The 1970 black and gold campaign was easily defined by turbulence starting in late January when head coach Tom Fears and general manager Vic Schwenk engaged in a fist fight over the Raiders' picking Gerald Irons in the third round. Schwenk didnâ€™t have him on the Saints draft board, and Fears questioned the omission.
One round later, when Fears picked cornerback Delles Howell, Schwenk was so upset he stomped out of the room and didnâ€™t return for the rest of the draft.
Later, a rumor surfaced that Saints owner John Mecom, Jr. wanted to fire Fears and replace him with Ed Khayat, but the defensive line coach refused out of close respect for Fears.
In early August, Fears was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his years as a Rams receiver. Shortly after, his Saints beat the Vikings, 14-13, in the Hall of Fame game with rookies, undrafted players and camp body free agents due to an NFL lockout of the veteran players. The game was won when safety Doug Wyatt ran back a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown late in the game. The Saints finished the pre-season 4-2.
The regular season fell apart largely due to an off-season loss of veteran players like Doug Atkins and Dave Whitsell plus an injury-filled offensive backfield. Fears was fired one day after a 30-17 loss at home to the Rams on November 1 with a record of 1-5-1. Ironically, this was the same day of the infamous Cannon Accident at Tulane Stadium where a couple of halftime performers were injured when a powder charge went off early during a re-creation of the Battle of New Orleans.
Despite Mecom's public move to give Fears a full vote of confidence after the Rams game, he went ahead and set a new precedent by becoming the last known NFL owner to hire an interim head coach from outside the organization during the course of the regular season. J.D. Roberts, a former Saints assistant coach in 1968 who was working for the minor league Richmond Roadrunners, took the reigns.
The players were divided over both Fearsâ€™ firing and Robertsâ€™ hiring leading into the November 8 home game versus the Lions. The Saints were down 17-16 with eleven seconds to go when Al Dodd, a native of Gretna, ran back Errol Mannâ€™s kickoff to the Saints 28 yard line. On the next play, quarterback Billy Kilmer hit Dodd at his own 45-yard line with two seconds left; it was Doddâ€™s only catch of the day.
Offensive coordinator Don Heinrich told Roberts, â€œSend it stumpy.â€ That reference was for kicker Tom Dempsey, born with half a right foot, to go out and attempted what turned out to be a 63-yard field goal attempt. Holder Joe Scarpati asked for permission from referee Jim Tunney to move back the spot of the hold eight yards from the line of scrimmage instead of the normal seven. Center Jackie Burkett sent a near perfect snap to Scarpati, who set down the ball whic Dempsey was able to kick straight on and just over the crossbar (watch the final moments here). It was a moment that then WDSU-TV anchor Wayne Mack called, â€œA miracle of miracles.â€
This Saints victory, however, would be the last of the 1970 season. The team lost their next 6 games to finish 2-11-1, the worst record in the four-year history of the franchise.
Ironically, it was a superb season for the Saints special teams. Punter Julian Fagan was named first team all-conference by both the Associated Press and Sporting News with a 42.5 yard average. In addition, the Saints had two return men who averaged near 20 yards per kickoff in Ken Burrough and Al Dodd.
While the Saints didnâ€™t get a passing grade for this campaign, letâ€™s hope youâ€™ll pass todayâ€™s edition of our Saints quiz:
1) Who hosted the Tom Fears TV show in 1970?
A) Hap Glaudi B) Jim Barry C) Buddy Diliberto D) Wayne Mack
2) What CBS reporter came to New Orleans leading into the Saints-Rams game to interview opposing football brothers Don (Saints OT) and Diron (Rams DT) Talbert?
A) Walter Cronkite B) Douglas Edwards C) Heywood Hale Broun D) Dan Rather
3) It was reported in Gridweek magazine that what Saints player told Tom Dempsey before the 11/8/1970 game vs the Lions, â€œWho knows you might break a NFL record today?â€
A) Billy Kilmer B) Dan Abramowicz C) Bill Cody D) Hugo Hollas
4) What celebrity was Tom Fearsâ€™ guest at his Hall of Fame induction?
A) Marty Allen B) Steve Allen C) Woody Allen D) Fred Allen
Answers: 1) C 2) C 3) D 4) A
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