In that number: The day New Orleans landed an NFL team
On Nov. 1, 1966, All Saints Day forever took on added significance in New Orleans. That’s the day NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle came marching into a news conference at the Ponchartrain Hotel and announced that the Crescent City was being awarded the league’s 16th franchise. All Saints Day, long one of the most significant days of the year in Catholic-rich New Orleans, was an ideal time for the announcement, and the choice of nickname for the team — which wasn’t announced until the following January — was, in hindsight, a no-brainer.
New Orleans can also proudly boast of an NBA franchise, the Pelicans, but even die-hard basketball fans would admit that the city is first and foremost a Saints town. On the Mondays after game day, the spirit of the entire city is dictated by what played out the day before on the gridiron. For much of the Saints’ early history, that wasn’t a good thing. But when they’re winning, boy …
- In being awarded the league’s 16th franchise, New Orleans beat out Seattle, Cincinnati, Boston, Houston, Phoenix and Portland, all of which had actively sought to win it.
- Louisiana’s congressional delegation, led by Rep. Hale Boggs, who was the House majority whip, and Sen. Russell Long, who was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, spearheaded the passage of an anti-trust exemption for the NFL ahead of an impending merger with the AFL, in exchange for the franchise.
- Just a week after the franchise was awarded, voters approved funding for the construction of the Superdome as the future home of the team. In the interim, Tulane University agreed to let the team play its home games at Tulane Stadium, which Rozelle said was a factor in awarding the franchise to the city. The Saints would end up playing eight seasons there before the Superdome was completed.
- Nearly four months after the franchise was awarded, season tickets went on sale. An estimated 15,000 were sold on the first day.
- It wasn’t until Dec. 15 that the league announced who the team’s owners would be: a group headed by Texas oilman John W. Mecom Jr. The price tag? $8.5 million.
- The team’s colors, black and gold, were intended to be representative of the oil industry, which is where Mecom made his fortune. Other colors considered were the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold, and — in an early signal of the team’s eventual adopting of the fleur-de-lis as its insignia — the colors of the French flag.
- In announcing the team’s name on Jan. 9, 1967, New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt — a part-owner of the Saints upon their founding — made it clear that the choice of name was intended as an homage to the city’s musical heritage. “We want the people to know that the name was taken from the jazz number — ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ — and has nothing to do with religion,” he said.
- Dave Dixon, who is seen as the father of the Superdome, got credit from Rozelle for making the Saints a reality. “I guess it all started some five years ago when David Dixon started hounding our league meetings,” Rozelle said on the day he announced the city would get a franchise.
- Others name-checked by Rozelle as being instrumental in the city’s landing a pro football franchise were Gov. John McKeithen, Mayor Vic Schiro, Sen. Russell Long, U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs and Times-Picayune publisher John F. Tims.
- The Saints aren’t the only professional football franchise to have played in New Orleans. Among the others were the Breakers of the short-lived USFL; the Night and the Voodoo, both of the Arena Football League; and the Spice and the Blaze, both of the National Women’s Football Association.
The Saints are inextricably woven into the fabric of New Orleans. Their arrival put the Crescent City on a par with other major cities with pro football franchises and opened the door for New Orleans to establish itself as a premiere destination for major events thanks to its legendary success in hosting Super Bowls. But the team’s real value just might be in the emotional boost it regularly gives residents of the city. Never was that more evident than in February 2010 when, while the city was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints did the once-unthinkable and won the Super Bowl, delivering the Lombardi Trophy to the city for the first time — and in the process giving the team’s faithful fans an unforgettable and immeasurable psychic boost. If ever there was doubt, that historic season made it clear: In New Orleans, football is more than football.