So, yet again, it comes down to this: The Saints versus the Falcons, with the playoffs in the balance. For New Orleans fans with long memories, the contest makes for a nerve-wracking week. And it’s all my fault – because real fans know that both good luck and jinxes exist entirely because of what they, personally, do while watching the games.

The rivalry already was well established when the jinx itself began, as many of us well know, on Nov. 12, 1978. The Saints, at 5-5, had a real chance for their first winning season and first playoff appearance. I was a high school freshman, at the game in the Superdome with my friends Hugh, Teddy, and Clay. With the Saints up by 11 with just over two minutes left, one of my friends suggested the game was in hand and we should leave early to beat the crowd. I said no, because nothing was certain with the Saints.

But when, after a Falcons touchdown, the Saints recovered the on-sides kick, then all three of my friends, excited about the victory, started to leave. I still insisted that we stay; I wouldn’t say why, but I smelled something rotten.

Sure enough, the Falcons got the ball back on downs and then succeeded at the first-ever deliberate “tip-drill” play of its kind, dubbed “Big Ben,” to steal the victory. It was, up until then, the single most gut-wrenching loss in Saints history. And of course, if it weren’t for the bad karma brought by my faithlessness, the Saints would have won and saved us nine more years of playoff-less misery.

That’s how these jinxes work, you know: The flapping of one butterfly-wing of doubt causes hurricane damage halfway across the field.

We all know the rest: Two weeks later, official Grover Klemmer called an entirely mistaken interference penalty against Saints defender Maurice Spencer to nullify a Saints’ game-saving interception, and the Falcons won again. The next season, the Saints lost to the Falcons in overtime on the infamous play where punter Russell Erxleben threw an interception (which really was not Erxleben’s fault).

And after that, whenever the games really meant the most, the Saints were doomed against the Falcons. (Perhaps my worst experience was watching the 1991 Saints-Falcons playoff game while at a truck stop in Atlanta, while en route to a job in Washington, D.C., unable to cheer around a bunch of burly Falcons fans. The Saints led late then, too, only to lose in the final minutes on a 61-yard pass play to speedy Michael Haynes.) The jinx was so vicious, it almost physically hurt.

Of course, we all know how Steve Gleason finally put the jinx to rest by blocking that punt in 2006. Or did he? What the heck was it that happened the first week of this season? Is the curse resurrected? There were the Saints, blowing a 20-10 lead. There they were going ahead again with 1:20 left, only to let the Falcons drive for the tying field goal. Then we fumbled away the game in overtime. And so began a season full of awful, late collapses – so eerily reminiscent of the pre-1987 Aints teams – one through which two losing teams still have stumbled somehow into a late-season clash with the playoffs on the line.

Am I the only one to feel foreboding?

Now I know this column is on the page usually reserved for opining on politics and policy. But does anybody remember what happened to Louisiana after Big Ben and Grover Klemmer? The oil-patch bust, that’s what. It wrecked the state’s economy.

And what happened after the Haynes pantsed us in 1991? We were forced to endure four more years of Edwin Edwards in the governor’s playboy mansion.

Obviously, warding off any re-incipient jinx in the Dome is needed to stop a curse on the whole state. And I’ve figured it out: My bad feeling in 1978 was only a nameless dread, a condition which gave it the evil power of the unknown. This time I’m calling the jinx by name: identifying it, targeting it, eliminating it. Jinx, begone!

Now: Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat? Who dat!?!