The New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys have been conference rivals in the NFC since the Black and Gold’s first season in 1967. Unfortunately for the Saints — the Cowboys essentially DOMINATED the series between the two franchises for the first 20 years — until the two respective team’s fortunes finally underwent a dramatic change in the late 1980’s.
In the earliest days of the rivalry, the Cowboys were recognized as “America’s Team” and were the winners of 2 Super Bowls in the years between 1972 and 1978; while New Orleans was viewed as a NFL ‘laughingstock” and were considered one of the very worst teams in the entire NFL; culminating with the infamous 1980 Saints season in which the team went 1-15 and earned the insulting nickname of “The Aint’s”.
At one point, the Saints hadn’t beaten Dallas in SEVENTEEN YEARS; and many ‘Who Dats’ back in those days were convinced that the Saints were “jinxed” or were the unwitting victims of a string of bad luck.
But by the late 1980’s, things began to change quickly as the two franchises each underwent a metamorphosis of sorts that was for all intents and purposes, a “role reversal”.
The Saints — who had never even had a winning season until 1987 — hired former 2-time championship winning coach Jim Mora from the USFL’s Baltimore Stars; and along with a stellar defense known as “The Dome Patrol”, went on to become one of the best teams of that era.
Dallas on the other hand, was seeing their 1970’s “dynasty” come to a halt; as long-time and legendary head coach Tom Landry was nearing the very end of his storied coaching career.
And it’s with that caveat in mind that we take a look back today at one of the great games in Saints history against those very same Dallas Cowboys (whom the current 2018 Saints will play in a little over 48 hours from now), from a little bit over 30 years ago — and the Saints’ 1988 Regular Season.
The game that was played between the two teams on October 3rd, 1988 was memorable for several reasons; the first of which of course because it was held on ABC Monday Night Football, which back in those days was a REALLY BIG deal for football fans to see their team play live on TV in front of a national audience.
The Saints, who were (3-1) heading into the contest at the Louisiana Superdome, were coming off of their (12-3) Playoff season of 1987 the year before, while the (2-2) Cowboys were on their way to a 10-game losing streak that year in what eventually became Landry’s last season with a (3-13) record.
The Saints took the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead; as Louisiana native and Saints starting QB Bobby Hebert, who finished with 17 completions out of 37 attempts for 273 yards, was 5-for-6 for 51 yards on the drive, culminating with a 7-yard TD pass to WR Lonzell Hill.
New Orleans then jumped out to a 14-0 lead early on in the 2nd quarter, as Hebert threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to rookie 1st Round pick and former University of Miami Hurricanes WR Brett Perriman.
But Dallas would answer back when QB Steve Pelluer hit WR Kelvin Martin with not one but two TD passes on back-to-back drives; the first score for 13 yards coming midway through the 2nd Quarter, and the second score from 14 yards out midway through the 3rd Quarter. Martin would go on to finish with 8 receptions for 95 yards.
Saints kicker Morten Andersen would eventually put New Orleans back ahead by a score of 17-14, as his 37-yard field goal with 3:45 left in the third period put the Saints ahead.
New Orleans and its “Dome Patrol” defense then had to withstand two Dallas drives. The first time, Saints free safety Van Jakes made an interception in the end zone off a deflected pass, to preserve the slim 17-14 lead. The second time around, Cowboys kicker Roger Ruzek‘s 39-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright with 2:24 left.
But after the Saints were forced to punt, Dallas got the ball back and subsequently drove the ball all the way down to the Saints’ 22, and Ruzek connected this time around from 39 yards out, tying the score at 17-17 with only 24 seconds remaining and hoping to send the game into overtime.
But as fate would have it on that particular night: the Cowboys left TOO MUCH time remaining on the clock.
The Saints got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff; where kick returner Mel Gray returned the Dallas kickoff 39 yards to the Saints’ 42. Hebert then missed on two passes before hitting Perriman with a 20-yard pass to the Dallas 32 yard line, setting up a potential game-winning kick for Andersen from 49 yards out with only 3 seconds remaining in regulation.
Andersen then calmly nailed the 49-yard kick right down the middle of the uprights for the game-winner, as the sell-out home crowd at the Superdome went ballistic.
Andersen would then take off his helmet and ran around the entire length of the Superdome with a “victory lap”, high-fiving and celebrating with fans along the Plaza level sideline seats.
The victory, the 4th straight win in a row after an opening game loss to the 49ers that season for New Orleans, was only its second in 13 meetings with Dallas and its first win over the Cowboys since October 17th, 1971 — a span of almost exactly 17 years.
The dreaded “jinx” against America’s Team was finally over; and for the Cowboys, it was the beginning of what eventually would be the end of the Tom Landry Era, one of the storied times of that franchise’s notable history.
The win moved the Saints into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West Division along with San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams. But in spite of eventually finishing in a 3-way tie with both the 49ers and Rams with a (10-6) win-loss record, New Orleans MISSED the Playoffs in a tie-breaker, as the 49ers won the NFC West Division title and the Rams earned the Wild Card spot with identical (10-6) records. The 49ers would then go on to win the Super Bowl.