The November 1, 1966 announcement that the National Football League would expand and place a team in New Orleans for the 1967 season brought tremendous excitement to the football-rabid south. Many felt an immediate kinship with the expansion franchise. Some of the allegiance and interest came from knowing that the new league entry under any circumstances would be limited in ability and short on victories and thus serve as an underdog in perhaps every game of their inaugural season. Much has been written through the years about the early Saints seasons with the “low lights” being dominated by the mismanagement of ownership and the front office. Certainly the team was handicapped by an expansion roster that featured numerous players long past their prime or with minimal experience, but front office missteps kept the Saints from progressing. With his father’s financial backing, John Mecom,Jr. became the twenty-seven year old owner and had no experience related to the management of a football team. He made his long term losing tenure worse by being a super fan of his own team and taking advice from more “non-football” individuals than those infused with an understanding of the game. Reminiscent of current Cleveland Browns owner Jim Haslam taking the advice of a homeless man when considering his 2014 draft, Mecom was no less influenced by those who were rather clueless relative to football acumen. As former New Orleans States-Item sports editor Peter Finney wrote, “Mecom didn’t like to offend anyone…He didn’t like to make enemies. He was almost too nice of a person. He wound up trusting the opinion of people who really didn’t know what they were talking about.”
The result was a march of 3-11, 4-9-1, 5-9, 2-11-1, 4-8-2, and 2-11-1 records between their inaugural ’67 season and the completion of 1972’s rock bottom finish. Original head coach Tom Fears attempted to build a more competitive roster but was often thwarted by the preferences of Mecom and General Manager Vic Schwenk. Continuous alterations in both the personnel and structure of the front office made the decision making process an inefficient chore. Despite some quality players like receiver Dan Abramowicz, defensive tackles Dave Rowe and Mike Tilleman, guard Del Williams, Archie Manning who joined the team in ’71, and experience hands Doug Atkins and Ernie Wheelwright whom were able to squeeze out a few more relatively productive seasons to end their careers, the squad never established much traction. What they did establish however was a strong and enthusiastic fan base and a very attractive uniform that engendered immediate attention.
The team was attired in combinations of black and gold that stood out among other professional uniforms and the distinctive fleur de lis on each side of the helmet proved a perfect representation of their home city. The attractive gold helmet with white center stripe and black flanking stripes was immediately recognizable and other than an attempt to change the losing luck of the franchise in 1968 with a reversal of the stripe pattern, the Saints have maintained their traditional helmet presentation to this day. The Riddell TK 2 Kra-Lite 8 helmet was manufactured in 1970 and as it was never reconditioned, utilized between perhaps 1970 and 1972. One can assume that the Saints used an extensive inventory of helmets during the 1970 season; they had an incredible total of 136 players under contract in that one season! The beautiful helmets and large volume of personnel did not help a lot as the two-win season indicates despite the presence of new quarterback Archie Manning. One scribe’s pre-season prediction regarding Manning was very accurate: “The Saints will be unable to protect him physically or mentally-they do not have the resources to protect him. He will be browbeaten physically, intimidated intellectually and booed in New Orleans by ever larger numbers of disappointed fans.” This in fact well describes Manning’s entire career with the hapless Saints. With the flushing away of veterans Billy Kilmer, Jim Otis, Ken Burrough, and Dave Rowe, the Saints were terrible and improvement was minimal by the time this specific helmet was retired from service. Thus, we have a beautiful survivor of history but a reminder of a history that is less than memorable for most long time Saints fans.