While some laughed at the idea of a Museum to honor the New Orleans Saints going into the 1987 football season, the mocking turned to joyous support when the club earned its first-ever winning season and playoff appearance.
Success led to further support that helped the Saints Hall of Fame's completion become a reality with the former dedication on July 16, 1988 in Kenner's Rivertown (400 block Williams Boulevard). It would remain a mainstay there for 19 years before moving to its current Superdome location.
I first visited the museum one month after its grand opening and still remember fondly opening that heavy wood door with the stain glass window featuring a fleur-de-lis imprint on a teed-up football to walk into the facility. Museum director Ken Trahan welcomed me and my father to what I considered to be one of the best visual timeline presentations of its kind. Many museum displays were the well-designed concepts of Gordon Linge and Jill Jeskin.
I remember seeing the football John Gilliam threw in the stands after the club's first regular-season opening kickoff he famously ran back for a touchdown. The ball was donated by the gentleman who caught it in Tulane Stadium that fateful day, filled with autographs.
The first photo I viewed was a color action shot from 1968 where I noticed at least one helmet of the Saints players had the center stripes in a different order than the other players. In another reflection of the times. There was a 1967 photo featuring original majority owner John Mecom Jr.'s wife Katsy blowing out a Saints first anniversary cake with Saints captains Joe Wendryhoski, Steve Stonebreaker, and Eli Strand.
A most unique timeline along the bottom of the museum's front room using season ticket stubs from the club's first 21 years was a sight. At its end in a corner was the video display showing a brief summary of club history. The clips inscluded a music video set to "The Time of my Life" by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warrens celebrating the Saints first winning season in 1987.
Before leaving for the back room, I couldn't help but notice the broad commemoration of the team's 20th anniversary team, featuring names that worked very hard through all the frustration of not capturing a winning season for most of their Saints careers. Next to that, a small locker room setting featured game-worn jerseys from players like Steve Stonebreaker and Henry Matthews plus a thick playbook Danny Abramowicz used during rookie season, a very noteworthy piece of memorabilia in my mind when you consider how hard he fought just to get a shot on staying with the club. Nonetheless, the gutsy wideout had a very productive seven-season career here.
The remaining rooms featured a wonderful theatre set-up where you could sit on wooden bleachers from Tulane Stadium while watching Saints highlight films on a big screen in surround sound with the walls decorated by pictures of fans on gameday.
However, my favorite room was the "kicking room" where a football tied to a rope (for safety reasons) was placed on a tee; if the ball went between the miniature goalposts, then a light would come on above indicating "Field Goal Good 3 points" but if missed then would illuminate "No Good 0 points." As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a kicker, and that contraption was the closest I came to fulfilling those very long-shot goals (pardon the pun).
The museum would gradually expand over the years, especially when the Saints Hall of Fame was able to buy the property next door, formerly was a hair salon, to triple the size of the layout. It greatly allowed for many more exhibits, including the Michael C. Hebert photo gallery detailing the more-modern events and performers in Saints history. The expansion also helped out in displaying the bronze busts that honored hall inductees from 1988-96 before the honor was changed over to portrait paintings starting in 1997.
While the museum is still very much a wonderful place to visit in its Superdome location, I'll always have good memories of that well-placed edifice on Williams Boulevard. Trahan and the staff vigorously did everything to make sure fans did not forget the hard work of so many with the Saints organization that did what they could to make the team a winner. As some people might state on Sundays in houses of worship, "Give thanks and remember."
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