Saints, Pelicans begin 2023 in the same city but from different places
New Orleans’ sister professional sports franchises will both start the New Year in the City of Brotherly Love.
And that’s about where the similarity ends.
The NFL New Orleans Saints are in the midst of saying their goodbyes to a desultory season as they play their final road game against the Eagles on New Year’s Day.
Barely 24 hours later the NBA New Orleans Pelicans will play the 76ers in the first game of the 2023 part of what is promising to be a very meaningful season.
As the Saints and Pelicans figuratively pass one another in their way in and out of Philadelphia they are headed in opposite directions as the Saints descend and the Pelicans ascend.
First the Saints.
Auld Lang Syne translates roughly to “times gone by” and this whole Saints season has left the Who Dat Nation yearning for times gone by.
The Saints’ opponent on Sunday as well as the location of the game is especially poignant.
The Eagles have provided the opposition for a few memorable Saints games – both in Philadelphia and in New Orleans.
On January 13, 2007 the Saints won a divisional playoff for the first time in history, edging the Eagles 27-24 in the Superdome to reach the NFC Championship Game.
On January 4, 2014 the Saints won a playoff game on the road for the first time when they beat the Eagles 26-24.
On January 13, 2019 the Saints beat the Eagles 20-14 in the Superdome to reach the NFC Championship Game for the third and most recent time.
This particular Saints-Eagles game itself doesn’t have a great deal of meaning. The Saints are going to have a losing record for the first time in six seasons no matter what happens at Lincoln Financial Field. Their mathematical but highly improbable playoff chances will officially vanish if they lose Sunday.
And the Eagles are definitely going to the playoffs, almost certainly as NFC East champions, presumably as the No. 1 in the NFC, and those last two items can become official if they beat the Saints.
But the disparate seasons of this Saints team and this Eagles team makes yearning for times gone by even more acute.
Seeing the Eagles occupy a position as an elite NFC team as the Saints used to do brings to mind a couple of recent trades involving the two franchises.
Before the 2022 draft New Orleans and Philadelphia swapped a series of draft choices that netted the Saints the No. 16 and No. 19 picks but cost them their No. 1 in 2023, which suddenly has a lot more value than it promised barely eight months ago. That led to a second trade that enabled the Saints to move up to No. 11.
Ultimately the Saints came away from the draft with wide receiver Chris Olave, tackle Trevor Penning and defensive tackle Jordan Jackson. The rookie trio might wind up being significant parts of the Saints future, but the prospect of the Saints’ 2023 pick likely being a Top 10 pick utilized by the top team in the NFC symbolizes what 2022 has been like for New Orleans.
And there’s more.
At the end of the preseason the Saints traded safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a good, young player and a fan favorite, to the Eagles. The Saints also shipped a No. 7 in 2025 and received a relative pittance – a No. 5 in 2023 and the latter of two No. 6s the Eagles have in 2024.
Gardner-Johnson’s arrival further strengthened an already good Eagles defense, though he’s currently on injured reserve and won’t play Sunday. When he was sidelined because of a lacerated kidney he was leading the NFL in interceptions with six.
Gardner-Johnson is a symbol of the young core that was a key to New Orleans being one of the top teams in the NFL – as well as a symbol of how dramatically things changed in 2022.
Things changed pretty dramatically in 2022 for the Pelicans also. They entered 2022 with a 13-22 record, then surged to a play-in spot and beat the Spurs and Clippers in elimination games to claim the No. 8 playoff series and battled the No. 1-seeded Suns for six games before succumbing.
The NBA connections between New Orleans and Philadelphia are limited but significant. In 2002-03, the first season that the then Hornets (later to be renamed the Pelicans) played in New Orleans, the Sixers beat the Hornets 4-2 in a first-round series.
Less than two months later Philadelphia made a draft-night trade with Seattle to acquire second-round draft choice Willie Green, who would play seven seasons with the Sixers.
The Hornets acquired Green in a trade with the Sixers before the 2009-10 season and he was a key reserve on a playoff team that would lose to the Lakers in six games in a first-round series.
And now Green is in his second season as the Pelicans head coach, leading one of the best teams in the Western Conference into the Wells Fargo Center to play one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
On Friday in the Smoothie King Center, CJ McCollum scored a season-high 42 points and set a franchise record by making a career-high 11 3-pointers and Zion Williamson added 36 points on 13-of-19 shooting as the Pelicans beat the Sixers 127-116 in front of a rocking sellout crowd.
In Philadelphia, as the Saints say good riddance to 2022, the Pelicans will warmly embrace the arrival of 2023.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…