lot of heart and he had great hands.
  • Danny started the next exhibition game, against the San Francisco 49ers in Portland (OR).
  • Before the make-or-break contest, Kilmer told Abramowicz, I'm going to throw you the ball. You better catch it, and you better play your heart out.
  • Danny caught all five passes Kilmer threw him in the first half and made some big plays on special teams.

As a result, Abramowicz made the Saints opening day roster.

  • When John Gilliam ran the opening kickoff of the first regular season game 94y for a TD, Danny threw a key block to help spring John into NFL lore.
  • Still, after the first six games, the rookie had caught only nine passes.
  • But in Week 7 against the Steelers, he got his first start and snared 12 balls. Danny remained a starter for the rest of his career with the Saints.
  • He led the team in receptions from 1967 through 1971. His 73 catches in 1969 (for over 1,000y) led the entire league as the Saints compiled their best record to that point, 5-9.
  • Abramowicz became the second player in NFL history, after Mike Ditka, to catch at least 50 passes in each of his first four years in the league.

Despite leading the club in scoring in 1972, the Saints traded Abramowicz to the 49ers in 1973 after Danny clashed with owner John Mecom.

  • Abramowicz extended his NFL record streak of catching at least one pass in 105 consecutive games.
  • Danny retired after the '74 season.
  • Even after his trade to the West Coast, Danny maintained a permanent home in New Orleans.
  • I just never did feel comfortable in a San Francisco uniform. If I had it to do over again, I'd have stayed here. I'd have played out my career here. It just shows you how a community can grow on you, how you can get a love for a city. I fell in love with the city, and I think the city fell in love with me.

In 1988, Abramowicz and Archie Manning became the first two players inducted into the new Saints Hall of Fame in Kenner. Not bad for a guy who survived a visit from the Turk.

References: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort Book I, Christian Serpas
Tales from the Saints Sideline
, Jeff Duncan
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"Black Sunday"


Coach John North
Coach John North



QB Dick Shiner
Dick Shiner

QB Archie Manning
Archie Manning




This article could be called "Less Than Dazzling Debut."

  • The Saints fired head coach J. D. Roberts with two games remaining in the 1973 pre-season schedule.
  • One of the assistants, offensive coordinator John North, took over the reins.
  • North and his staff managed to lead the club to a 16-10 win over Houston in the final preseason game.
  • The victory gave fans a glimmer of hope as the Atlanta Falcons came to Tulane Stadium on Sunday, September 16 to begin the regular season.

The teams were natural rivals from the beginning.

  • The Falcons had entered the NFL in 1966, one year before the Saints became the second NFL club in the Deep South. (The Dolphins were part of the AFL before the 1970 merger.)
  • The Saints had defeated their older brethren 27-24 when they met during the younger club's inaugural campaign. QB Billy Kilmer marched the Saints 97y to victory, tossing the winning pass 7y to TE Kent Kramer, who made a one-handed catch in the EZ with 48 seconds left. It was the second of the Saints' three victories on their maiden voyage.
  • Not placed in the same division ("Century" for the Saints and "Coastal" for Atlanta), the teams didn't meet in 1968.
  • In 1969, the Falcons prevailed 45-17 in Atlanta's Fulton Company Stadium.

Finally placed together in the NFL West in the merged league, the teams began meeting twice a season.

  • 1970: The Falcons swept the Saints, 14-3 in Tulane Stadum and 32-14 in Georgia.
  • 1971: Atlanta won both meetings again, 28-6 at home and 24-20 in New Orleans.
  • 1972: The Falcons extended their winning streak over the Saints to seven, prevailing 21-14 in New Orleans and 36-20 in the Peachtree State.

66,428 came to Tulane Stadium to witness North's debut on September 16, 1973.

  • The rivals played a scoreless Q1.
  • Then the roof started to fall in on the home club as the Falcons scored 24 before halftime.
  • The visitors added 21 more in Q3 and 17 more in the final period in a 62-7 romp.
  • Archie Manning threw 5y to RB Bill Butler in Q3 to save the home team from the further humiliation of a shutout.
  • The Long Beach (CA) Independent had fun with its headline over the game report the next day:

Falcons Have Shiner, But Saints Knocked Out, 62-7

  • QB Dick Shiner, whom Atlanta picked up on waivers for $100 when he walked out of the Giants training camp the previous year, threw three TD passes, two of them to ex-Saint Ken Burrough.
  • Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin rubbed it in, throwing four passes on their final five plays to score their 8th and final TD.

The statistics reflected the carnage.

  • First downs: Atlanta 32, New Orleans 11
  • Rushing: Atlanta 218, New Orleans 152
  • Passing: Atlanta 279, New Orleans 35
  • Manning and backup Bob Davis combined for only 8 completions in 25 attempts.
  • Archie threw 5 INTs and Davis 1. The Saints also lost two fumbles for an 8 turnover day.

Amazingly, North pulled the team together for five victories, all at home.

  • New Orleans went to Atlanta to end the '73 season and lost only 14-10.
  • North went 5-9 again in 1974.
  • When the Saints started 1-5 in their first season in the Dome in '75, North was replaced by his assistant, Ernie Hefferle.

The 55-point margin of defeat that Black Sunday remains the Saints record.

References: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort Book I, Christian Serpas
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Dixon's Quest
AFL Commissioner Joe Foss
Joe Foss

Billy Cannon, Oilers
Billy Cannon, Houston Oilers








Governor John McKeithen
Governor John McKeithen



The Saints in the American Football League? The Saints in the USFL? Both possibilities were explored by Dave Dixon before his native city landed an NFL franchise.

  • Dixon started his quest for a pro football franchise in New Orleans with a letter dated August 5, 1959, to the president of the board of administrators of Tulane University inquiring about the possibility of leasing Tulane Stadium for pro football. The 36-year-old businessman promised Tulane that he would handle any problems arising from playing on Sundays and having integrated seating.
  • In the fall of 1960, the American Football League began play, providing competition for the National Football League.
  • In November 1961, Dixon wrote a letter of introduction to Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner. Dave expressed his interest in obtaining a franchise for the Crescent City.

With the NFL not responding, Dixon and his backers began flirting with the fledgling AFL.

  • In January, 1962, Dixon's group opened communication channels with Joe Foss, the AFL commissioner, and Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers and president of the league.
  • In March of that year, Dixon submitted a plan for the AFL to play its season from January to April when it would not conflict with the NFL. The AFL showed no interest in his winter league, but Dave would resurrect the idea several years later.
  • When the AFL decided not to expand for the 1963 season, Dixon began secret talks with Lamar Hunt, owner of the Dallas Texans, to relocate that club to New Orleans and rename it the Saints.
  • To help his cause, Dixon staged an exhibition game on August 18, 1962, between the Oilers, with former LSU star Billy Cannon, and the Boston Patriots at City Park Stadium. The game was a resounding success. A crowd of 31,000 overflowed the stands, and 10,000 more fans were turned away. Dixon's staff distributed pledge forms for season tickets for the 1963 season along with small pencils advertising the "New Orleans Saints, 1963."
  • In the summer of 1963, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City, where they remain as the Chiefs. So Dixon set his sights on purchasing the Oakland Raiders until some of his investors backed out before the 1963 season.
  • Thwarted by the AFL, Dixon turned his attention back to the NFL, sponsoring exhibition games for that league that drew huge crowds to Tulane Stadium, including a 75,229 throng in August 1965 that set a preseason record for a nonleague city.
  • Dixon also snagged the AFL All-Star Game for January 16, 1965. However, that plum turned into a sour grape for the city as the black players, meeting discrimination in cabs, bars, restaurants, and hotels, boycotted the game and left town. The AFL hastily arranged for the contest to be played in Houston.

Undaunted, Dixon started a new initiative.

  • He prepared a detailed brochure for potential investors interested in starting the United States Football League, which would play its season from January to May.
  • The league didn't get off the ground at that time (Dixon would finally see the league come to fruition from 1983-5). However, the threat of a third pro football league as well as the great turnout in New Orleans for the preseason games may have caused the NFL to pay more attention to Dixon.

Dave added a new component to his bid for a franchise.

  • Dixon envisioned a domed stadium larger than the Astrodome that would house the New Orleans Saints.
  • He found an enthusiastic supporter in Governor John McKeithen, who joined Dixon's delegation that made a bid for an expansion franchise at the NFL owners' meeting on May 18, 1966.
  • Before finalizing its expansion plans, the league first announced plans to merge with the AFL, an event considered favorable to New Orleans' chances.
  • Sure enough, on All Saints Day, November 1, 1966, a date Dixon prearranged, the NFL awarded a franchise to New Orleans.
Mecom, Rozelle, Dixon
L-R: John Mecom, Pete Rozelle, Dave Dixon
"Before the Saints Came Marching In," Michael M. Redmann, The Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly, Winter 2011
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Record-Setting Punt Returner

It was the third game of the Saints' second season in the NFL.

  • At that point in its history, Tom Fears' team was 4-12, having defeated Washington 31-17 the week before after losing the opener to Cleveland, 24-10.
  • Now the Saints were hosting their third straight home game, this one against their fellow Century Division club, the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of just 19 of their last 44 contests.

The Saints dominated the game for three quarters, leading 17-0 going into the final period.

  • Charlie Durkee booted a 20y FG to give the Saints a 3-0 lead after Q1.
  • WR Danny Abramowicz caught a 29y aerial from QB Billy Kilmer to make it 10-0 at halftime.
  • The same combination struck from 9y out in Q3 to delight the crowd of 79,021 (including yours truly).

Unfortunately, the Saints of the early years proved again and again that no lead was safe enough for them.

  • Saints punter Tom McNeil kicks the ball to Chuck Latourette, who fields the ball near the right hash on his own 14. Latourette weaves his way to the left, twists out of Tony Lorick's tackle, gets to the sidelines, and speeds 86y to put the Cards on the board.
  • The Saints punt team lets Fears down again a few minutes later when McNeill is tackled on the 10 after a bad snap. St. Louis scores two plays later on a 9y pass from Charley Johnson to Dave Williams.

Ahead by only 3, the Saints O came to life again.

  • Kilmer led a drive that culminated in a 36y Durkee FG to move the lead back to 6.
  • Needing a TD as time ticked down, St. Louis benefitted from good field position after another excellent punt return by Latourette.
  • A pass interference call that enraged the crowd put the ball on the 2 with a little more than a minute to play.
  • On third down amid a cascade of boos, Willie Crenshaw plunged 1y to tie the game.
  • Jim Bakken kicked the go-ahead point.

Kilmer tried his best to pull out the victory.

  • Several completions moved the pigskin into Cardinal territory.
  • With nine seconds left, Durkee came on for a 34y FG attempt.
  • LB Ernie Clark blocked the kick to dash the home team's hopes.

Latourette's 143y on 3 returns set a league record for punt return average in a game with 47.7. He went on to set a season record for combined kick return yards with 1,582.

Reference: Tales from the Saints Sideline, Jeff Duncan

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Charlie Durkee

Danny Abramowicz

Billy Kilmer
Billy Kilmer

Chuck Latourette
Profile: Bum Phillips

Saints Owner John Mecom
John Mecom

Coach Bum Phillips
Bum Phillips

Kenny Stabler, Saints
Kenny Stabler

George Rogers
George Rogers

Coach Sid Gillman
Sid Gillman

Tom Benson and Governor Edwin Edwards
Saints owner Tom Benson and Governor Edwin Edwards

January 22, 1981: That was the day that Saints owner John Mecom announced he had signed Bum Phillips to a five-year contract as head coach.

  • The hiring caused great excitement in Saints Nation.Fans put bumper stickers on their cars that read "Faith, Hope, and Bum." After all, Bum had just had a successful tenure as coach of the Oilers.
  • In six years in Houston, Phillips won 55 and lost 35. The Oilers made the playoffs his last three years, winning 4 and losing 3.
  • So why did Houston fire him? Because he couldn't get over the hump and get the Oilers to the Super Bowl.
  • In both '78 and '79, Bum's teams lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. When the '80 squad lost to Oakland in the Wild Card Round, management decided the team had maxed out under Bum and let him go.

Phillips took over a team that could only go up since the 1980 'Aints had finished 1-15. "I want to win now," he announced at his first press conference. "That's why I'm here."

  • His first New Orleans squad went 4-12, including a notable victory in Houston over his former team, 27-24.
  • The '82 campaign was shortened by a strike. The Saints won 4 and lost 5
  • 1983 saw an improvement to 8-8, the second time the franchise had attained that mark (after '79). With veteran QB Kenny Stabler at the controls and George Rogers, the Heisman Trophy winner from South Carolina who was Bum's first draft pick in NO, running for 1,144 yards, the Saints had a chance to finish 9-7 but lost in the Dome to the Los Angeles Rams 26-24 on a FG with 0:02 left to miss the playoffs.
  • The '84 Saints were 6-6 but lost three of the next four, including two at home, to finish 7-9 and once again miss the post-season.

When Tom Benson bought a controlling interest in the franchise in June 1985, he kept Phillips as head coach.

  • The '85 season began 3-2 before six straight losses sent the team reeling.
  • Bum rallied the team to two straight wins before suddenly resigning on the Monday following the 29-3 victory over the Rams before only 44,122 in the Dome.
  • No better comment could be made on the dismal history of the franchise than that, at that point, Phillips, with a 27-42 record, ranked as the winningest coach in Saints history.

To call Bum Phillips an "interesting character" is an understatement.

  • Born in Orange TX in 1923, he played football at Lamar JC in Beaumont before enlisting in the Marine Corps after Pearl Harbor. He became a member of the elite Marine Raiders
  • After the war, Bum finished an education degree at Stephen F. Austin. He started his coaching career in high school football in the Lone Star State.
  • The key break in his career came when Bear Bryant hired him as an assistant at Texas A&M. In addition to The Bear, Bum also worked under Bill Yeoman at Houston and Hayden Fry at SMU in addition to stints at UTEP and Oklahoma State.

Bum entered the NFL ranks when Sid Gillman hired him as a D assistant with the San Diego Chargers in 1967.

  • In 1974, when Gillman took over the Oilers, he made Phillips his D-coordinator.
  • The following season, Bum took over the Oilers.

His players praised Phillips as an excellent motivator.

  • He had an administrative assistant gather books on motivation and management that were piled high on Bum's desk.
  • Bum started each team meeting with a speech that not only motivated his men for the football field but for life as well.
  • "No one wanted to miss Bum's talk," said trainer Dean Kleinschmidt. One player asked Bum if he could tape his speeches. Archie Manning said, "You never knew what he was going to say."

Bum's love for horse racing ranked second only to his love for football.

  • He grew up on a ranch in Texas and owned several racehorses during his coaching career.
  • During the 1985 training camp in Ruston, the Saints bussed to Shreveport to catch a flight to Boston for a preseason game with the Patriots. When told the flight would be delayed 3-4 hours for repairs, Bum took the entire team to Louisiana Downs racetrack in nearby Bossier City.
  • Tom Benson also owned horses. "Tom was my kind of guy," said Bum. "He was a good, honest businessman who went into horses like a business, not just for fun. He was very much into horses."
  • One of Bum's horses was "Never Waddle." Wade Phillips, who became an NFL D-coordinator and head coach like his dad, called the horse "Never Won." Saints front office people would solicit office collections to bet on Never Waddle when he raced at Jefferson Downs. "The money just disappeared because Never Waddle would never win," said PR director Rusty Kasmiersky.

Some "Bumisms":

  • "There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired."
  • "Mama always said that it can't rain on you when you're indoors." (Explaining why he didn't wear his cowboy hat in domed stadiums)
  • "I never scrimmage Oilers against Oilers ... what for? Houston isn't on our schedule."
Reference: Tales from the Saints Sidelines, Jeff Duncan | Top of Page
Memorable Game - Saints @ Bears October 2, 1977

Hank Stram's Saints were hungry for a win after starting the season with losses to Green Bay at home (24-20) and at Detroit (23-19).

  • They visited Soldier Field to take on Jack Pardee's Bears, their third straight NFC Central foe.
  • The Saints were 9-point underdogs and rightly so. The O would play without both starting WRs, Larry Burton and Tinker Owens, the latter out for the season. #1 CB Ernie Jackson was also sidelined.

The Saints won the toss and did something you rarely see in modern football, especially in the NFL. They chose to defend the north goal to have the 16mph wind behind them.

  • The strategy backfired at first. After failing to move the ball on their opening drive, the Bears got a terrific punt into the wind. When Tom Blanchard got off a poor boot on fourth down, Chicago was in business at the Saints 40. Several plays later, QB Bob Avellini hit RB Walter Payton on a swing pass for 33y and a TD.
  • After another exchange of punts that this time favored the team with the wind, the Saints took possession at the Bears 40. Archie Manning moved his O to the 15 on the strength of passes to RB Tony Galbreath and WR Don Herrmann. Manning then ran the draw trap to the 8. This was a play the staff put in for the game. The guards set up to block as Archie dropped back 3-4 steps to dupe the D into expecting a pass. Then he took off up the middle. On the next play, Manning rolled to pass and kept running in the EZ. Rich Szaro's left-footed boot tied the score.

New Orleans took the lead for good in Q2.

  • Manning scored on a 2y run around RE midway through the period to cap a 72y drive. Included were a 2y gain by Galbreath on fourth-and-one, a 22y third pass to WR Rich Mauti, starting his first game in the NFL, a pass interference penalty, and a 14y dash by Archie to the 11 on third-and-five.
  • The Bears repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with six dropped passes and penalties on O and missed tackles on D. Later in the period, Avellini hit RB Roland Harper in the hands but the ball slipped away and Chuck Crist made a diving INT in Bears territory.
  • Five plays later, Manning, trapped behind the line of scrimmage, did what he did best. He scrambled right and tossed to RB Chuck Muncie who ran for a 35y TD that put the visitors two scores ahead.
  • Chicago put three points on the board in the last minute and a half of the period. Starting at his 38, Avellini completed a pass to Bo Rather, who made a falling catch for 22, then hit Steve Schubert for 18, and Rather again for 14 to put the ball on the 8. Avellini continued his hot streak by connecting with Harper in the EZ, but Payton was called for holding. The Bears had to settle for a 21y FG by Bob Thomas as time expired.

Any thought the Bears had of taking control the game were quickly squelched in the second half..

  • After the Saints D forced a punt on the opening possession, Manning led another scoring drive. He ran in from the 11 to make the score an astonishing 28-10 as boos rained on the Bears.
  • Late in Q3, Avellini completed four passes to advance to the 6. He then hit Payton for an apaprent score, but Schubert was guilty of interference. The Bears went for it on fourth down and failed.

The Saints continued their domination in the final period.

  • DT Elex Price continued his fine play on the afternoon by forcing Avellni to fumble. DE Bob Pollard picked up the pigskin and rumbled untouched 52y to paydirt. It was Bob's first TD in seven pro seasons. With the score 35-10, many in the crowd of 53,448 headed for the parking lots.
  • Payton made several fine runs on the next drive, his last one covering 21y to the EZ to cut the lead to 35-17.
  • After stopping the Saints, the Bears hoped to continue their comeback. However, LB Jim Merlo grabbed Avellini's pass at the Saint 43 and ran it back for the second D TD of the day.
  • Payton struck again, breaking loose down the sideline for 49y deep into Saints territory. He topped the drive with a 1y plunge with 1:38 left to make the final score 42-24.

Stram was ecstatic.

  • "For the first time in three games, we played aggressively with our specialty teams, our offense, and our defense. We came up with a lot of big plays and Archie really the ball great."
  • The Bears actually won the statistical battle: 19 firsts to 18, 415y O to 314. However, the home team also led in penalties with 11 for 111y and in turnovers with 3, two of which were returned for TDs and the other which set up a short scoring drive. NO had no giveaways.

The Saints would gain only two more victories the rest of the season to finish 3-11. The embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay at home in the second-to-last game, which was the second-year expansion club's first victory in its history, cost Stram his job.

QB Archie Manning
Archie Manning

RB Chuck Muncie
Chuck Muncie

Bears QB Bob Avellini
Bob Avellini

Bears RB Walter Payton
Walter Payton

Saints DE Bob Pollard
Bob Pollard




Streak Buster: Tampa Bay 1977

Dazzling Debut: Deuce McAllister

First 2-0 Start

"The Case of the Purloined Playbook"

Profile: Danny Abramowicz

"Black Sunday"

Dixon's Quest

Record-Setting Punt Returner

Profile: Bum Phillips

Memorable Game: Bears 1977


Saints Saga I

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Saints Saga III

Saints Saga V

Saints Saga VI

Saints Saga VII

Saints Saga VIII

Saints Saga IX - 1987


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