When the New Orleans Saints host the visiting Washington Redskins this Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it will mark the 26th time that the two franchises have met in the series' all-time history.
The Redskins lead the all-time series between the two franchises, 17-8. But they have had the Saints' "number" in recent meetings, winning 4 of the last 5 meetings in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era including the last two in a row.
The last (and only) time that the New Orleans Saints defeated the Washington Redskins under Payton / Brees?
It came with one of the greatest plays of the team's "magical" 2009 Super Bowl season, as wide receiver Robert Meachem came up with a strip and score after a Redskins interception, to help New Orleans improve to 12-0 with a 33-30 OT win on Dec. 6, 2009 at Fed Ex Field.
However, this current string of success being enjoyed by the Redskins isn't the first time that Washington has had New Orleans' number in the series.
When New Orleans was awarded an expansion franchise for 1967, the NFL divided its teams into two eight-team conferences, with two four-team divisions in each conference.
As fate would have it: the Redskins and the Saints were placed in the same division, along with Dallas and Philadelphia. The division was known as the "Capitol Division" — which would be the precursor to the division that's now currently known in 2017 as the NFC East.
But when the old AFL (American Football League) and the NFL agreed to merge into one League in 1970, it forced a realignment between the combined league's clubs. Because there were 16 NFL teams and 10 AFL teams, three teams needed to transfer to balance the two new conferences at 13 teams each.
In May 1969, the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join all ten AFL teams to form the American Football Conference (AFC). The remaining NFL teams formed the National Football Conference (NFC).
Replacing the old Eastern and Western conferences (although divisions from those conferences still existed but were renamed to suit the realignment), the new conferences, AFC and NFC, were designed to function similarly to Major League Baseball's American and National leagues, and each of those two were divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West. The two Eastern divisions had five teams; the other four divisions had four teams each.
The Redskins remained in the newly named NFC East, while the Saints were placed in the NFC West; where they would remain with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers for 32 years — until the NFL went to its current division format beginning in the 2002 season (and put New Orleans into the NFC South).
So when the Redskins traveled to New Orleans to face the Saints at the old Tulane Stadium on the day of October 28, 1973, it was the first time that the Redskins were playing against the Saints in NOLA as a team from "another" division and no longer a division rival.
They also were on a 3-game winning streak over the Saints in the series, and were coming off a Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl VII; where they lost to the only undefeated team in NFL history, the (17-0) Miami Dolphins.
Needless to say, they were a HUGE road favorite over the Saints that day (8 points by the folks out in Las Vegas).
And that's where I come into the picture.
You see, long before I ever become a writer, I grew up a Saints fan as a native of New Orleans.
And that day — October 28, 1973 — was my 6th birthday.
Our family had season tickets to all of the games for both the Saints and for local Tulane University football team; and for my 6th birthday present, my Grandfather decided that I was finally old enough to handle the atmosphere associated with attending an NFL game.
The following recollection is told through my eyes both as a 6-year old boy on that day, as well as the 50-year old Grandfather of two whose article you are reading right now.
I hope that your reading experience will be as enjoyable as the events of that still-magical day were, for me........
My Paw Paw was the first “Who Dat”.
Well, maybe that isn’t exactly true; but at the very least he may have been one of the founding members of the “Who Dat Nation”, anyway.
There was no one as more passionate and unwavering in his support of the city of New Orleans and its fledgling football team than he had been.
It’s unlikely that he could have ever imagined in his wildest of dreams after purchasing those first pair of season tickets prior to the inaugural 1967 season, that the team would have gained the following, support, and popularity that it now enjoys.
“Happy Birthday, Barry!”, my Paw Paw exclaimed. “Do you know where we’re going?” Since I knew that it was my 6th birthday that day, I knew that had it to be somewhere special.
Was it the Audobon Zoo, maybe?
I loved to go and see (and touch) the animals whenever we went there. As we had parked the car, I noticed while I was getting out — that where ever this place was that we were at, there sure were A LOT of people here.
It couldn’t be Marine Life, that’s for sure; because that was over in that place that I could never pronounce (Biloxi, Mississippi) by the beach.
No, this was somewhere much different.
My Paw Paw had worn one of his beloved polyester golfing shirts that day, but as he took off that one and quickly slipped on another one that he had folded up next to him, I knew this one was a little bit different because it was black; and it had some kind of a funny looking little gold symbol sewn on to it above the left breast pocket.
In fact, I realized that just about everybody was wearing black. Where was this place? As we got nearer to the old Tulane Stadium, I realized that this was some place that I’d certainly never been to before.
My Paw Paw loved the New Orleans Saints. They had become his favorite team; and despite hailing originally from the borough of Queens, New York City, and a fan previously of the New York Giants, he ‘adopted’ the Saints after their entrance to the NFL in November of 1966, nearly a year before my birth.
He had moved down to New Orleans in the mid 1950’s, and then shortly thereafter had met a divorced mother of two boys (my maternal Grandmother Betty) while working as a men's clothing salesman at Sears and Roebuck in downtown New Orleans.
Paw Paw was an avid sports fan, and often spent his spare time enjoying his other favorite past times, which were horse racing (he attended both of the local tracks: the New Orleans Fair Grounds and the since torn-down suburban venue known as Jefferson Downs) and gambling.
Paw Paw was an avid bettor; never going ANYWHERE without his daily racing form), and smoking his beloved Optimo cigars — which as it would eventually turn out, would take him away from my life for good; when throat cancer ravaged his body until he died in March of 1978, and leaving me with a tremendously large void in my life — one that I still feel every single day, some 40 years later.
Of course, October 28th, 1973 turned out to be much more than just my 6th birthday. It was also the day of the very 1st Saints game that I ever attended.
As Washington Redskins coach George Allen would be quoted later as saying: “We tried to get ready, but it’s hard to do when your opponent just got beat 40-0 the week before”.
History will record that an undermanned (2-4) New Orleans Saints team was a huge underdog on that day; after all, the Redskins were the defending NFC Champions, and at (5-1) were looking to enjoy an easy victory.
But perhaps the Redskins had enjoyed a little victory “celebrating” out on Bourbon Street the night before, and as a result showed up on that Sunday with a most uninspired performance.
As former Saints quarterback Archie Manning recalled in the 2005 book by co-authors and sports writers Tom Danyluk and Paul Zimmerman’s book on pro football entitled “The Super 70’s”:
“That was the old (famously nick-named) “Over The Hill Gang”. Sometimes we had an advantage over a veteran group like that coming in to New Orleans. They probably didn’t take us very seriously, and they probably didn’t prepare real well the night before, either."
"It’d be hot and muggy in the old Tulane Stadium, and that would work against teams. What we actually did have though, was a pretty good run defense. We had the capability to shut people down, and we shut down their ground game on that day”.
“PEANUTS!!! GET YER FRESH ROASTED PEANUTS HERE!” yelled a man with a giant, funny – looking box with some little bags in it, strapped around his neck.
‘”I’ll take two”, my Paw Paw said, taking the folded dollar bills from out of his wallet. “Would you like some peanuts?’ he asked, gauging my interest. “I want a hot dog, Paw Paw”, I replied, after seeing a heavy-set man quaffing down one nearby a few seats over from us, across the aisle.
It was no ordinary hot dog, mind you. It was one of those elongated, ‘foot-long’ stadium hot dogs, and loaded up with all of the condiments that only a 6-year old could truly appreciate.
It was a proud moment for me, because I didn’t have to share the hot dog with him this time like I did when we’d go to the zoo or the park. He let me have the WHOLE hot dog! That was because I had become a "big boy" now, you see.
Out on the field, I could see that the men were dressed in uniforms; and as my Paw Paw had explained to me, were wearing pads and helmets to protect themselves from getting hurt, while they hit one another.
Then as I looked across the width of the field, I saw the funny long white lines with dashes — which Paw Paw said were yardage lines and something called "hash marks". But it didn't look anything like the "hash marks" that Maw Maw would cook for all of us at breakfast time.
And the ends of each side of the field were painted gold, and there was that funny looking symbol that everyone had on their shirts again, painted in black right on top of the gold with the letters S-A-I-N-T-S next to it.
"That's called a 'fleur-de-lis', Paw Paw explained. "Huh?", I asked, wondering what kind of words those were, and what they meant. He just smiled and laughed, and lovingly patted me on the head.
It wasn’t long after that, that Saints quarterback Archie Manning threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to reserve wide receiver Bill Butler. “TOUCHDOWN!”, yelled my Paw Paw, who lept to his feet to celebrate, celebrating in unison with the people seating next to him and behind him.
I was preoccupied with the scrunching sound made by all of the peanut shells below our feet, as I tried to figure out the reason why all of these people around us had completely lost their minds. The man next to us had spilled his draft beer everywhere, and I still can smell that aroma of the old New Orleans home- brewed Dixie Beer, at this very moment.
But one thing was for sure: I knew that my Paw Paw was happy; and when he was happy, I was happy too.
The Saints would go on to score a total of 12 more points, on 4 field goals from kicker Bill McClard. The final score was New Orleans Saints 19, Washington Redskins 3.
“To come down here and play like we did, it was shameful”, said former Saints quarterback and current Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer, after the game.
I don’t recollect too much more about that game other than the touchdown celebration, except of course for that jumbo hot dog and those peanut shells; but one thing that always stuck with me from that very day on, was his demeanor AFTER the game.
Their victory in that game had sent him into a noticeable state of joy and elation, and it was at that very moment that I realized just how important that this game had been to him.
I’m pretty certain that it was from that time on, that I started to watch the games with him every Sunday; and as he frustratingly tried to explain the rules and nuances of the sport to me as I grew older, he did so with much love and tenderness, as any proud Grandfather would.
It’s those wonderful moments spent at his side, that I fondly remember the most. He was a most incredible man, and I miss him terribly.
When the Saints won the Super Bowl a few years ago, I fell to my knees and cried like a baby as the final seconds ticked off of the clock — tears of joy because I finally had seen my beloved team win a World Championship, and tears of bittersweet sadness, as I thought of the man who was responsible for my love of this wonderful thing that is called New Orleans Saints football…
Now as we near the end of the year 2017, life has indeed come “full circle”. I just recently became a Grandfather myself a few years ago at the end of 2011, and my soon-to-be 6 year old Granddaughter Jasmine calls ME “Paw Paw” now, of all things.
Of course, when she gets old enough to completely understand, I’ll tell her all about the sport of football and her Paw Paw’s hometown team, the New Orleans Saints, and just what it means to be a “Who Dat”.
Then after that, I’ll tell her about a very special man that took her Paw Paw to his very first game, all of those years ago…..