Saints' first-ever win was against Eagles

Posted: January 05, 2014

Decades ago, when the Eagles rarely soared and the Saints were an unholy mess, the two franchises that will meet in Saturday night's NFC wild-card playoff made history.

Until Philadelphia's generous first visit to New Orleans, on Nov. 5, 1967, the Saints, an expansion team midway through their inaugural season, had never experienced victory, never scored in the fourth quarter, never rushed for 100 yards.

All that changed on a mild Sunday afternoon at Tulane Stadium, when the 0-7 Saints rode a Flea to their first-ever win.

Walter "Flea" Roberts, an undersized running back they'd plucked off Cleveland's roster in the expansion draft, scored three diverse and entertaining touchdowns in New Orleans' landmark, 31-24 win.

For Joe Kuharich's Eagles, the surprising loss to an expansion team was so dispiriting that they would win just twice in the season's second half and plummet into one of the deepest and longest lows in franchise history.

The Eagles were 4-3 when they arrived in New Orleans the afternoon of Nov. 4. Following the next day's loss, it would be another 2,519 days, nearly seven full years, before the Eagles' record would again top .500.

They won just two of their next 19 games, 11 of their next 49. The grounded Eagles would go through two owners and four coaches before, with a 30-10 win over the Colts on Sept. 29, 1974, they would see another better-than-.500 record.

And it all started that strange day in New Orleans.

A crowd of 59,596 was still arriving at the campus stadium that was the Saints' home for their first eight seasons when Roberts fielded Sam Baker's opening kickoff and raced 91 yards for his first score of the day.

A quarter later he picked up a fumble by teammate Jimmy Taylor - the Louisianan who seven years earlier, as a Packer, had been so memorably sat upon by Chuck Bednarik on the final play of the Eagles 1960 NFL championship victory over Green Bay - and galloped 27 yards for a second TD.

"When the pass went to Jimmy, I came back looking for someone to block," said Roberts, who's 72 now and living in San Jose, Calif. "When Jimmy was tackled, the ball popped loose, took one bounce and fell right into my arms."

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound wideout, who also played with the Washington Redskins before retiring in 1970, scored what proved to be the game-winner.

And while that play, a 49-yard fourth-quarter pass from Gary Cuozzo, was slightly more conventional than his previous TDs, its result was far more historic.

Until Roberts jogged into the end zone, the Saints had never produced a single fourth-quarter point.

That game would be the apogee of an otherwise unremarkable career for the Flea, who caught only 17 passes that year, and 67 in six NFL seasons.

Later, Eagles QB Norm Snead, whom Kuharich had acquired from the Redskins in a wildly unpopular 1964 trade for Sonny Jurgensen, hit Timmy Brown for a 33-yard TD that concluded the scoring.

The Eagles dominated statistically. Snead threw for nearly twice as many yards as Cuozzo (292 to 151). But he also had two costly interceptions - one on the Saints' 3-yard line, the other returned 41 yards for a touchdown by David Whitsell.

The Saints rushing total of 112 yards - led by Tom Barrington's 36 - marked the first time New Orleans ever had hit triple digits.

The Eagles took small consolation from their romp in the Franklin Field rematch two weeks later, 48-21. In this game, Roberts never caught a pass.

The '67 Saints won twice more - vs. Washington and the Atlanta Falcons - and finished their inaugural season 3-11.

The Eagles, meanwhile, went off a cliff.

Kuharich, whose son, Billy, became a longtime Saints GM, soon found himself the target of tremendous fan anger and was fired after the Eagles' 2-12 1968 season.

That offseason Jerry Wolman sold the team to Leonard Tose. Tose hired Jerry Williams, who went 7-22-2 in two-plus seasons. His successor, Ed Khayat, was 8-15-2 before he too was canned and replaced by Mike McCormick.

And it all began that day in New Orleans when the Eagles were Flea-bitten.

"It took a little while after it was over for it to sink in that we'd won," Saints coach Tom Fears said then of the team's first victory. "I had gotten numb . . . thinking we were going to blow another one."


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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