Early Saints Leader Billy Kilmer
The 1st Saints Signal Caller
He may not be a household name among Saints fans today but Billy Kilmer was the undisputed leader the New Orleans Saints of the late 1960s. The first Saint teams in the NFL may have been short on wins but they were never short of emotion and Kilmer was no exception. A fiery, competitive player he had an outstanding career at UCLA. His senior year he led the nation in total offense as he passed for over 1000 yards and 8 touchdowns while rushing for another 8 scores and 803 yards as well. That season was good enough to get him #5 on the Heisman Trophy voting list. The 49ers picked him with their #1 pick where he played runningback and backup quarterback for 4 years. He sat out the 1963 season after an automobile accident nearly cost him a leg. Inactive the 1965 season and used sparingly in 1966 he found his way to the newly formed New Orleans Saints via the expansion draft of 1967.
The Saints plans that first year were for newly acquired QB Gary Cuozzo – who had backed up Johnny Unitas in Baltimore – to be be the starter and Gary Wood – who had sat behind the legendary YA Tittle in New York – to be the back up. But as was the case with those early Saints teams, it was the unexpected that happened. By 1968 both Cuozzo and Wood were gone and it was Billy “Furnace Face” Kilmer that was leading the charge.
His passing form was hardly picture perfect. Many observers remarked his passes resembled wounded and lame ducks but always gave everything he had on the field. As a result Kilmer was endeared to those first fans of the Who Dat Nation. He actually was part of the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game. He co-held that distinction with St. Louis quarterback Charley Johnson for the 1969 win over the Cardinals were he and Johnson each threw 6 tds apiece. That record was broken 46 years later by none other than the Saints own Drew Brees and Eli Manning (son of former Saints legend Archie Manning) in 2015 when they combined for 13 touchdowns.
In 1971 Kilmer found his way to the Washington Redskins. Rumor has it that after an altercation with Saints owner John Mecom he was traded to the Redskins. Mecom allegedly instructed the Saints front office to send Kilmer “where he would never play again”. In Washington they already had future Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen as quarterback. All Kilmer did was take the starting job that year and lead the Redskins to a Super Bowl in 1972.
After 16 seasons he retired following the 1978 season as a Redskin but he still lives in New Orleans area to this day.