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New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons rivalry slithered into a new era

  falcons logo  The 8-0 Falcons are coming to the Mercedes Benzon Superdome Sunday in a game that could turn the season around or forever doom it for our local heroes.

 

 

Hope winked last week after the Saints sacked Michael Vick seven times and resoundingly defeated the Eagles. And some believe the Falcons have feasted on the bottom of the standings too long, having beaten only one team with a winning record. Never mind that team was Denver, which pummeled the Saints, but it suggests that maybe the Falcons are not as good as their record would imply. The Saints have won six of the last seven against the Falcons, so why not do it again?

     The Saints-Falcons rivalry produced one of the all-time great moments during my ten years with the Saints, on November 1, 1987. It wasn't a particularly great game because the Saints won it 38-0 at old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. But that game helped mark the beginning of one era and, sadly, the end of another. Coincidentally, the game was 25 years ago this week, and it came during that white-hot rush of sudden success the Saints finally experienced when Jim Finks and Jim Mora took over the moribund franchise. The Saints defense that day intercepted five passes from Falcons QB Scott Campbell, and the offense led by Reuben Mayes and Dalton Hilliard rushed for 244 yards. Bobby Hebert was a respectable 16 of 26 for 171 yards and a touchdown, giving a glimpse of what was to come. The Saints finished at 12-3 for the first winning season in franchise history, forever raising expectations of Who Dat Nation.

     But it was not the team's performance that day that was so memorable. It was the kinetic celebration by the Saints faithful, who had the entire stadium to themselves by the end of the third quarter. The crowd was announced at just over 42,000, but it seemed like half of them wore black and gold. Somewhere late in the fourth quarter, Saints fans began to snakedance through Fulton County Stadium. They had smuggled in the equivalent of a pep band, with horns and drums, and they turned the old ballpark into a second-line celebration. It started in the upper deck, snaking from one section to the next. Singing, shouting and gyrating, lifting parasols and waving handerchiefs in celebration. Then it snaked to the lower sections, then around the field, and after the final gun continued outside. It was a great moment for Saints fans, and it is the greatest spontaneous celebration of a team I ever saw.

     That was in the days when both the Saints and the Falcons were having trouble filling their buildings. Plenty of seats were always available, and the numerous African-American social clubs from both cities would fill up buses and travel to help root their team to victory. Longtime fans will recall that huge block of red-clad fans in the upper ether of the Superdome’s mile-high Terrace section who would often drown out Saints fans hiding under their bags. The flow of fans also would head the other way, as they did that day, from New Orleans to cheer on the Saints. It was part of the majesty and the pageant of two cities' rivalries.

     That all ended when the Georgia Dome was built and season ticket sales reduced the number of available seats. The same thing happened in New Orleans, as the Saints' improved fortunes pumped season ticket sales close to capacity. With no way to purchase blocks of tickets, the great Bus Migrations between New Orleans and Atlanta soon ended. But they left behind at least one memory, at the birth of the Saints' renaissance, that will always be cherished. 

by Jim W. Miller
 


His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores, at Amazon.com and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com

WATCH A CLIP OF WEEK 16 OF NFL SEASON 1987 SEASON

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