When the Saints take the field against the 49ers tomorrow, it will be the 74th time these teams have met in the regular season. As members of the NFC West, they played each other twice a year from 1970-2001, and the only team that the Saints have played more is the Atlanta Falcons (90 games, including the 2014 opener).
During my lifetime, this series has included some games of both personal and historic relevance, which I'll detail for you now...
September 27, 1981 - 49ers 21, Saints 14: What was significant about this game to a 10-year old HansDat was not the final score, any statistical high/low point, or the fact that Ike Harris (as a kid, I really loved that name "Ike" almost as much as I dug "Wes") had his season ended by a knee injury in that game, but something else entirely. As head coach Bum Phillips was headed into the locker room at halftime, a fan reached down over the guardrail and YOINK! snatched his trademark cowboy hat off his head and then went running up the stadium steps with it.
The first shocking aspect of this for me was seeing Bum's uncovered, buzzcut head (I'd liken it to the first time I ever saw Les Miles without his LSU ball cap on - "Who the hell is THAT GUY?"). Remember, this was his first season with the Saints, AND since I never saw a Saints home game on TV until I was a teenager because of the NFL blackout rules, I had no idea what he looked like indoors without his hat.
The next part that locked this into my memory for life was that Bum put his arm out and extended his middle finger to flip the bird at the guy as he ran off. I saw this live on TV, before they could cut away, and man alive, was I stoked about this. The Saints coach just flipped the bird at someone on national television!! I'd get in so much trouble with my parents for doing something like that, but he did it on TV!!! Wow!! I also recall that the local radio stations tweaked the classic song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" and made it "I Left My Hat In San Francisco" following that game. HA! Wordplay (this would become a theme of HansDat's life).
October 25, 1987 - 49ers 24, Saints 22: All a youse old timers know why this game is on this list, but here's some context for the rest of you...It was the first game following the end of the 1987 strike, and the Saints came in to that game with a 3-2 record. They played the 49ers close, just barely losing at the end, and I was feeling pretty good about that. Well, Jim Mora was NOT feeling good about that at all, and he colorfully let us know exactly why:
This was another "hoo boy!" moment for me and Saints coaches. As I said above, I was feeling ok about that loss, but here was a coach who wasn't and he said so in no uncertain terms. This was all new to me. The Saints would go on to win the next nine games to finish the season 12-3, one game behind the 13-2 49ers (this would become a recurring theme for the Jim Mora Saints), earning their first-ever playoff berth.
For more on this game and the rest of the 1987 season, you should check out the insanely popular four-part Who Dat History series Ralph and I wrote about it:
September 4, 1988 - 49ers 34, Saints 33: Saints lose another close one to the 49ers in the 1988 season opener, but the Saints vault from that loss to a seven-game winning streak that had them 7-1 at the midpoint of the season, and discussed as a serious playoff contender. I was visiting colleges during that Fall, and it was so cool to see the Saints at the top of the standings on the sports page of whatever Tennessee newspaper was in the library at Sewanee (University of the South) while I was there in October. That stretch from 1987 through the 1988 season (before they got eliminated from the playoff race after running out of gas, even though they finished 10-6) was a glorious time to be a Saints fan.
September 10, 1990 - 49ers 13, Saints 12: Yet another close loss to the 49ers to start the season. I was THERE!! In the Dome for the Monday Night Football extravaganza. I saw it live as John Fourcade (following his stunning moxie-filled three-game winning streak to end 1989) was unable to hit water if he fell out of a boat on that night (12 of 34 for 186 and 3 INTs, no touchdowns at all). Despite this, the Saints led for much of the game and held a 12-10 lead late in the 4th quarter. But then the defense, which had stymied the juggernaut 49ers offense for much of the game, was unable to dig deep and find ONE MORE STOP to win the game. They allowed the Niners a last-ditch field goal drive in the waning moments. Oh, I was so sickened and upset by that loss. That was when I realized I really liked the Saints playing the 49ers to open the season, because it seemed to give them their best chance to win.
On a personal note, this was at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, and I lied to my professors, telling them I'd have to miss the first two days of classes because my car had broken down on the drive back from Louisiana. I was honestly worried that I might get busted if any of them watched the game and saw me in a crowd shot, screaming my fool head off. LOL See what the Saints can "drive" one to do?
November 28, 1994 - 49ers 35, Saints 14: I "watched" this Monday Night Football game while chaperoning a college dance. My first job after college was working in Student Life at Centre College for a couple of years after I had graduated from there in 1993. I served as an interim co-director of Greek Life and Student Activities while they found a permanent hire.
Just after Thanksgiving that year, there was this Holiday Dance a student group was holding in our Student Activities Center (an old tobacco warehouse they had just finished rehabbing to convert it into usable space), and I had to be there supervising to monitor safety, troubleshoot logistical problems, prevent people from drinking alcohol on the premises (yeah, I had some pretty good insights into how that kind of thing was done, so I was ideally suited for this role), lock up the building afterwards, etc.
Anyway, the game was on at the same time as this dance, so I had to make special arrangements to do both jobs. In order to be able to watch some of it, I brought my TV from home and set it up (with the rabbit ears antenna) in the Public Safety outpost office attached to the Student Center. I was lucky that it got a pretty decent picture there, and back then MNF was on ABC, so it came over regular tv. I would make my rounds at the dance and through the Warehouse, see that things were ok, and then go back to this office and watch some of the game before returning to my route.
A personal fashion note was that on that day at work, I wore my "When The Saints Go Marching In" tie that had generic black and gold uniformed players on it (it was NOT an officially licensed NFL tie) and it played the song when you squeezed the battery/button/speaker thing near the bottom of the fat end of the tie.
The main football note of this game is that I remember I was actually watching the part of the game when Tyrone Hughes scooped up a fumble and ran it back for a TD to get the Saints within three points in the 2nd quarter, 17-14. Boom! I was pumped and thought they might actually be able to hang in there and get the win, but that turned out to be the Saints' last score of the game. GUH.
January 6, 2002 - 49ers 38, Saints 0: Final game of the "Year 2 Haslett" Saints, and the final year of the Saints and 49ers being in the NFC West together as a result of the realignment that would take hold in 2002. The Saints lost four in a row by increasingly wide margins (13, 27, 30, and 38) to finish the once-promising 2001 season 7-9 after going 10-6 and winning a playoff game the year before. It was a pitiful end to a pitifully inconsistent season and a sad microcosm of the macrocosm of inconsistency that would be the calling card of the Haslett regime.
December 3, 2006 - Saints 34, 49ers 10: Reggie killed it with four TDs in this game, and I think at least one pylon-dive or "fumble at goal line" score that took a review to get it on the books and had me chewing my fingernails and nervously on the edge of my seat. This blowout win put them at 8-4 and headed to Dallas the following week, and at this point I was super-excited about the final four games and playoff hopes and Christmas and everything else. Fun fun fun!! A fun harbinger of the fun to come in the unprecedented success of the Pay-loo regime. That day was also special because two of my old roommates and college friends had come into town that weekend and a group of us went out for a big breakfast and gabfest before I hurried home to watch the game.
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OK, now it's your turn. What is your personal history with the Saints-49ers series? Do you have any personal notes from these games or others? Please share them below so we can enjoy them, too!
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