Forty-nine years ago Sunday, the NFL awarded New Orleans a franchise.
In all those years, from that All Saints’ Day to this one, there was never a game to match the indoor fireworks show the Saints and New York Giants put on display.
What is the appropriate gift for a 49th anniversary? Paper? Crystal? Billy Crystal delivering your paper and reading you the comics while making funny voices?
Touchdowns, apparently. A tractor trailer full.
There was more than 1,000 combined yards of offense Sunday, 101 total points (tied for the third-most in a game ever) and a combined 13 touchdown passes by both teams.
There were three lead changes and five ties.
There was, despite the fact there were actually 11 defenders on the field throughout (really, we checked), a startling lack of defense, save for one pinballed fumble return by the Giants and one, late, ultimately winning stop by the Saints.
And, in the end, there was a huge penalty on Giants and former LSU punter Brad Wing, allowing the Saints to get into range for kicker Kai Forbath to drill a game-winning 50-yarder as time expired in an incredulous 52-49 New Orleans victory.
“Brees had seven touchdown passes,” coach Sean Payton said, “but we told him the game ball was going to the kicker.”
Brees didn’t betray a bit of disappointment as he dissected the game, exhibiting the kind of cool reserved for test pilots and surgeons and men who spend their Sundays having other large men charging at them, intent on ripping their head off.
“It’s not about the numbers,” Brees said.
It’s not about the numbers, dear fellow, until it’s about the numbers. And your numbers — 511 yards and an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns — were off the charts.
There were so many touchdown passes, Giants quarterback and New Orleans’ son Eli Manning couldn’t keep track, though he might one day want to take stock since he was part of another single-game NFL record.
“There were 12 touchdown passes; I guess 13 if you count (Brees’) interception to us,” Manning said.
Actually it was a fumble return after a catch by Willie Snead, and it was 13 TD passes the conventional way, if you can say such things about such a deluge of scoring.
As the game ended, P.A. announcer Mark Romig reminded the madding crowd not to text and drive after leaving the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Don’t text and drive? Saints fans were flying home after this one, hugging and high-fiving total strangers and passing out leftover Halloween candy.
Trick or treat? Depends on who you ask.
“It was like a heavyweight fight,” said Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who had a game-high nine catches for 147 yards, including one of Brees’ TD tosses. “They hit us. We hit them. We were fortunate to outlast them.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin described the football anarchy in a way that Payton might have, had he lost.
“You want to explode,” he said of the game’s out-of-control nature. “But that’s not going to help, so you are trying to figure out how you can help.”
Wonder if Coughlin or Payton thought of ordering tranquilizer guns and cargo nets?
All but lost in this overdose of offense was an inspired bit of Brees cleverness early on.
On third-and-7 from his 40, he threw a 25-yard pass that Watson appeared to drop, though it was ruled a catch. Sensing danger, Brees ran to the line and called his own number for a quick keeper, just as Coughlin was throwing his red challenge flag.
Coughlin is 69, so Brees has the quicker release. On the next play, Brees threw a 34-yard flea flicker to Snead to tie it and send the scoring toward the stratosphere.
Brees may be getting up there as superstar athletes go, but the 36-year-old proved David Mamet’s line true once again: Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.
But sometimes, just barely.
Manning tried to match Brees hammer-blow for hammer-blow and came darned close. He was 30-of-41 for 350 yards and six touchdowns, three of them to former LSU wideout and fellow Newman alumnus Odell Beckham Jr.
On just about any other week in pro football history, it would have been enough. The Giants tied the record for most points in a defeat set when the Houston Oilers lost to the Oakland Raiders 52-49 in 1963.
“It’s a tough one to bite down (on) right now,” Manning said.
This was a landmark win for the Saints, the latest chapter in their improbable resurrection.
After an 0-3 start, they’ve won four of their last five to claw back to 4-4 at midseason, still digging themselves out of adversity but much closer to respectability — and, scoff if you want, playoff contention — than seemed possible just a few weeks ago.
Now a more manageable second-half schedule lies ahead with potential tomato cans like Tennessee, Houston, Detroit and Jacksonville waiting to be knocked over. Nothing is ever easy in the NFL, but the Saints have at least given themselves a fighting chance.
There won’t be another game like this, though.
There wasn’t anything like it in the past 49 years, so what chance do the next eight games have to produce a rival?
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.