Archie Manning hasn’t taken a snap for the New Orleans Saints in over 28 years, and still they’re sticking it to him.

The timing has never been good between Manning and the Saints.

First, he plays for them at a time when they were their most slapstick—from 1971-82—with Manning compiling a grisly record of 35-91-3. Now, when he has a chance to perhaps enjoy his old team going into the Super Bowl for the first time, it’s a year when they’re up against his kid.

The Saints are marching into the Super Bowl. The redheaded stepchild of the NFL gets to sit at the big people’s table.

Cross the Saints off the list of teams who’ve gone Super Bowl-less since entering the NFL.

They started with a bang, the Saints did. Turns out they peaked in the first 20 seconds of their existence—until now.

John Gilliam took the opening kickoff in the Saints’ very first game in 1967, against the Rams, and returned it for a touchdown.

The Big Easy, indeed.

Not so fast.

Gilliam’s kickoff return would pretty much be the franchise’s highlight for, oh, 42 years.

Now the Saints are going to the Super Bowl, thanks to another special teams play: Garrett Hartley’s 40-yard field goal in overtime—almost one yard per year of the Saints’ frustration—lifting Nawlins to a 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Now I really have lived. I’ve just about seen it all.

The Saints in their early years had jazz great Al Hirt on their side, a St. Bernard named Gumbo, players with names like Jubilee Dunbar and Guido Merkens, a kicker with half a foot who banged one home from 63 yards, and it didn’t do them a lick of good.

The Saints didn’t play football, they committed it. The NFL kept bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans because they knew there’d never be a home field advantage.

Their play was even a hazard to the health of our feathered friends.

Here’s Manning, on a kick returner the Saints once signed.

“He had this big old bird, like a huge parrot,” Manning once told NFL Films about the new guy. “It just sat on his shoulder. So we get dressed and everyone’s asking him, ‘Where are you going to put that bird?’ He says he’ll just put him on the top shelf of the locker and he’ll just stay there.”

The new return man dropped the first punt that came his way. It looked like it would be a one-night stand in New Orleans.

“So we come back into the locker room after the game,” Manning said, “and that bird was DEAD. Just laid out in the locker.”


Manning, running for his life (as usual) as a Saint

No one knows more about the pain of playing for the Saints than Manning, a tremendous talent surrounded by very little of it. His best season was 1979, when he “led” the Saints to an 8-8 record. The high didn’t last long; the Saints fell to 1-15 in 1980.

The Saints finally put Manning out of his misery, trading him in 1982. But they were cruel to him again; they dealt him to the Houston Oilers, who were a 1-8 team in the strike-shortened season. Manning went 0-5 as a starter.

Manning finished with the Vikings, and of course it was when they were down, too. His career record was 35-101-3.

As for his old team, even when the Saints got good they were lousy. Starting in the late-1980s, the Saints would tease and lure, just like the city in which they played. Playoffs? No problem. Winning in the playoffs? The Saints weren’t the Big Easy, they were the Big Hurt. They should have sued White Sox slugger Frank Thomas for copyright infringement.

But now the Saints, the New Orleans Saints—the team whose fans started the bag-over-the-head thing and called their team the “Aint’s”—are going to the Super Bowl. And they don’t have to present a ticket at at the turnstile to get in, either.

When Hartley kicked that field goal in OT Sunday, he also booted away 42 years of “don’t even think about it” and “not quite good enough.” Forty-two years of knee slapping hilarity and theatre of the absurd.

What’s the NFL coming to? First the Arizona Cardinals make it to the Big One, and now the New Orleans Saints? Someone call Anthony Edwards, because I see another “Revenge of the Nerds” in the making.

The Lions just lost someone from their table. The Saints got called up to the podium.

Well, there’s always the Cleveland Browns to talk to. For now.

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