Frank Wittman was on his way home from work — or it may have been to lunch — in 1967 when he noticed a sign advertising tickets for a new professional football team launching in New Orleans.
He bought two. One for himself and one for his wife, Alice.
Over the next five decades, there were games in Tulane Stadium, ostrich races at halftime, a move to the Superdome, the reopening of the Dome after Hurricane Katrina and a party on Canal Street after the 2010 NFC Championship.
This year marks the team’s 50th season, and the Wittmans are among the relatively few fans who have maintained their season tickets the entirety of the Saints’ existence.
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Moving from Gentilly East to Pass Christian in 1971 didn’t stop them from going to the games. Nor did kids — most of whom eventually purchased their own season tickets.
And even though they sometimes give tickets to friends and Frank doesn’t go to the stadium anymore, Alice wouldn’t miss this Monday’s game against rival Atlanta, on the 10-year anniversary of the Superdome’s reopening and the Steve Gleason blocked punt.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years,” said Alice, 81. “There have been a lot of crazy different things.”
50 years of Saints
There were certain games during the first years, one with a hot air balloon descending over Tulane Stadium — almost landing in the crowd — and meeting Gumbo the St. Bernard team mascot. When Alice Wittman was pregnant during that time, she would leave the stands and walk in the shade.
“Those were exciting years,” she said. “Not especially winning years, but the games were exciting.”
There was the game against the Detroit Lions in 1970 when the couple gave their tickets to the neighbors. Thomas Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 19-17 win as Alice listened on a radio at home.
“So then I’m running out in the street screaming,” she said, laughing.
There was the playoff game, after several of her children had lost homes to Hurricane Katrina, when the family decided to take a “fun diversion” to Chicago and ended up on a plane full of Saints fans.
The Superbowl year
And there was that NFC championship game in 2010 — the one that qualified the team for the Super Bowl XLIV.
“It was crazy. We stopped the car in the middle of Canal. Everyone was running around,” she said.
One of the Wittmans’ daughters, Theresa St. Mary, said they had a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne on ice for the game against the Minnesota Vikings. Brett Favre was that team’s quarterback at the time, and the entire family knew Favre and his family.
“I hope Brett has a good game,” St. Mary recalls her mother saying.
“No we don’t, Mom,” she responded.
“Well I don’t want them to win, I just hope he has a good game,” Alice Wittman clarified at the time.
After the game, St. Mary said, they drank the Dom from the bottle.
A family affair
St. Mary said she remembers running around Tulane Stadium as a child, but mostly she and her siblings stayed home while their parents went to the games.
They would have friends over and watch the Saints, and they knew that they had an hour from when the game ended to get the house cleaned up.
“We all got Saints jerseys and sweatshirts from Santa,” St. Mary said. Frank Wittman let the kids choose their own college teams to root for, but “there was no option when it came to Saints football.”
Of five children, four are fans. They all have their own season tickets now, and even though their seats aren’t next to their parents’, the group is all in the same section.
One of the Wittmans’ grandsons is 33 now, a couple years older than Alice was that first year. He’s a fan, too.
“They’ve all gotten tickets, all joined Saints mania,” Alice Wittman said. “It’s exciting to see them as excited as they are.”
They drive to the stadium together and they would all bring food — Popeyes chicken, cole slaw, pulled pork. Alice Wittman and one daughter like to go into the stadium early. The rest would wander in later.
In 50 years, there was just one time the Wittmans considered dropping their season tickets: the year the team traded away quarterback Archie Manning.
“It was like a funeral around here,” St. Mary said.
They didn’t. And even though Alice Wittman would like to see the first presidential debate on Monday, she’ll record it.
There was no question that she’ll be going to see the Saints that night.