September 17, 1967. The first game of the inaugural season in franchise history of the New Orleans Saints. John Gilliam receives the opening kickoff and takes it back 94 yards for the touchdown. It's one of the greatest moments in team history which has been replayed countless times and is still talked about among Saints faithful. Although there were some 80,000+ screaming fans in attendance for that game, as of 4pm yesterday, 11,237,422 people have claimed to have been in Tulane Stadium that day and witnessed the play.
McDonald's called. They wanted to know if we needed to borrow one of their signs.
As memorable as the first kickoff return for a touchdown in team history is for Saints fans, that's how utterly forgotten the first punt return for a touchdown has become. Whereas Gilliam's kickoff return occurred in the opening game of 1967, the team's first ever punt return happened the following year on December 15, 1968 during the season finale.
Charlie Brown, a second year pro who was drafted by the Saints in the 10th round of the 1967 draft, returned a punt 53 yards in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers to give the Saints a 21-7 lead. Although Gilliam's play is more memorable in Saints lore, it is Brown's return that is ranked at #8 by NFL Films among the Top Ten Greatest Returns in NFL History.
Another difference between these two plays is that the Saints lost to the Rams on opening day in 1967, but they won their game in the season finale against the Steelers in 1968.
If you would like to learn more about Charlie Brown, click the link below to see an interview by Lionel Bienvenu (then at WVUE) if you can get past the cheesy production music which makes it hard to hear Charlie speak.