POSTED Fri. Sep 9, 2016

Atmosphere

Celebrating 50 Years of the Saints
Written by FRITZ ESKER
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The 2016 NFL season has a special significance in the city of New Orleans: it marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the city’s franchise, the New Orleans Saints. In a town of multiple races, economic brackets, political affiliations, religions, and other potential divisions, few elements are as powerfully adhesive as the Saints.

Families and friends gather in the Superdome, as well as homes and bars throughout the area to cheer on the black and gold. New friends are made every season as as Saints fans, eternally optimistic, hope for a return to the playoffs. Most Who Dats know that who you watch the games with is as important as watching the game itself.

“It was my father and son bonding time,” said Casey Lane, whose family has owned season tickets since 1988. Lane’s father passed away earlier this year, but it’s a tradition he hopes to continue with his two young sons.

The Lanes won’t be the only fathers and sons bonding over the Saints this year, no matter what their record is. In honor of the Saints’ 50th birthday, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look back on the most memorable home games played in the Crescent City (yes, home games: besides the Super Bowl, we’re focusing on games played in New Orleans, hence the absence of, say, the team’s first road playoff victory against the Eagles).

Most Memorable Home Games

Jan. 2010 – “Pigs Have Flown, Hell Has Frozen Over!” (Saints 31, Vikings 28 OT)

All Saints fans know the ’09 squad was the best in team history. Decades of losing and the memories of loved ones who never lived to see the Saints win it all weighed heavily on fans’ psyches in the roller coaster 2010 NFC championship. But Pierre Thomas, Tracy Porter, and Garrett Hartley stepped up to save the day.

Saints fan Allen Frederic was so nervous he left his seat in the Dome and stood in the club lounge. Eventually, he watched from the entryway leading to the seats. His father was in his sightline, about five rows away. “I knew it was going to be either the greatest feeling I’ve ever had as a Saints fan…or the worst,” Frederic said.

When Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre to prevent a potential game winning field goal by the Vikings, pandemonium ensued. Frederic took off his shirt, hugged the cop guarding the entryway, hugged a couple standing nearby, and ran to the seats to hug his father. “It felt like thirty years of watching the Saints with my dad culminated in that moment,” Frederic said.

Sept. 2006 – Domecoming (Saints 23, Falcons 3)
In the dark, post-Katrina days of 2005, the Saints seemed likely to leave for good. But they returned, and their first home game began in spectacular fashion with Steve Gleason blocking a punt and Curtis DeLoatch (the forgotten man in this game) recovering it for a TD. It didn’t raise the dead, rebuild homes, or create stronger levees, but it was one of the first rays of sunshine New Orleanians saw in a horrible year.

“It felt like the breakthrough moment our city needed, and any doubts about our future were erased,” said lifelong Saints fan Brian Friedman.

Dec. 2000 – “Hakim Drops the Ball…There is a God!” (Saints 31, Rams 28)

The Rams cut a 31-7 Saints lead to 31-28 and the Saints were punting to the Rams’ Az-Zahir Hakim with just under two minutes left. But he dropped the punt, and with Brian Milne’s fumble recovery, the Saints secured their first playoff victory in team history.

“Jim Henderson said it best…‘There is a God!’ We celebrated that night as if we had won the Super Bowl because that is exactly what it felt like,” said Lane.

Nov. 1970 – The Tom Dempsey Game (Saints 19, Lions 17)

The Saints only won two games in 1970, but one was a doozy. Saints kicker Tom Dempsey, born without toes on his right foot and fingers on his right hand, booted an NFL-record 63-yard field goal as time expired for the win. It beat the previous record by 7 yards and would stand until Dec. 2013.

Gayle Letulle, who worked in the press box with the official stat crew, remembers some Saints fans were streaming for the exits when the historic kick happened. “When the kick went through (the uprights), it was like a bomb went off,” Letulle said. “The roar from the crowd was seismic and the press box roof…started swaying.”

Most Memorable Super Bowls
Once New Orleans had a NFL franchise, it became eligible to host the Super Bowl. The big game allowed New Orleans to showcase itself on the international stage as a destination city, and since 1970, we have played host for 10 Superbowls; only Miami can claim more. Gayle Letulle has worked with the stat crew for every New Orleans Super Bowl.

Feb 2002 – Patriots 20, Rams 17
The first Super Bowl after 9/11 was an emotional and tense game where the underdog Pats knocked off the heavily favored Rams. “The thing I remember most…was what I saw when I left the Dome,” Letulle said “Fencing had been set up around the Superdome and that perimeter was guarded by soldiers armed with what appeared to be assault rifles.”

Feb 2013 – Ravens 34, 49ers 31
This fantastic game saw the 49ers almost come back from a 28-6 3rd quarter deficit, which would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But it’s remembered more for the surreal 22-minute power outage that interrupted play for a total of 34 minutes.

Jan 1972 – Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3:
Did you know the coldest Super Bowl ever was played at Tulane Stadium? Kickoff weather was a sunny 39 degrees. But Letulle, who worked exposed to the elements, said the other Tulane Stadium Super Bowls (1970 and 1975) felt colder because the air was damper. He added that these early contests serve as a reminder of how much the big game has evolved.

“There was only one suite in Tulane Stadium, so the corporate culture of the modern Super Bowl was not as prevalent. It was much more of a fan-focused experience,” said Letulle.

Three Saints Songs

Who Dat
It’s the Saints fans’ default chant, but when it began in 1983, it was also a song by the Neville Brothers you could buy on a 45 record.

When the Saints Go Marching In

The other team song that will always endure.

Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)

Love it or hate it, this will always be associated with the magical Super Bowl season.

Honorable Mentions
Whoomp There It Is
If you’re a diehard who went to games during the dog days of the mid-90s, you’ll remember hearing this…a lot.

Who Let the Dogs Out?
Mercifully, this didn’t stay a Saints staple for long. But anyone who attended the Saints/Rams playoff game in 2000 can tell you this got played almost every single time the Saints did anything positive.

And finally, of course, Super Bowl XLIV (Saints 31, Colts 17)
We wanted to focus on games played in New Orleans for this piece, but we can’t wrap without mentioning Feb 7, 2010. Everyone rightfully remembers Tracy Porter’s heroics and Chris Reis clutching the onside kick under a pile of Colts and Saints players. But other heroes stepped up, too. Jeremy Shockey caught Drew Brees’ go-ahead TD pass in the 4th quarter, Garrett Hartley became the first kicker in Super Bowl history to make three field goals longer than 45 yards, and Pierre Thomas was an artist with a screen pass (as always). Just enjoy the tape.

Image via Wiki Commons.

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