It took roughly 2½ seasons for the New Orleans Saints to stalk down any level of success and pounce on it. The franchise lost 26 of its first 34 games, including the first six of the 1969 season, before it found a stride.
But when it did, the stride might’ve looked a lot like the gait of wide receiver Danny Abramowicz.
In 1969, Abramowicz, a 17th round draft pick (No. 420 overall) in 1967 out of Xavier (Ohio), was the best player for the 3-year-old franchise, and statistically the best in the league. He led the NFL with 73 catches for 1,015 yards and seven touchdowns, and continued his route deep into the Saints’ record books and into the hearts of the franchise’s fans.
New Orleans won five of its final eight games that season to finish 5-9. The team didn’t experience another five-wins-in-eight-games stretch until 1974.
For his part, Abramowicz was named All-Pro in ’69. He led the Saints in receiving from 1967-71 and remains one of the most recognizable faces in franchise history. He finished his New Orleans career with 309 receptions for 4,875 yards and 37 touchdowns.
He’s fourth in franchise history in receiving yards, fourth in yards per catch (15.8) and totaled 10 100-yard receiving games.
"We started improving,” Abramowicz said recently of the ‘69 season. “When we started out building a franchise back in the ‘60s, versus doing it now when you have a salary cap and free agency and the draft – back then, they closed a certain portion of the roster and (had an expansion draft).
“Green Bay froze 30 players and then they allocated 20 or so. And that’s how we got (running back) Jim Taylor. Those guys were great players in their day, but they were sort of fading. So the roster was made up of mostly older veterans and younger guys coming in, and we had to learn a lot. By the ’69 season, we started meshing together a little bit and we started giving teams a pretty hard time.
“I think the key was, as a team, we were ranked fairly high on offense. Whereas now you can build a team pretty fast, back then, it was much more difficult. And the biggest thing I remember is, they talk about the greatest fans. To me, the greatest fans in the NFL are New Orleans Saints fans. If you start thinking how they, from the very beginning, over all those years of losing … it was difficult because as an athlete, you want to win.”
It wasn’t made easier by play that was more forgiving than it is today.
“Back then, they were allowed to hit you, clothesline you – as long as the ball wasn’t in the air they could cut you at the line of scrimmage, clothesline you across the field,” Abramowicz said.
“Now, there’s only one hit inside five yards and they can’t touch you after that. That’s pretty nice. I would like to have a chance to play in that kind of a system. Feels like now, teams are throwing the ball all over the field and the running game is secondary. It’s pass first, run second whereas back then, I think it was more run first, pass second.”
Nowadays, Abramowicz, who returned to New Orleans as a coach from 1997-99, as offensive coordinator on Mike Ditka’s staff, lives in Chicago with his wife of 47 years, Claudia.
And he’s deeply involved in another project which is as important to him today as was football – a ministry called Crossing The Goal.
“I could’ve stayed in the NFL,”Abramowicz said. “My wife and I, our dads got sick. We moved back to our hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, for about 3½ years to take care of them. They eventually passed away.
“We had a daughter and a son living in Chicago. Our daughter is married and has three boys, so we felt the Lord was calling us and so we moved to Chicago. We’ve been here a little over three years.
“I formed a ministry called Crossing the Goal. It’s a TV show that broadcasts on EWTN, Eternal Word Television Network. We also do conferences – I speak at spiritual conferences all over the United States. As part of the ministry, we also have what we call spiritual workout groups that we form in parishes all over the United States, for men to grow deeper in their faith.
“The most important thing we have is the spiritual part of our life and that’s the thing we do the least, as men, a lot of times. I try to get men to put some balance in their life. There’s nothing wrong with following the Saints and doing all these other things, but what are you doing in the spiritual realm with your family and with yourself? That’s what I focus on in Crossing the Goal ministries.”
The ministry’s website is www.crossingthegoal.com.
“The show looks like 'SportsCenter,' but we talk about virtues and various things in the spiritual realm,” he said.