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Barry Hirstius

Saints’ 1st Ever Win at the Legendary L.A. Memorial Coliseum Sure Was Memorable

This Sunday when the New Orleans Saints return to Los Angeles to play at the legendary college and Pro Football venue known better as the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, it will mark the Saints' first time playing in the old building (originally opened in 1923) in 38 years.

The last time that the teams played at the Coliseum was in December of 1979, when the Saints defeated Los Angeles QB Vince Ferragamo and the Rams by a score of 29-14 in the 1979 regular season finale.

The Rams began playing their home games in Anaheim, CA. in suburban Los Angeles beginning in the 1980 season, where the teams faced each other up until 1995, when the team moved to St. Louis.

The Rams moved back to Los Angeles from St. Louis last season, and this game Sunday will mark the Saints' first game back at the old stadium that originally opened nearly 100 years ago.

The Saints have played at the Coliseum 11 times in team history, winning only twice. But that very first win for New Orleans there on the day of October 22nd, 1978 was a day that any Saints fan over the age of 50, still remembers like it was yesterday.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press Archives

It was the Saints' first win at the Coliseum after nine consecutive losses.

The victory also marked the LATEST POINT at any time in Saints franchise history (the 8th game of their 11th season), that the Saints had a .500 or better record, which stood at (4-4) after their monumental upset over the heavily favored (7-0) Rams, who were undefeated and an easy 7-point favorite at home.

Up until that day, the Rams had literally OWNED the series between the two teams, with the Rams holding a then 13-4 advantage — with all four of the Saints wins coming at New Orleans (3 at Tulane Stadium, and 1 at the Superdome the season before in 1977).

The Rams dominated the old version of the NFC West Division in those days, which was before the onset of the San Francisco 49ers dynasty under the legendary duo of head coach Bill Walsh and QB Joe Montana that began with the 1981 season.

The NFC West in the late 1970's still was the Rams' domain, but little did they realize on this fateful day that for the first time ever in the Saints' own franchise history; the team wearing Black and Gold under 1st year head coach Dick Nolan and led by QB Archie Manning, were ready to finally make some noise of their own.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press Archives

The (3-4) Saints defense easily gave its best performance of the season, as they held an opponent to 10 or fewer points for only the 14th time in their 10 and a half year history (147 total games played by that time), and needless to say — the first time ever at the Coliseum.

In a one-on-one interview for the fantastic book about the entire sport of Pro Football in the 1970's era titled "The Super 70s" by author Tom Danyluk, Manning says the Saints defense on that day was a huge factor in allowing New Orleans to leave sunny L.A. and "Hollywood" with what at that time, might have been the most monumental victory ever for their angst-ridden franchise (which had never had a winning season).

"A rare kinda game for us", Manning remembered.

"We didn't win too many of those low-scoring, defensive struggles with 'The Big Boys'. Or anyone else, for that matter".

Manning told Danyluk that he considers the game from that day, as one of his personal Top 5 wins of all-time during his 12-year Saints career (1971-1982).

But on that unforgettable day for Manning and a entire generation of Saints fans, it was something that they actually had no idea would even happen.

The Saints defense rose to the occasion, sacking Rams QB Pat Haden 4 times and made life COMPLETELY MISERABLE for him in the pocket.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

Making matters worse for Haden and the Rams offense was that starting left tackle John Williams was practically being eaten alive by Saints defensive end Elois "Elo" Grooms, and got flagged an unbelievable 7 times for holding penalties, along with 2 false starts.

On the day: the Rams were penalized a whopping 13 times for 138 total yards.

The shaky play by the Rams O-Line was no doubt what led to their efficient offense's issues with holding onto the football on an otherwise sunny Southern California day; as they fumbled the ball 3 different times, losing 2 of them.

On the day, the Rams turned the ball over a total of 6 DIFFERENT TIMES — with 2 more of them coming on Haden interceptions, both by Saints cornerback Ray Brown.

But yet, the Rams defense was still able to hold their own as well, and shut down the Saints offense as well be holding New Orleans high-powered offense featuring the "Thunder and Lightning" duo of Tony Galbreath and Chuck Muncie, to a meager 118 yards of total offense.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press Archives

As the game entered the 4th quarter tied up at 3-3 in what had been a "defensive battle for the ages" (and more typical of games in that Era), it became a matter of which team would blink first; and which team would make THE mistake that would determine the eventual outcome.

As fate would have it on this particular day, it was the Rams who "blinked".

As the Rams faced a 4th down at the Saints 41-yard line with under 5 minutes to play and the game appearing to be headed for overtime, the Rams were reluctant to allow kicker Frank Corral attempt a 58-yard field goal, which was clearly out of his range anyway.

Los Angeles head coach Ray Malavasi instead decided to punt (or so everyone thought), and decided to attempt to pin the Saints deep inside of their own 10-yard line; as Rams punter Glen Walker stood at midfield and awaited the snap from center Rich Saul.

But as the ball hit his hands, Walker pulled up and attempted to throw a pass — where he then got DESTROYED by onrushing Saints special teams ace Rich Mauti — who hit Walker as he threw it in the direction of WR / KR Jackie Wallace, but instead was intercepted by Saints safety Eric Felton.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press Archives

The Saints took over at their own 29-yard line, and despite the team's offensive struggles, went on a methodical Manning-led drive that featured a clutch 3-down-and-10 reception by tight end Henry Childs to keep the drive alive.

The Saints then proceeded to drive all the way down to the Rams 19-yard line with inside of 3 minutes to play, with a golden opportunity to take the lead and possibly even leave L.A. with a (4-4) record, and for the very first time EVER in franchise history: utter the phrase "Playoff contenders".

As a nervous Coliseum home crowd looked on — waiting for the Saints to screw up as they had so many times before in their inglorious 10-year history up to that point — Manning and Galbreath were having absolutely none of it.

Despite his own struggles all afternoon that including a horrific stat line of 11 for 22 for 130 yards, Manning finally found the break he had been waiting for all game long.

Manning found Rams right outside linebacker Bob Brudzinski in one-on-one coverage on Galbreath, and no match for the fleet-footed Saints all-purpose back, Brudzinski blew the assignment and quickly lost track of Galbreath, who had floated out uncovered and alone into the left outside flat and awaited the pass from Manning.

Galbreath hauled in the pass and then quickly darted down the left sidelines for the eventual game-winning 19-yard TD reception, giving New Orleans the 10-3 lead with a little over 2 minutes to play that they would not relinquish.

But not without some trepidation at first.

The Rams got the ball back just before the 2-minute warning at their own 22-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, and quickly moved all the way downfield to the Saints 35-yard line.

But after a holding call pushed Haden and the Rams back to the Saints 45, Haden attempted to hit Wallace on an "out route" with a 3-down-and-20 pass that was thrown downfield along the Saints right sideline, but it was intercepted by Brown for the 2nd time against Haden on the day.

The Saints — yes, the New Orleans Saints that had been considered to be one of the NFL's worst teams in those days — had upset the mighty and undefeated Rams in their own home stadium.

"Credit our defense for that win", Manning told Danyluk.

"We didn't give them a whole lot to work with".

New Orleans was now in tied for 2nd place with Atlanta in the NFC West Division behind the Rams; and for the first time ever even though it was only the midway point of a 16-game season (the first 16-game scheduled season in NFL history), the Saints and the "P-word" (Playoffs) became synonymous in the very same sentence.

Understandably so, back home in NOLA fans were ecstatic. 

For the first time ever, folks around the NFL and the entire sports world, finally had a reason to give the Saints some long-overdue praise.

And when the Saints beat the New York Giants at home the following week at the Superdome to raise their record to (5-4), the team's first winning record during the regular season ever; a wave of euphoria washed over the Saint fan-base — long before it ever became known as it is today in 2017 as "The Who Dat Nation".

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Perhaps as the team prepares to play at the venerable old Coliseum for the first time in nearly 40 years and attempts to win their 9th straight game in a row at a stadium that they've only won at twice in 51 years, maybe they can use some motivation from the events of October 22, 1978.

And maybe, just maybe — they can get some encouragement from the story of how a previous Saints team went there, and did something that is still remembered with much reverence, from a bygone Era that took place a long, long time ago......

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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