"New Orleans Saints of 1967"
HELMET HUT NEWS/REFLECTIONS September 2009:
New Orleans Saints of 1967
By Dr. Ken
I have on occasion mentioned in my HELMET HUT writings that pro football was not nearly as popular among the general populace as was college football when my interest was first drawn to the pro game. Circa mid to late-1960's, college football ranked second only to baseball as America's most popular sport. Pro football was barely on the radar but the New York Giants did much to propel the game into the public consciousness. The NFL Championship games against the Chicago Bears in 1956 and the oft-referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played” against the Baltimore Colts in 1958 allowed for a major leap forward as the excitement and drama gripped both the fans and large media contingent of the New York Metropolitan area. Like most in my town, I was drawn to the Giants and what came to be the ubiquitous ads and articles that featured Frank Gifford, Charley Conerly, and Sam Huff. Even then I was astute enough to note that the play of defensive tackles Dick Modzelewski and Rosey Grier often allowed Huff to clean up and make the actual tackle, and that the grunt-work running of Alex Webster and Mel Triplett softened things up for Giffords heroics. I loved every aspect of the game and thus knew that much of the Giants success came from their less publicized assistant coaches Tom Landry and Vincent Lombardi. When Lombardi took over the very woeful Green Bay Packers in 1959, it wasn't given much press in the New York area newspapers but I became interested in the team that was referred to as The Siberia Of The NFL, a place where coaches threatened to send players to if they didn't quickly shape up or play to their ability.
I liked the Packers because they were an example of excellence. An underrated part of their game was toughness, on both sides of the ball. Ray Nitschke, Dave Hanner, Forrest Gregg, and Jim Taylor were not only good, they were as tough as boot leather. Taylor especially was "my guy," a bone-jarring runner who sought out would-be tacklers so he could light them up before they did the same to him. I tried to emulate his style on the high school field and was thrilled when he won the NFL rushing title in 1962, eclipsing the perennial leader Jim Brown. Though aging and showing the signs of damage that come with a ton of contact after nine seasons of professional play, I was shocked when it was announced that Taylor would leave the Packers to become a part of the newly formed New Orleans Saints franchise for the 1967 season. Of course in what was still a day of relative sports media innocence and without the benefit of the NFL Network and ESPN, the behind-the-scenes bickering over contract terms, the good business sense of the Saints in having a hometown hero who had starred as a two-way player at LSU a decade before come home to help lead the new team, and having a seasoned hand in the locker room to settle what would expectedly be a group of young players wasn't widespread public knowledge. I only knew that Taylor would not be a part of the legendary Packer teams any longer.
Because of Taylor, fullback and former tough-guy Giant Ernie Wheelwright, defensive end Doug Atkins, and Dan Abramowicz, the fine receiver from Xavier University who always gave the University Of Cincinnati fits, I was re-routed from the Packers, to supporting the Saints. The contrast was obvious for if the Packers had represented the "right way" to do things, the Saints were truly on the other end of the spectrum. However, the Saints uniforms were outstanding and proved to be yet one more attraction. Amazingly, the black and gold clad Saints zoomed to five pre-season wins, perhaps giving a false impression to their vociferous fans. As the experts expected, the lack of a truly solid offensive line and the shaky quarterback play of Billy Kilmer, Gary Cuozzo, and Gary Wood led to the dismal 3-11 finish. As everyone in Cincinnati expected, Abramowicz, despite his lowly 17th round draft status, led the team with fifty receptions and was an immediate star in Louisiana.
With Taylor the leading rusher with only 390 yards it was left to the defense to contribute enough to come up with their three victories. Credit the still capable and ever-nasty Atkins who led a good defensive line of Dave Rowe, Mike Tilleman, and Brian Schweda and the wonderfully named Steve Stonebreaker who was a hard hitter at linebacker.
The black and gold combination made for a great uniform (see HELMET HUT http://helmethut.com/saintsindex1c.html ) and the white jerseys that sported the gold numerals outlined in black were atypical for the NFL and provided a unique appearance for the expansion team. Despite playing less than stellar ball for many years and giving rise to the embarrassing New Orleans A'ints, the franchise has remained popular in part due to its beautiful uniforms.