“Man, [email protected]#k the 49ers.”
That colorful sentiment is still vigorously dispensed by many a New Orleans Saints fan, more than a generation since San Francisco 49ers legends Joe Montana and Steve Young last slung a touchdown pass with ease against the team hailing from the Big Easy.
Before the “Minnesota Miracle” or the “Nola No Call” became synonymous with Saints heartbreak and hatred, the faithful members of the Who Dat Nation were dealt disappointment and disgust by the team from the Bay — the San Francisco 49ers.
There is no doubt that the modern-day divisional series with the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons are rivalries — both alternating as the Saints’ arch-rival since the turn of the century. The Panthers series has long been filled with a plethora of competitive games, while the Dirty Birds series has all the pettiness one could ask for in a rivalry.
The problem, though, is that both rivalries lack a key ingredient — unabashed, punch you-in-the-teeth, good ole fashioned hate.
That’s why Saints fans, the more veteran members of The Who Dat Nation (the ones who remember rocking paper sacks over their heads at the half-filled Superdome) still have such hatred for the dynasty of the 1980’s.
To be clear — this was always a one-sided rivalry (49ers lead the all-time series 47-25-2). It didn’t matter that the 49ers changed head coaches or quarterbacks (Joe Montana would be replaced by yet another Hall of Famer in Young), the Saints were always the little brother.
Think Red Sox-Yankees nationally or more recently here in the state of Louisiana — LSU-Alabama.
The hatred for the 49ers took root in 1980.
The Saints were coming off a promising 8-8 season and opened up the season at home against a new-look San Francisco team with a second-year quarterback and rookie head coach in Montana and Bill Walsh. The 49ers rallied to win that day for a 26-23 win and the Saints would go on to lose 12 straight.
Then came the soul crushing Week 14 contest at the dump that was the old Candlestick Park.
The beloved Archie Manning led the Saints to a 35-7 lead in the third quarter but Montana and the 49ers would rally and win the game 38-35 in overtime. That was just the appetizer in a five-course meal of despair in the rivalry.
There was the 1987 season in which New Orleans finally got over the hump and made the playoffs for the first time ever as head coach Jim Mora, quarterback Bobby Hebert and the Dome Patrol defense – linebackers Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson and Rickey Jackson – had helped turn the league laughingstock into contenders.
That storybook season, the Saints went 12-3 overall but were still only second best in their own division — the NFC West. Why? Because the 49ers were 13-2 and edged the Saints by splitting the season series. The early season 24-22 defeat in New Orleans (featuring the late 14-yard touchdown pass from Montana) did inspire the now infamous Mora “coulda, woulda, shoulda” rant so that is a silver lining. The Saints lost in the wild card round while the 49ers got the bye.
The following season was more of the same.
New Orleans missed the postseason despite going 10-6 overall which was an identical record to San Francisco. The Saints though, once again, dropped both games that year to the 49ers, including a crushing 34-33 defeat at home in which a late fumble by Hebert set up the go-ahead field goal.
Those losses kept them at home for the postseason while the 49ers won the division title and yet another Super Bowl.
In fact, the 49ers owned the Saints during Mora’s best six-year run as Saints head coach (1987-1992), when New Orleans won the third-most games of any team in the NFL — behind only Buffalo and you guessed it, San Francisco. During that stretch San Fran defeated New Orleans 10 out of 12 times, including winning seven straight.
So yeah crippling intestinal pain occurs to Saints fans after another 49ers defeat.
After the Saints left the NFC West to form the NFC South in 2002, the rivalry (which also featured a terrific troll job by the 49ers involving the “Mickey Mouse Club” theme) essentially died out with the teams playing only sparingly.
That changed in the divisional round of the 2011 playoffs when the two teams traded the lead four times in the fourth quarter. The 49ers pulled out the 36-32 win when Alex Smith hit tight end Vernon Davis for a 14-yard touchdown with nine seconds left.
The stomach pains and profanity came back with ease for the Who Dat Nation.
The two old rivals will face off once again this Sunday inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the possible No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs on the line. Will the game mean as much as the old days of hatred when Montana and Young went up against the Dome Patrol?
No. I mean Jimmy G may have the looks and the ladies but he is no Montana or Young or hell even Jeff Garcia for that matter.
Yet one can’t help but think back of those old days when there was no team that the Saints, and their fans, hated with more vigor and profanity than the 49ers.