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The Mystique and History of the Saints, the AFC West, and Me

Brees and Sproles get to take it to their old team in October.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Brees and Sproles get to take it to their old team in October. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It has been over a month since my last posting. I apologize for the delay. Moving to a new place, getting stuck in car repair hell and evacuating from Hurricane Isaac Hayes all put a dent in my article contributing routine. But as Jim Mora once said, "Quit making damn excuses!" Well, I don't know if he actually said that, but it sure sounds like something that could have come out of his mouth!

Well, enough about my current adventures, let's get back to the reason we're all here...the Bless You Boys, and a personal/geographical/historical study of the AFC West and 1979, followed by my pick for the game I want to see in person this year.

Related Reading - Who Dat History: An Introduction, Who Dat History: The 1979 Season - Part One & Part Two.

In taking a look at the Saints and their opponents for the upcoming season, the presence of the AFC West on the schedule rotation seems to add a sense of uniqueness and mystique to it. To me, it's as if the Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos come from these exotic places and we are a football version of Lewis & Clark trying to conquer unknown territory. Taking a road trip to Mile High Stadium and seeing the Saints play the Denver Broncos in a late afternoon game just sounds much more exciting than going to Buffalo and seeing the Saints play the Bills at noon, or even just watching them both on TV.

As it turns out, competing against the AFC West has a significant place in my history of pulling for the Saints.

The Fall of 1979 was quite a special time in my sports fan experience. I was in second grade, and 1979 was also the year I discovered the joy of football on a number of levels. In addition to it playing it every afternoon after school in our side yard with the neighborhood kids, I became hooked on watching it on television and listening to legendary Mississippi State play-by-play announcer Jack Crystal call the Bulldog games on the radio, as televised broadcasts of college games were much less frequent then the plethora of games showed each week nowadays. This year also introduced me to the thrill of seeing a game live because Mississippi State and Ole Miss alternated home games between Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, which was only a mile from our house, and the teams' respective on-campus stadiums.

1979 saw the Saints facing the AFC West in a six-week stretch during November and early December, and it was a special year for the Saints as they experienced their best record in their woeful history, finishing a respectable 8-8. While I had not experienced the disappointment of their earlier years, I still had gotten the message that the Saints were achieving great things even if they were on track to finish only at .500.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to see a Saints game in person during this historic first ever non-losing season. With hopes soaring high, I rode down from Jackson early one Sunday morning with my dad and a couple of his friends to see the Saints play Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers. Those hopes were soon destroyed right after being wowed by the magnitude of the inside of the Superdome as Fouts picked apart the Saints defense to give the Chargers a 35-0 haftime lead, which turned out to be the final score. And offensively, it wasn't the same Archie Manning that I had been seeing leading a potent Saints passing attack from our living room TV.

Consequently, my dad and I left at halftime and watched the second half from a local watering hole while his friends stayed and we caught back up with them after the game. I'm not sure if we left because the Saints were playing so badly, or I was eating too much food from the concession stands. Probably a combination of both.

Other AFC West contests also stand out from the 1979 season, but unfortunately the Saints ended up on the losing end of those as well, despite the "strong" season they were having.

One was a Monday Night Football Game in the Superdome against the Oakland Raiders in which the Saints jumped to a 28-7 first half lead. It being a school night and victory seemingly assured, I was ordered to bed. The next morning over a bowl of Cheerios, the sports page delivered the news of the Saints' second half implosion in falling to the Raiders 42-35.

Then-AFC West member Seattle Seahawks also delivered the Saints a heartbreaking loss in 1979. Like the Saints, the Seahawks were a team marked by a history of failure that was having a surprisingly good season. After the Saints tied the score in the 4th quarter, Seattle responded by scoring the last two touchdowns to win 38-14, with one of them coming when Seahawks Quarterback Jim Zorn hit Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent on a post pattern in perfect stride that Largent took to the end zone.

On October 7th of 2012, the Chargers will make a return trip to the Superdome to play the Saints in the NBC Sunday Night Is Football Night Game of the Week. You know, the one with Cris Collinsworth. The destinies of the two programs have been strongly linked together recent years with the Saints picking up quarterback Drew Brees and running back Darren Sproles from the Chargers, leading Saints fans to affectionately nickname them "The Farm Team." While the outcome is unknown, this pattern was somewhat reversed during this past offseason when the Chargers picked up Saints wide receiver and former first round draft pick Robert Meachem in free agency.

During that 1979 season under the Fouts-led "Air Coryell" assault, the Chargers had arguably the strongest passing attack in the NFL. Since then, they have had an up and down history with an ongoing streak of winning regular-season records followed by disappointment in the playoffs. Ironically, the Saints now have the NFL's strongest passing attack and are considered the modern version of "Air Coryell" with the major difference being the Saints have won a Super Bowl.

If I could pick one Saints game to see in person this year, it would be on the night of October 7th against the Chargers. Should the Saints win by a score of 35-0 it would be poetic justice, even 33 years later. Regardless of the score, this time I would stay past halftime.

Incidentally, Monday after this game is Columbus Day. That guy also ventured West.

** Please vote in the poll and share your thoughts and memories in the comment section.

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