“The Dixie Championship”, “The Southern Showdown”, and “The Mercedes-Benz Bowl” are all monikers used to reference the mostly hateful rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. The The Saints and Falcons played their first game in 1967. It was a pre-season game the year that the Saints entered the pro football market. The Saints won 27-24 and the two teams played twice more in the pre-seasons of 1968 and1969, before they both became divisional opponents in the NFC West in 1970. After that merger, the Falcons went on to win 6 straight games from 1970 to 1973 until the Saints swept the 1974 season. The rivalry began to heat up in the 1970s due to being in the same division and playing each other twice a year.
Many famed players have played on both teams including Bobby Herbert, Joe Horn, and (of course) Morten Andersen. The teams have also shared the Moras and Phillips of coaching past, or their family members at least. The only time the two teams have met in the post-season was a playoff game in the 1991 playoffs in which the Division Champion Saints hosted the Wildcard Falcons in a 27-20 New Orleans loss.
All-time the two teams have squared off 96 times including pre-season, regular season, and post-season games. The Falcons currently lead the series 52-45. However, the deficit was much larger prior to the 2006 season when the Dirty Birds lead the series by 14 wins (44-30). 14 games was the largest advantage they’ve had on the series, but have reached that number a couple of times. New Orleans also trails in point differential, but not by much. Currently they stand 2,025 to 2,157- less than 3 points per loss.
Since 2006, the Saints lead contests 15 wins to 8 by Atlanta and lead point differential 515 to 420 (309 to 254 at home). The shift came from the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina where the city of New Orleans was electrified on September 25th of 2006, almost a year after the hurricane devastated the city. We refer to it as “Rebirth.” The play in which Steve Gleason blasted through the middle of the offensive line of a punt that was snapped at 13:37 in the first quarter resulting in the blocked punt hear ’round the world. Curtis Deloatch recovered that block for a TD and sent the Saints on the path to a 23-3 victory on Monday Night Football in one of the loudest and most important games the NFL has had. It was later nearly replicated by Michael Mauti of the #NoColonStillRollin clan. Funny note: Deloatch was a late substitution on the 2006 play in a panic to avoid a defensive penalty that would have been called for 10 men on the field. Coach Bonamego told him to “go rush the kick” and boy did he.
The NFC South has always been one of the more interesting division, sometimes even only for its own failure. But in the recent past, it’s resulted in some log jams. This season, there’s potential for any of the three teams still in playoff contention (10-4 New Orleans, 10-4 Carolina, 9-5 Atlanta) to make it to the post-season.
In terms of post-season play, while the Falcons have represented the NFC in two Superbowls, they have not hoisted the Lombardi trophy. Especially this one time where they blew a 28-3 lead in Superbowl 51. The Saints, however, secured a stunning win in 2009 against the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 to take home the Lombardi from Superbowl 44.
The Saints are currently on the wrong end of a 3 game win streak imposed by Atlanta and are staring down the barrel of a second-straight season series sweep. However, the Falcons have not swept the Saints two years in a row since the ’98 and ’99 seasons (in the midst of a 5 year win streak beginning in ’95). Though the Falcons lead the series in New Orleans 24-23, the Saints have dominated the rivalry at home throughout the Payton/Brees era. In the last 11 games to take place between the two teams in New Orleans, Atlanta has only won 3. This fares well for a monumental matchup coming up this weekend. A contest on which the Saints’s playoff hopes rest. A win in this Sunday’s should seal at least a Wildcard spot. While a win couples with a Carolina loss would seal the NFC South championship. Even if Carolina doesn’t lose this week, though, the Saints will win the division if they win out.
So it all comes down to Sunday’s contest in the ‘Dome. A game that the Saints organization is expecting to be huge.
So if you’re going, make noise and bring the house down. The Falcons are suffering the anticipated Superbowl hangover after a historical loss in February and the memories of the 2006 Rebirth can’t be washed away. They’re reminded of it the moment they pull up to the dome with the Rebirth statue looming over them beside the Superdome to commemorate one of our favorite memories and one of their worst nightmares.