On November 1, 1966, the National Football League awarded New Orleans its 16th franchise. It was All Saints Day, and in mid-December, a businessman from Texas and Louisiana, 28-year-old John W. Mecom Jr., became the majority shareholder. On January 9, 1967, no one was surprised when the team was renamed the “Saints.”
On March 8, the Saints undertook their first season-ticket drive, which resulted in 20,000 sales on the first day and 33,400 before the 1967 NFL year started. As they were earnest to heighten pre-season fan fervor in an area unfamiliar with professional football, the Saints signed three potential Pro Football Hall of Famers for their 1967 roster: Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor (a LSU gridiron star) from Green Bay and defensive end Doug Atkins who arrived through a trade with the Chicago Bears.
Carr to Olave for 42 yards 🙌 🙌🙌
📺: ESPN/ESPN2/WDSU (locally) pic.twitter.com/H8IcOrgWip
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 19, 2023
The Saints certainly made an impact on “The City That Care Forgot”; winning five of six preseason games and opening the regular season with a packed house of over 80,000 in Tulane Stadium. Fans will forever remember John Gilliam’s 94-yard touchdown return with the opening kickoff, even though the Rams ultimately won 27-13. Even more impressive was the team’s victory over the Redskins, allowing them to tie Minnesota and Atlanta for a 3-11 first-year record. Most significant of all was its average home attendance: 75,463 per game!
The Saints made every home game a memorable occasion – a “Mardi Gras in Autumn” celebration complete with cheerleaders, jazz bands, stunning marches by high school and college bands, and regular appearances from Al Hirt; part-owner, chief cheerleader and legendary trumpet player. Despite constantly faltering year after year on the field of play, they still managed to electrify their fans through remarkable victories and remarkable performances at both Tulane Stadium and later at the Superdome after 1975. The most renowned moment being Tom Dempsey’s record breaking 63-yard field goal during the final play in 1970 against Detroit (Saints 19 – 17). A range of talented players such as Archie Manning, George Rogers, Rickey Jackson (Pro Football Hall of Fame), Eric Martin and Morten Andersen all aided the Saints in gaining traction towards respectability.
A New Orleans businessman, Tom Benson, acquired the franchise from Mecom on June 3, 1985, kicking off a winning era for New Orleans. After Benson hired Jim Finks, a future Hall of Fame administrator, and Jim Mora as head coach, the Saints quickly became one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.
From 1979 to 1983, the Saints continuously failed to reach a winning year, but in their 21st season with Coach Mora at the helm, they excelled and won 12 of 15 games, finishing second in the NFC West. Under Mike Ditka from 1997-1999 and Jim Haslett from 2000 onwards, they made it to the playoffs four times in six seasons and earned their first title as NFC West champions in 1991.
As head coach, Sean Payton led the Saints to their first championship in franchise history in Super Bowl XLIV, defeating the Indianapolis Colts.