For old school Saints fans, there were two red and gold Evil Empires in the eighties: the Soviet Union and the San Francisco Forty-Niners.
While the New Orleans franchise’s longest standing rival are their neighbors to the east in Atlanta, the Saints have an equally long and far less pleasant history with Frisco.
For most of the Saints’ history, they were the Washington Generals to San Francisco’s Harlem Globetrotters, most notably frustrating the Saints’ ambitions to win the NFC West during the Black and Gold’s unprecedented run in 1987.
A common lament amongst Saints fans back in the day was that the team would have attained success had they been in the AFC or just in another division. But that's just a bad excuse. Would Who Dats trade the their one Lombardi Trophy for the Buffalo Bills' numerous Super Bowl appearances? I would think not.
There's a line from Will Ferrell's Talladega Nights that is almost Will Rogers-esque: if you're not first, you're last. If the Saints couldn't beat the Niners in divisional games, why should anyone expect them to have more success in an NFC Championship game or the Super Bowl?
New Orleans' series record against San Francisco isn’t pretty.
The Saints have met their old NFC West divisional opponent on seventy occasions, more than any other team outside of the Falcons, with the Niners winning forty-five times or almost 66% (there were two ties). The Saints never beat the Niners back-to-back until 1978 even though the two teams first played in the Black and Gold’s inaugural season in 1967.
Under the NFL’s current scheduling it would take the Saints an estimated forty-four years of consecutive wins against the Niners to even the series.
But the era of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott are long gone from Candlestick. Just as the 2010 defending World Champion New Orleans team isn’t your daddy’s Saints nor do the 2010 San Francisco squad remotely resemble the team that tortured Saints fans twice a season.
San Francisco was embarrassed last week against the Seattle Seahawks, under ex-USC coach Pete Carroll, losing 6-31. 2010 is supposed to be the comeback season for the Niners, who were expected to contend in a division where every team could be described as being in a rebuilding mode. Yet from early appearances, San Francisco still has some work to do.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith made the Seattle defense look good, as the signal caller was picked off twice and running back Frank Gore was held to a paltry 38 yards on the ground.
The Drew Brees-led Saints will be facing shadows of what was once the greatest team in the NFL, though that's not to say it will be a cake-walk.
The Niners will be playing with some motivation. San Francisco great and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice (the greatest receiver in the game) will have his jsersey retired at the game and the Forty-Niners could have no better opportunity than to defeat the Super Bowl champions to reassure their fans that they are for real.
Besides the talented Gore, who will test the Saints’ defensive front-seven, San Francisco has one of the best tight ends in the game with Vernon Davis.
The Saints offense doubtlessly would like to demonstrate against a less challenging defense than the Minnesota Vikings that they should once again be considered the tops in the league after being limited to two touchdowns last Thursday night.
The key for the Niners will be forcing turnovers and converting them into points. Windy conditions at Candlestick will also go a long way towards grounding Brees' aerial circus offense.
And What Say the Boys in Vegas?
USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan favors the Saints by 5.5. Even though they will be on the road, I have a tough time believing that New Orleans will “escape” with a win. I see this game as Brees and Co.’s opportunity to show that they still have it after the low-scoring NFL Season kickoff against the Vikings.
I’ll be surprised if the Saints win by less than double-digits. Give the points.