The 2000 New Orleans Saints entered the playoffs with a 10-6 record and had won the NFC West division for just the second time in franchise history, the first since 1991. The Saints' first playoff opponent in the Wild Card game were the defending Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. Just six days earlier, the Rams defeated the Saints in the very same Superdome, 26-21. As the previous game had proven, nothing would come easy for the Saints in this playoff game against their longtime division rival.
Surprisingly enough, things did come easier than expected as the Saints answered a 7-0 first quarter deficit with four touchdown passes by quarterback Aaron Brooks. The Saints led the Rams 31-7 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. What would then ensue was arguably the most excruciating, gut-wrenching fourth quarter in New Orleans Saints history. The Rams rallied to score three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull within 3 points, making the score 31-28 with 2:36 remaining in regulation.
After stalling against the Rams defense, the Saints punted the ball away, clinging desperately to a 3 point lead with only 1:51 remaining in regulation. Momentum and confidence were firmly on the Rams' side as punter Toby Gowin's kick sailed under the Superdome's lights. It was then, as the ball plummeted to the receiving Rams, that the improbable happened. A play that still stands to this very day as one of the most memorable in Saints history.
Rams return specialist (and future Saint) Az-Zahir Hakim muffed the punt, fumbling it forward and was unable to recover the mistake before Saints special teamer Brian Milne, "the most unlikely hero of them all", recovered the fumble, effectively sealing victory for the Saints. The Saints offense ran out the clock to give New Orleans their first playoff victory in franchise history.
Here is the game-sealing play, as described by the "Voice of the Saints", Jim Henderson:
It's still as breathtaking today as it was then. The Saints would go on the road to face the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round the next week. The Saints ultimately lost that game 34-16, ending a surprising and ultimately successful 2000 campaign. Despite the strides made and barriers broken, it would be another six years before the Saints reached the playoffs again, under a new regime and a new roster.
I'll start the conversation
I'll never forget this game and that moment in particular. I had gone to my friend's house for this one and I felt very confident that the Saints would break through that day. As the game progressed, the atmosphere became more jovial, there were plenty of high fives and premature congratulations by the fourth quarter. Then, once the rally for St. Louis began, those old feelings began to creep in. It was as if the floor was falling from under my feet. Those high fives became back pats, those congratulations morphed into condolences. It was a sickening, yet familiar feeling, like putting on an old, familiar jacket. A Saints loathing that we all desperately tried to shed, yet always laid in wait.
I must've chewed my fingernails to the nub by the time of the infamous punt. I distinctly remember crossing both my fingers and my toes. I desperately pleaded with the screen for the Saints defense to just hold on to victory. Just make one stop to end the upcoming drive. One damned stop. Thankfully, that plea never needed to be answered. A miracle happened instead. When Hakim brain-cramped and the ball hit the turf, I leapt from the floor. When Milne snatched the ball from Hakim's fingertips, I turned and vaulted over the couch, landing on my knees with my head in my hands.
That was the first moment in my life that I was emotionally overcome by a sporting event. Not angry, not disappointed, not underwhelmed, but overjoyed. I was moved to tears in that moment, tears of joy. The ensuing moments from Milne's fumble recovery to the clock reaching zero, I have absolutely no recollection of. The first thing I remembered after the play was Tom Benson doing the "Benson Boogie" on the Superdome turf. Fourteen years later, this remains one of my most cherished memories as a Saints fan and a fan of sports in general.
As Jim Henderson said during his famous call of the miraculous play:
"There is a God after all!"
Amen to that.
Tell us your stories, memories, and impressions from this historic game. Where were you, Who Dat Nation?