SI Vault
Tex Maule
October 27, 1969
In sunny, windswept Tulane Stadium last Sunday, 80,636 hyperexcited New Orleanians howled, stomped, booed and occasionally cheered through 2� hours of what may be the country's best variety show. They saw a huge hot-air balloon, a thousand pigeons, five thousand red-and-white toy balloons and the Baltimore Colts go into orbit; and the only sour note was that their beloved Saints couldn't get off the ground and lost by a score of 30-10.
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October 27, 1969

When The Saints Go Stumbling Out

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Despite the fact that Rozelle disciplined him, Mecom persists in remaining on the sidelines, but he has learned his manners. "I've never heard him second-guess the coaches or get in a beef with the officials," says George Owen, Mecom's representative with the players and his right-hand man. "He is a perfect gentleman on the sidelines."

Whether it is because of Mecom's deep personal involvement with his players or because of the morale-building ability of Head Coach Tom Fears, the Saints, despite their losing record, are a close-knit, ebullient group. One day last week, as they prepared for their game with Baltimore on the practice field Mecom built for them, they were loose and confident and spending a good bit of time kidding Doug Atkins about his dog. This animal was tied at the edge of the field, where he was sleeping. In the dressing room after practice Atkins handled him gently, showing a friend a series of deep slashes on the dog's neck.

"His name's Rebel," said Atkins. "He's a pit bull and a hell of a fighter. Matched him with a Doberman last night and the Doberman gave him fits for four or five minutes, but ol' Rebel never quit. Why, he can fight at full speed for 35, 40 minutes and he finally wore that Doberman right down. Got him down and probably would have killed him, but ol' Rebel ain't got any teeth. Had to gum the Doberman until he quit."

Rebel walked into a corner, moving gingerly, as if he were aching, and then flopped down. He's a good-looking black-and-white creature, gentle and friendly with humans.

"His muscles are sore," Atkins said. "Just like me on Monday after a ball game. Takes a while to get rid of the aches and pains."

"He don't know quit," another player said. "Makes no difference how big the other dog is, ol' Rebel just keeps goin'. And Doug don't make no easy matches for him, either. You'd figure he'd match him with a cocker spaniel or something once in a while, just for a breather, but he never does. He don't get any more easy contests than we do."

The fans in New Orleans, although they continue to come out in surprising numbers to watch the Saints, don't understand that the club can't be expected to win consistently, since it is usually in tougher contests than Rebel's. It is, after all, an expansion team with the flaws inherent in expansion teams, accentuated by a dearth of first draft choices.

Mecom traded a first draft pick for Green Bay's Jim Taylor in 1967, then was assessed a 1969 first draft choice and forced to give San Francisco the Saints' 1968 first draft pick, Tackle Kevin Hardy, for signing End Dave Parks after he had played out his option with the 49ers. As a result Fears has had to try to put together a representative team with veterans obtained in the expansion draft and draft choices selected after the cream of the college crop had been skimmed, and he has done a fine job with the material.

Fears is a tall, balding man who wears a gold watch with a black face, a reward for playing with the 1951 Los Angeles Ram championship team. He got a gold ring with a diamond as an assistant coach for the Packers during the Vince Lombardi championship era. So far, all the Saints have given him are a slightly harried expression and a somewhat doubtful view of the future.

"I know how it is," he said one night before the Baltimore game. "When a team is losing, the coach goes. That's pro football, but I hope I get time to bring this team on. They are real tough competitors. I've never seen this group quit."

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