It’s that time of year again Saints fans, Atlanta Hate Week is upon us. This is one of the more intense rivalries in the NFL today and over the next four days we will take a journey of where this rivalry started and memorable moments along the way.
WHAT MAKES A RIVALRY?
Rivalries exist all over the NFL. These rivalries may start due to a head coach switching teams or a star player leaving and winning a Championship with another team. Sometimes its bad blood between the players of the two teams. Sometimes it purely geographical and fans from both teams are able to travel well. And sometimes, it imaginary and one team’s fan base hates another while thinking the feeling is mutual but in reality is really isn’t.
As we look at rivalry games we should break them into three categories. First you have the traditional rivalry. These are rivalries as old as the teams entrenched in them. The Packers and Bears instantly come to mind. These types of rivalries are still important mainly because the history behind them. Then you have geographical rivalries where the two teams are close to each other. They may have fans spread out over the region and those fans may also carry over into other major league sports. A good example of the is the Patriots and the Jets. Then you have competitive rivalries. These games usually carry an impact across the league, think Steelers and Ravens. Then you have the Saints and the Falcons. What makes this rivalry so intense is the fact that it is not only a rich traditional rivalry but also a geographical rivalry and most recently a competitive rivalry.
Whats so amazing with these games is they almost never lack excitement. Both fan bases are loud, passionate and sometimes obnoxious. Think Donald Trump vs Hilary Clinton was exciting? A Saints vs Falcons game is surely able to put even that matchup to shame. These two teams are the only NFL teams in what we consider the “Deep South.” Don’t ask me about this term because honestly it makes no sense to me, but we are going to roll with it. And anyone who is a fan of SEC Football can tell you that fans in the south take football extremely serious. That is the one element of this rivalry that no other rivalry can really claim…the fans.
Now embark with me on a journey back in time as we relive this rivalry. It wasn’t pretty all the time Saints fans. In fact the decade before Sean Payton came to town the Falcons won 16 of 22 matchups. But it has always been fun and excitement at every turn.
November 20, 1967
The 1967 season was the first season in New Orleans Saints history, and it wasn’t pretty. The Saints would finish the season 4th in their division with a 3-11 record. And one of those three wins would come at Tulane Stadium against the second year team, Atlanta Falcons. At the time no one in the attendance of 83, 437 people there knew they were watching the first of many games between the Saints and Falcons in what has been considered one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL. The Falcons that year would go on to a 1-12-1 record and finish last in their division.
NFC West Days
In 1970, thanks to the AFL-NFL merger, the then “NFL Coastal Division” would be renamed the NFC West. The Baltimore Colts, who were part of the Coastal Division with the Falcons, 49ers and Rams, would move to the new AFC East and be replaced by the New Orleans Saints, formerly of the Capitol Division. It would be in 1970 that the Saints and the Falcons would start to play each other twice a year every year since. Neither team has played another team more, making them very familiar with each other.
On September 16, 1973 the Saints would host the Falcons in Tulane Stadium in what would be a dominate win for the Falcons, 62-7. Archie Manning would throw a 5 yard pass to Bill Butler in the third quarter for the Saints only points on the day. Manning would only complete 5 of 13 passes for 62 yards. Of course football was different back then, but even still those are bad numbers. To this day, this remains the Saints most lopsided loss in team history. The Falcons would go on to sweep the Saints that season winning 14-10 to close out the season. The Falcons would end the season 9-5 while the Saints finished 5-9.
Things would heat up again for these two teams in the 1978 season when the Falcons would again sweep the Saints. Unlike the 1973 season mentioned above, the Saints would lose two heartbreakers. The Saints would lose 20-17 to the Falcons after Quarterback Steve Bartkowski threw a Hail Mary with 19 seconds left on the clock. Two weeks later the Falcons would again be down 13-17 with 28 seconds left. They would march down the field and score a last second touchdown. These two wins would take the Falcons to a 9-7 record and give them their very first playoff appearance. The Saints, however, would finish the season 7-9 and miss the playoffs.
The Saints and the Falcons have met one time in the postseason. That game happened in the Wild Card Round of the 1991 playoffs. The game was played on December 28 in New Orleans. The Saints won the NFC West while the Falcons were the wild card team. The Saints would open the game with a 78 yard touchdown drive, thanks to a roughing the kicker penalty against Atlanta when the Saints were about to punt. Quarterback Bobby Hebert would throw a 26 yard touchdown pass to Floyd Turner. Deion Sanders would be huge in this game, especially when he picked off Hebert in the end zone to prevent the Saints from going 14-0 on their second drive. At halftime the score would be 13-10 thanks to a 26 yard reception from running back Dalton Hillard and a field goal by Morton Anderson. Going into the second half the Falcons would go on a 80 touchdown drive but then the whole third quarter went to the Saints. The Saints methodically pick apart the falcons on a 80 yard 19 play drive that would eat up 10 minutes and 49 second. The Falcons tied the game at 20-20 before Falcons Quarterback Chris Miller would throw a slant to Micheal Haynes who then ran for a 61 yard touchdown to take the lead 27-20. Hebert would lead the Saints down the field one more time before throwing a costly and game ending interception to Tim McKyer to clinch the win for Atlanta on the Saints home turf. For Saints fans this was probably the worst moment for the Saints in the rivalry to date.
The Creation of the NFC South
Prior to the start of the 2002 season the NFL would expand to 32 teams and realign the divisions. This created the NFC South as we know it today; Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Bucs.
In 2005 the city of New Orleans faced one of the worst natural disasters in history. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city and cost billions of dollars and many many lives. As we all know the Superdome, the crown jewel of the Saints organization, was destroyed in the storm. Forcing the Saints to play “home” games in Baton Rouge, New York and San Antonino. To add insult to injury the Falcons beat the Saints that year in San Antonio on several questionable calls that even head coach Jim Haslett couldn’t hold his tongue.
REBIRTH IN 2006
Rebirth is probably one of the most iconic plays in not only the Saints and Falcons rivalry but in Saints history. The Atlanta Falcons were the first team to play in the newly renovated Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. The game was played on September 25, 2006. What was crazy about this game is that is was so much more than football. It was so much more than the rivalry. This was not just the “rebirth” of a football team, this was the “rebirth” of an entire city. An entire fan base. An entire nation, the Who Dat Nation that is. For die-hard fans of either team we remember what happened vividly. On just the fourth play of the game, after forcing the Falcons to a 3-and-out, Steve Gleason breaks through and blocks a punt and Curtis Deloatch recovered in the endzone. The Saints would dominate this game on defense and former Saints Legend Morten Anderson would give the Falcons their only points of the night. All in all the Saints would beat the Falcons 23-3 in what was at the time ESPNs largest television audience and the second largest television audience in history. Oh yeah, and this would be head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees’ first time ever playing in front of the New Orleans fan base.
To add to the magical 2006 season the Saints would go to Atlanta later in the year and put up another dominating performance. This time it was Drew Brees and the offense who helped the Saints soar to victory in a 31-13 victory over the Falcons. Micheal Vick, who was obviously frustrated, was booed off the field by Falcon fans and let his emotions get the best of him as he raised his middle finger to fans as he exited the field. The 2006 season took this rivalry to new heights. Over the next decade the Saints would own the Falcons and be the model of consistency in the NFC South.
The 2009 Super Bowl Championship
2009 was hands down the best year in Saints history. There really is no argument on that. And it was in 2009 that the Saints would be able to one-up their divisional rival by winning the Super Bowl and forever being able to say that they won a championship before the Falcons. But 2009 also brought another sweep of the Falcons. As we all know the Saints would go 13-3 in the 09 season with Atlanta being their last win in the regular season. In a back-and-forth game, safety Darren Sharper (I really hate to type his name but he was an integral part of the 2009 season) intercepted quarterback Matt Ryan on the Saints 5 yard line ending the game for the Saints with a 35-27 win. Just thinking about the 2009 season make me want to go put my DVD in and relive it all over again.
Throughout the Payton/Brees era and the pentacle of the Saints/Falcons rivalry most games were in prime time and most games came with playoff implications. Since 2010 the Saints have played the Falcons in prime time EIGHT times and the Saints have won five of those eight games. Overall in this time frame the Saints are 9-5 against the Falcons and this includes two season where the Falcons have swept the Saints (2014 and 2016). Needless to say after so many heart breaking loses to the Falcons pre-2006 it has been nice that over the last decade that we have been the beneficiaries of these games.
96 Total Games
All time series: Atlanta-51 Saints-45
Division Titles: Atlanta-6 Saints-5
SUPER BOWLS: Saints-1 Atlanta-28-3 I mean 0
Part 2 will come up tomorrow where we will look at all the different players and coaches who have moved from New Orleans to Atlanta and vice versa.
Part 3 will come out on Wednesday where we will highlight some of the best moments in this rivalry. So be sure to send me a tweet @318realty to let me know your favorite memory of this rivalry series.
Part 4 will come out on Thursday before the game were we will look at what really makes this rivalry fun…the fans. I have several stories that Saints fans have told me when attending rivalry games. If you have your own story you want shared DM me on twitter.
And there will be plenty more 28-3 jokes as we get closer to Thursday! 🙂