The New Orleans Saints will celebrate their historic 50 seasons of football throughout the 2016 NFL campaign.
"As we prepare to kick off our 50th season with the upcoming NFL Draft, we are excited to recognize the players, historic moments and stories of our team's first 50 seasons in New Orleans," said Saints Owner Tom Benson. "We are also looking forward to celebrating and inviting the participation of our Season Ticket Holders, fans and region who have been the foundation of all of our successes and inspiration in times of challenge. There truly is no closer relationship between a team and fans anywhere in sports and I have been privileged and honored to share in that unique relationship over the years. We are looking forward to making this a very special year."
On November 1, 1966, the National Football League awarded the 16th franchise to New Orleans. On January 9, 1967, the franchise was named the Saints. Just over eight months later on September 17, 1967, the Saints first kicked off in the regular season at Tulane Stadium in front of 80,879 fans in a 27-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in a contest where RB John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. In 1985, the club was purchased by Benson and two seasons later in 1987, the Saints won their last nine games to finish 12-3 with the team's first winning season and also qualified for the playoffs for the first time. In 2000, the club won their first playoff game, a 31-28 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the Superdome on December 30. The 2009 season was the franchise's finest as they won their first 13 games and went on to run through the playoffs, capped by a 31-17 win in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 in South Florida. The club has a Ring of Honor with four players (K Morten Andersen, LB Rickey Jackson, QB Archie Manning and T William Roaf) and three executives and players (President/General Manager Jim Finks, Jackson and Roaf) who made significant contributions to the franchise and are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I remember being on the kickoff return team for that opening return for a touchdown by John Gilliam in 1967 in our first play in front of over 80,000 fans at Tulane Stadium and the whole environment was electric," said former Saints WR Danny Abramowicz, a 17th round draft pick of New Orleans in 1967, who went on to play for the Saints for seven seasons and recorded 309 receptions for 4,875 yards (15.8 avg.) with 37 touchdowns. "For someone who was a 17th round pick out of Xavier, where I played in front of far fewer fans, this was an unbelievable introduction for me. We went on to make New Orleans our home and raised and educated our three children locally, so I always felt the passion of this fan base that can't be matched."
"I had been in the NFL for seven years before coming to the Saints, but I treasure my four years in New Orleans, especially as a member of that first team in 1967," said former Saints QB Billy Kilmer, who was selected by New Orleans in the 1967 Expansion Draft and played four seasons for the Saints, completing 592-of-1,116 passes for 7,490 yards with 47 touchdowns. "We had a great group of guys to start with and the passion of the fans was unbelievable. 50 years and a Super Bowl title later for the Saints, I'm excited that the fans, especially our younger ones, will have the opportunity to learn more about that team and some of the earlier clubs."
The team will wear special 50th Season patches on their home and road uniforms throughout the 2016 season and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome playing field will also feature the 50th season logo. The field walls and other in-bowl branding will feature both 50th Season theming and recognize Saints Season Ticket Holders. The branding will complement the 400 suite level renovations and technology upgrades financed by the team's $25 million investment in new HD LED video boards (which are amongst the largest in the world) and audio and lighting enhancements. Along with the emphasis on customer service training, fan experience personnel, enhanced security investments and rebranding of concourse elements these upgrades will help accomplish the team's goal of providing the best fan experience in the team's 50 year history!
"I could not be more excited to see the new video boards during 2016 season, which I am told will be among the largest in the world in our stadium," said Benson. "I am proud that we can provide these continued important fan enhancements on so many levels for those attending our games. It is critical that we continue to improve the game day experience for our fans and sponsors and we take this very seriously, listening each year to the input they offer us."
Saints Season Ticket Holders will be primary beneficiaries of the 50th Season celebration, receiving special recognition with the chance to win over 50 exclusive special prizes featuring behind the scenes access, experiences, autographed merchandise and more. In addition, Saints original 1967 Season Ticket Holders will receive special recognition with a permanent display featuring their names outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Season Ticket Holders and original 1967 Season Ticket Holders will also be invited to participate in pregame introductions on the field.
A key component of the 50th season celebration will be naming of an All-50th Team. Saints Ring of Honor members and select media members will gather to discuss and nominate players to be recognized on the All-50th Team. Fans will then be invited to vote with the team being announced during the preseason and then presented at a regular season home game. Several special events and fan opportunities will take place over the course of the weekend in which the All-50th Team will be presented. Fans will also be able to vote on the top plays in team history, top draft picks by round and other highlights from the club's first 50 years.
"The New Orleans Saints have provided a lot of special moments to our fans. I'm truly honored to have been a part of that history and excited to be able to participate in the selection of the All-50th Team," said former Saints K Morten Andersen, who played for New Orleans from 1982-94, is the NFL's all-time scoring leader and was inducted into the club's Ring of Honor in 2015. "I was lucky enough to have had some great players as teammates during my tenure here and there were a lot of great ones who played here before me and a lot who played here after me. I will take this process very seriously, even the selection of the team's kicker from which there are several good candidates."
Other highlights of the 50th Season celebration include the ability for fans to tell their Saints stories through the team's website and social media channels, charitable and community events, commemorations of Saints landmarks and history and in-stadium entertainment highlighting the team's history and special moments. The hashtag #Saints50 will be used to celebrate the campaign on social media.
Benson concluded, "Our 50th season is really a celebration of our fans as well and it is important to me that they play a major role in the season's activities."
More details and schedules will be announced by the team over the coming weeks.