All Saints Day in 1966 would be a truly historic day for New Orleans and a victory lap day for Dave Dixon. Because of his years of gritty work, it could truly be said that the saints would be marching in.

Dave Dixon would break out in a laugh every time he told the story. For all the hero worship and accolades showered on men dressed in black and gold, there needs to be a special commemoration for Dixon, the late antiques dealer turned civic activist. Without his tenacity all those years ago, there would be no Superdome. Without the Dome, New Orleans would have never been given an NFL team. Without Dixon, this city would be a mere “who dat?” whenever the topic is professionalism football.

Dixon had plenty stories to tell on the way to his favorite one. There was the time, for instance, he had to convince the NFL lords that New Orleans was interested in pro football. With the support of George Halas, the then owner of the Chicago Bears, a rare pre-season double header was played at Tulane stadium. One problem, though, was that Louisiana law still required public gathering places to be segregated by race, but the NFL would not permit that, and the Tulane Board, which allowed use of the stadium, was also anxious to see the law ignored.

An announcement was made publicly that tickets would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. To a surprised Black population, that translated into being able to sit wherever they wanted. There was no problem at all caused by the racially-mixed seating Dixon recalled, but then a heavy rain drove all the fans into the dry areas beneath the stands. Dixon remembers hearing a great uproar from the compact, rain-drenched crowd. He hurried to the area fearing racial tension. Instead, he found a party. Everybody was just eating and drinking and having a good time, Dixon recalled, then when the rain stopped, they went back to the game. “I was also worried about the teams,” Dixon remembers, but “Halas told me, Dave, the Chicago Bears will stay here until 4 a.m. if they need to.”

In 1966, New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise. Passage of the federal Civil Rights laws had, in effect, opened the South. A year earlier Atlanta had been given a team. New Orleans won because of its enthusiasm, its charm, but mostly because of the help that the NFL got from the state’s then powerful congressional delegation. The league needed leverage fending off anti-trust laws as it sought a merger with the rival American Football League. None of that would have happened, though, without the maneuvering of Dixon.

When Commissioner Pete Rozelle called to tell Dixon that the NFL was coming to New Orleans it was Dixon who suggested that the announcement be made on Nov. 1, All Saints day. At the time, the team did not have a name, or an owner, but Dixon pushed hard for the name “Saints.” Why? “Because I knew it would be free publicity every time the song was played.”

A local law firm urged one of its Houston customers to apply for ownership. Eventually, the league accepted the application of the oil-rich Mecom family to own the team. Poppa Mecom put his 28 year old son, John, in charge. Dixon admits that at first he did not like young John Mecom because of his playboy image, but it was the new owner who would have the final approval of the team’s identity.

And that leads to Dixon’s favorite story. Mecom began to have second thoughts about the name. One evening, a Mecom aide had dinner with Dixon to explain that his boss was concerned that the name might seem sacrilegious. Dixon always recalled the next moment gleefully. Philip Hannan, the Archbishop of New Orleans, happened to be in the restaurant. Dixon apologetically interrupted the archbishop and posed the question. Would calling the team “Saints” be sacrilegious? “No,” the bishop answered. “Besides, I have a premonition that this team is going to need all the help it can get.”

At that moment, as though baptized by the bishop, the New Orleans Saints came into being. Hannan was right. The team would have some tough times in pursuit of glory, though it has always been blessed by the vision of Dave Dixon. 

We pray, however, that there is a statute of limitations on the bishop’s premonition and that the future become increasingly super.

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