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Saints fans long-suffering, but loyal
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- In the New Orleans Saints' Hall of Fame are tributes to players, memorabilia of Tom Dempsey's record-setting field goal, and one of the original paper bags shamefaced fans once wore to games.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson
Saints fans no longer wear paper bags over their heads.

The Saints, one of the worst teams in NFL history, with a hall of fame? The Saints, a team with just six winning seasons, including this one, in 34 years? A team that qualified for the playoffs only five times, including this season?

"The Saints aren't a team a lot of people would associate with a hall of fame," said Ken Trahan, general manager of the facility. "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 that boost it to 7,500. Either way, it's much smaller than the Green Bay Packers' 20,000-square-foot building - the only other team-operated facility.

That's not the only difference. The Packers' hall, opened in 1976 with tributes to coach Vince Lombardi and three Super Bowl championship teams, averages about 50,000 visitors per year. The facility in New Orleans, opened in 1988, draws 21,000 annually without offering so much glory.

"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 in 1969. The $7 million agreement signed by John Mecom when he purchased the expansion franchise in 1967 also is on display.

And there's the football John Gilliam caught on the opening kickoff of the first game the Saints played and returned 94 yards for a touchdown.

It took 20 years after that run, however, for the Saints to record their first winning season, which explains why the timeline depicting 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've 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." The sound of disgust was so loud that the New Orleans offense couldn't hear the signals and became one of the few home-teams - if not the only one - to get a delay of game penalty because their fans wouldn't quiet down when they had the ball.

Perhaps the most popular display, however, 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 on Saturday in the wild-card 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."

 
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