Saints-Rams series has featured special moments

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Az Hakim, Brian Milne

Don’t be surprised if a special teams play provides one of the most memorable moments in the New Orleans Saints’ NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

These teams have a long history and several of the most memorable moments from previous match-ups have been provided by the special teams.

John Gilliam, Mike Lansford, Morten Andersen and Az-Azir Hakim were all in the middle of special teams plays that are still linked with this rivalry years and even decades later.

Of course there have been other memorable plays – most notably one featuring a red-headed rookie quarterback.

With all that in mind here are five memorable plays from the 75 Saints-Rams games through the years:

1 John Gilliam’s kickoff return

Never has a sports franchise had a more auspicious start.

The auspiciousness was really short-lived, but the first play it remains one of the most memorable plays in Saints history.

It was Sept. 19, 1967 and the NFL’s newest franchise lined up to receive the opening kickoff from the Los Angeles Rams in Tulane Stadium.

Wide receiver John Gilliam caught the football at his 6-yard line and weaved his way to the end zone for a 94-yard touchdown.

The crowd and the city celebrated wildly as New Orleans’ rookie NFL franchise seemed destined for immediate greatness.

2 Archie Who?

This is the only one of the five plays that didn’t happen on special teams, but nonetheless it was a special moment that took place on Sept. 19, 1971.

Archie Manning was drafted No. 1 by the Saints in 1970 with the expectation that the flashy quarterback from up the road at Ole Miss would turn the still-fledgling expansion franchise from a hapless group into a respectable team.

It didn’t work out that way, but Manning’s first start in the NFL fell right in line with the most optimistic of expectations.

The red-headed legend, dubbed “Archie Who?” during his career with the Rebels, had the Saints on the cusp of upsetting the heavily-favored Rams as Tulane Stadium rocked.

On the final play of the game, Manning rolled out and crashed into the end zone for the decisive score in a 24-20 victory.

As Manning reached the end zone, the ball flew from his grasp and the Rams pounced on the football, but the officials ruled that Manning had reached the end zone before the ball came loose.

If the same scenario were to play out today, the celebration would have been placed on hold while a lengthy replay review of the final play took place.

3 No playoffs – again

It was the final game of the 1983 regular season and the Saints had an opportunity to claim their first winning season and first playoff berth.

All they had to do was beat the Rams in the Louisiana Superdome; both teams were 8-7 and the winner was going to the playoffs.

New Orleans had a one-point lead and the ball when a drive stalled within field-goal range with less than two minutes left in the game.

Saints coach Bum Phillips decided to punt rather than attempt a 49-yard field goal, which could have given his team more a lead of more than a field goal.

Los Angles drove 55 yards and rookie Mike Lansford kicked a 42-yard field goal with six seconds left to send the Rams into the playoffs and the Saints home for the holidays.

4 Happy New Year!

The Saints’ chances of making the 1990 playoffs seemed all but gone after they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers to drop to 6-8.

But they got a victory in San Francisco and some help along the way, setting up a win-or-go-home regular-season finale against the Rams in the Superdome on New Year’s Eve.

Los Angeles scored a touchdown to tie the score with less than 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but New Orleans quickly moved into field-goal range. Morten Andersen’s kick was blocked, but the play was negated as the Rams were penalized for offsides.

Andersen then drilled a 24-yard field goal and New Orleans rang in 1991 with a playoff berth celebration.

5 “Hakim drops the ball!”

Finally, the Saints were on the verge of winning a playoff game for the first time in franchise history.

It was Dec. 30 and New Orleans was whipping the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, 31-7. Less than 12 minutes remained in the game and the Superdome crowd was celebrating.

Then the Rams scored three touchdowns in seven minutes and they were about to get the ball back on a Saints punt.

The St. Louis offense seemed unstoppable and the New Orleans defense seemed out of gas. It was hard to imagine the Saints stopping the Rams no matter how far St. Louis had to drive in the final 1:43.

But the Rams offense never got the chance. Tony Gowin’s punt soared toward Az-Zahir Hakim, who called for a fair catch.

Saints radio play-by-play announcer Jim Handerson exclaimed, “Hakim drops the ball!” as the football slipped from the Rams receiver’s hands.

Saints reserve tight end Brian Milne out-muscled Hakim for the loose football at the St. Louis 18 and New Orleans had won a playoff game for the first time in 34 seasons.

Now, the Saints and the Rams meet once again in a game that’s sure to be memorable as a berth in Super Bowl LIII will be at stake.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His 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 and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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