I asked several Saints fans to put some thought into the source of the emotion. Here are the five main reasons they came up with.1\\Proximity
"Atlanta was awarded a franchise just one year before New Orleans," said Chuck Peddy, a fan who lives in Lafayette. "And every time they and their fans come to New Orleans it takes two weeks to disinfect the place."
That saying about familiarity and contempt applies to the relationship between the Saints and Falcons. New Orleans and Atlanta are close geographically, the Saints and Falcons all but entered the NFL as twins and the teams have played one another 90 times — way more than they've played anyone else.
When you spend so much time with someone, you're bound to fight sometimes. The fights lead to bad memories both old and new. "Come on," said Lucy Faust, an actor from Uptown, "egging the Saints' bus? That's a real way to represent yourselves."
"Big Ben," said Bobby Kinsey of Biloxi, referring to the infamous Hail Mary plays that the Falcons used to defeat the Saints twice during the span of just a few weeks back in 1978. "Enough said."
Few players stay with one NFL team for their entire career, but, over the years, fans agreed, far too many members of the Black and Gold have ended their careers wearing black and red.
"Morten Andersen and Bobby Hebert both went there," said Sean Maher of New Orleans. "And when a Saint goes to the Falcons, people in Atlanta always used to say it's because they wanted to play for a winning team."
Though the two cities are relatively close to one another, though many people from either town end up living in the other, and though residents travel often between the two, the cultures of Atlanta and New Orleans are drastically different. That extends to their teams. Even my wife, Steph-anie Garrison, a transplant to New Orleans from New York, had strong opinions on this one.
"They have no respect for history or for others," she said. "Look at the radio hosts who made tasteless jokes about Steve Gleason, or at how they tear down historical sites to build their new stadium."
This one brings us all the way back around to the start. Proximity, years of memories and bad blood, beloved players changing allegiances, and clashing cultures have been the sparks behind the rivalry, but those sparks years ago ignited an emotional tradition.
That's why Saints fans initially respond to questions about why they hate the Falcons with the most obvious answer of all: We're raised this way.
"They are a Deep South rival that we've played two times a year, every year, for 40 years," said Etienne Fontan, a New Orleans native who fights the good fight from all the way over on the West Coast. "The 'I hate the Falcons' shirts in my youth taught me early.
"What's not to hate?