We are only one month away from the official beginning of training camp for the 2018 New Orleans Saints. Veterans report to the facility on July 25th, about a week after the team's rookies have already arrived. Fans of the team are bubbling with excitement, especially after the return to prominence of the Saints as a contender last season. While we anxiously wait for the 2018 version of the Saints to take the field, we look back today at one of the memorable moments from the team's 52-yr. old past, by continuing the Canal Street Chronicles Triumphs and Tragedies series of the New Orleans Saints.
First Win in Saints History
The date was November 5, 1967. The site was Tulane Stadium, home of the expansion New Orleans Saints, who were in their first year of existence. New Orleans had started their inaugural season off with a bang, when John Gilliam returned the first kickoff in franchise history for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in the opening game. The Saints went on to lose that game however, along with their next six, and entered the eighth game of their initial season 0-7, having yet to savor victory as a franchise. The team was coached by Tom Fears, but many of the veterans who were acquired by the team were well past their prime. Visiting the Saints that afternoon would be their Capitol Division opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, coached by Joe Kuharich, would come into the game with a 4-3 record. They had one of the league's best passing attacks, led by quarterback Norm Snead and wideout Ben Hawkins. The Saints on the other hand, would wind up near the bottom of the 16 team NFL in nearly every NFL category. Veteran running back Jim Taylor, a future Hall of Famer, led the team in rushing but finished with just 390 yards. The team's best offensive production came from a receiver drafted in the 17th round, Danny Abramowicz. Defensively, future Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins still had some effective play left, after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bears. Cornerback Dave Whitsell also came from Chicago, via the expansion draft, was the Saints defensive star and the team's first ever Pro Bowl selection in 1967. New Orleans gave up the number 1 overall draft pick to the Baltimore Colts for quarterback Gary Cuozzo to lead the team, but he could do no better than share time with veteran Billy Kilmer during the '67 season.
The Saints began their 8th game the way they started their season, by taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Wideout Walter Roberts took the Eagles kick 91 yards for a 7-0 Saints lead, and the only score of the first quarter. Roberts, nicknamed "the Flea" because of his size (5'9, 163-lbs.) and elusiveness, had the afternoon of his career against Philadelphia. After the kickoff return, the only touchdown return of Roberts' career, he picked up a teammate's fumble and raced 27 yards for a second quarter score and a 14-0 New Orleans lead. The Eagles narrowed the gap with a field goal, and a Norm Snead scoring pass to Jim Kelly later in the quarter, but New Orleans took a 14-10 lead into the halftime break. After kicker Charlie Durkee widened the Saints lead with a 3rd quarter field goal Whitsell, who led the NFL with 10 interceptions on the year, picked off a Snead pass and took it back 41-yds. for a touchdown and a 24-10 New Orleans lead to begin the 4th quarter. Snead, who would throw for 292 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions on the day, would hook up with Gary Ballman on a scoring pass to close the Saints lead to 24-17. New Orleans would respond when Roberts scored his third touchdown of the day, catching a 49-yd. scoring pass from Cuozzo on his only reception of the afternoon. A late scoring pass from Snead to Timmy Brown only made the final score respectable, as the New Orleans Saints gave their excited fans the first win in team history with a 31-24 victory.
The Eagles would exact a bit of revenge two weeks later in a rematch against New Orleans, with a 48-21 rout in Philadelphia. The Saints would go on to win two more times in 1967, finishing their inaugural season with a 3-11 record. Cuozzo would eventually lose the starting quarterback job to Kilmer, and get dealt to the Minnesota Vikings after the '67 season, going down in memory as one of the worst trades in New Orleans history. Walter "Flea" Roberts would also leave the Saints after the 1967 season, finishing his final two years with the Washington Redskins. He be awarded the offensive player of the week for his performance against Philadelphia that afternoon. Flea Roberts would score just 11 touchdowns in a six year NFL career, but 3 of them on that special day on November 5th, 1967, as he helped the New Orleans Saints to the thrill of their first ever victory.