New Orleans Saints Team History
National Football League awarded its 16th franchise to New Orleans
on November 1, 1966. Appropriately, it was All Saints Day. In
mid-December, 28-year-old John W. Mecom Jr., a successful Texas
and Louisiana businessman, became the majority stockholder.
Less than a month later on January 9, 1967, no one was surprised
when the team was named the "Saints."
On March 8, the Saints launched their first season-ticket drive
that produced 20,000 sales on opening day and 33,400 before
the 1967 NFL season began. Eager to create as much pre-season
fan enthusiasm as possible in a city not previously exposed
to pro football, the Saints obtained three future Pro Football
Hall of Famers for their 1967 roster. Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor,
a Louisiana State grid hero, came from Green Bay and defensive
end Doug Atkins came in a trade with the Chicago Bears.
The Saints literally took "The City That Care Forgot"
by storm. They won five of their six preseason games and opened
the regular season on Sept. 17, 1967 against the Los Angeles
Rams before a packed house of 80,879 in Tulane Stadium. New
Orleans fans will always remember John Gilliam's 94-yard touchdown
return with the opening kickoff even though the Rams eventually
won 27-13. A final game victory over the Washington Redskins
allowed the Saints to match the 3-11 first-year record attained
by Minnesota in 1961 and Atlanta in 1966. Most significant of
all, however, was the average home attendance -- 75,463 per
The Saints made each home game a special event, a so-called
"Mardi Gras in Autumn," with cheerleaders, jazz bands,
precision-marching routines by high school and college bands,
and weekly appearances of "The King" himself -- part-owner,
chief cheerleader and trumpet wizard Al Hirt. New Orleans was
destined to falter year-after-year on the field. Still, they
managed to thrill their fans with some exciting victories and
memorable moments first at Tulane Stadium and later at the 69,056-seat
Superdome beginning in 1975. No doubt the most famous play was
Tom Dempsey's record 63-yard field goal in 1970 that enabled
New Orleans to beat Detroit 19-17 on the game's final play.
Outstanding players such as quarterback Archie Manning, running
back George Rogers, linebacker Rickey Jackson, wide receiver
Eric Martin and placekicker Morten Andersen were among those
who played important roles as the Saints advanced toward respectability.
The Saints finished at 8-8 in both 1979 and 1983 but didn't
have a winning year until their 21st season in 1987. That year,
under Coach Jim Mora, the Saints won 12 of 15 games for a second-place
finish in the NFC West. The Saints reached the playoffs four
times in six seasons from 1987 to 1992 and won their only NFC
West Championship in 1991.
The winning era in New Orleans was ushered in on June 3, 1985,
when a New Orleans businessman, Tom Benson acquired the franchise
from Mecom. Benson immediately hired Jim Finks, a future Hall
of Fame administrator, as president and general manager, and
Mora as the head coach. The pair soon turned the Saints into
one of the NFL's most potent franchises. Mike Ditka, the Hall
of Fame tight end and former Chicago Bears coach, guided the
team from 1997-1999. In 2000, former NFL linebacker and long-time
assistant Jim Haslett was hired as the new head coach.