Saints fans celebrate what little winning they've seen
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Two NFL teams have their own halls of fame.
In the Green Bay hall there are tributes to Packers players, Vince Lombardi memorabilia, and trophies from three Super Bowl victories.
In the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, there are tributes to players, memorabilia of Tom Dempsey's record setting kick, and one of the original paper bags shamefaced fans once wore to games.
The Saints, one of the worst teams in NFL history, with a hall of fame? The Saints, a team that in the 34-year history of the franchise has had just six winning seasons, including this one? A team that qualified for the playoffs only five times, including this year?
"The Saints aren't a team a lot of people would associate with a hall of fame," said Ken Trahan, general manager of the hall. "But New Orleans fans have had a longtime love affair with the team."
The Saints hall of fame is 3,500 square feet, except for four months of the year when an atrium area is used for displays boosting it to 7,500 square feet. Much smaller than the Packers' 20,000-square-foot building. It's also newer, opening in 1988, compared with the Green Bay hall which was established in 1976.
And while the Packers hall averages about 50,000 visitors a year, the Saints' hall, surprisingly, has averaged 21,000 a year since opening.
"It's amazing how much feeling people have for this team," Trahan said. "We celebrate that feeling, with all its ups and downs."
There are busts of Archie Manning and Ricky Jackson, the original shoe Dempsey wore and the ball he kicked 63 yards to set an NFL record. The $7 million agreement signed John Mecom when he purchased the team in 1967 is on display. The football that John Gilliam caught on the opening kickoff of the first game the Saints ever played and returned 94 yards for a touchdown is in a special case.
It took 20 years after that run, however, for the Saints to record their first winning season, which explains why the timeline depicting the Saints history is divided into decades labeled -- "When the Saints go Marching In," "When the sun Refused to Shine," and the third, "Lord, I want to be in that Number."
"You got to admit that we have more unique things in this hall than most halls of fame," said Joe Washington, 67, who visits each year with his grandchildren. "I don't think we'd have survived this if we hadn't had some laughs along the way."
There are pictures of Ricky Williams running and wearing a wedding dress. Shots of former quarterback Jim Everett on the field, and attacking sportscaster Jim Rome.
There are pictures of the elaborate halftime shows the Saints used to stage, ostrich races and parachute landings. The shows ended after a cannon blast blew off the hand of a participant.
There is an exhibit holding the first kicking shoe Morten Andersen wore. It shows little wear because Andersen hated it and wore it for just one game.
In the Saints hall you can learn about the "World's longest Boo." A sound of disgust so loutd that the Saints offense couldn't hear the signals and became one of the few home team offenses, if not the only one, to get a delay of game penalty because their fans wouldn't quiet down.
But perhaps the most popular display is a simple white bag with eye holes cut in it, a gold tear drop below one, and the word 'Aints' written across the top.
The bag was designed by a local bartender in 1980, when the Saints were going 1-15. It was designed to let diehards attend the game without the shame of being recognized
"People are amazed that we have it on display," Trahan said. "But it's part of the history of the team."
Also memorialized are the Saints' previous playoff trips, four games that capped the best seasons in franchise history with bitterness as New Orleans lost in the first round each time. Trahan will update the display after the Saints play the Rams Saturday in the wildcard game. He hopes it will be a new theme.
"It would be really great to be able to add the first postseason win to the hall," Trahan said. "A lot of people haven't believed they'd live long enough to see it. Let's hope we get it Saturday."