Fears cannot be expected to shiver with delight over watching the owner romp around with the players, but, of course, he keeps fairly quiet about it. He has enough difficulties trying to turn an expansion team into a contender. The team has a good record, considering its newness, winning three games last season and winning three and tying one so far this year. Lately, Fears has had to work without a healthy quarterback, other than the No. 3 man, rookie Ronnie South.
Last year the Saints seemed reasonably set at quarterback with Gary Cuozzo, Bill Kilmer and Gary Wood. But Cuozzo demanded that he be given the starting job or be traded (he was traded). Wood was shipped back to New York. Now Kilmer is playing on a fractured ankle, and his sub, Karl Sweetan, has a sprained ankle. Both have understandable trouble throwing the ball to Parks and the Saints' other outstanding receiver, Dan Abramowicz.
Abramowicz has been a stunning surprise. A 17th-round draft choice for the 1967 season, he was not expected to make the team. Before one preseason road trip he asked Owen at what hour the plane would leave. "You'll probably be cut before then," Owen said bluntly. "So what will happen if you cut me and I won't go away?" countered Abramowicz. He wound up leading the team with 50 receptions and is leading again this year with 44. "He catches the ball on his knees, behind his back, anyplace," Kilmer says. The offense is also helped by Fullback Don McCall, who has gained 530 yards.
The New Orleans defensive unit insists its 38-year-old left end, Doug Atkins, now out with a knee injury, should be All-League. Safetyman Dave Whitsell, like Atkins a veteran of the Chicago Bears, tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last year and has five so far this season.
But where the Saints have most impressed the NFL has been at the ticket windows. In their first season the Saints drew an average of more than 75,000 fans to Tulane Stadium, site of the Sugar Bowl. That average is holding up again this year, even though it has rained on four of the six home-game days. And what exuberant fans they are Last year's Dallas game was delayed more than 10 minutes because of the noise the crowd made demonstrating against an official's call.
"It sounded like we were inside a washing machine," says Dallas' Pete Gent. Against Chicago last week, with Mecom pacing the sideline and Owen marching about with a clipboard, looking more like a coach than some of the coaches, 78,225 people turned out despite early rain and late fog to watch the Saints lose.
But football is not the only reason the fans show up. During his brief stay in office Rose hired Tommy Walker from Disneyland to think up the half-time shows. Walker, who produced the first Super "Bowl's $40,000 halftime spectacular, once had a figure of Mary Poppins float into the stands and dump free tickets. He is very big on balloons and pigeons. "I feel this need to have a lot of pigeons," Walker says. "A lady came up to me the other day and wanted to know how I get all those pigeons back into their cages on Sunday night."
Walker should have told her not to worry. The boss can afford a new flock every week. What he really needs is more football players.