Saints Ignore Their True Hero: Joe Horn
It was disgusting. I mean, nothing against Deuce McAllister, the Saints' all-time leading rusher who was asked by franchise officials to lead the team onto the field for its home playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, but he is no Joe Horn.
Nobody is. Not in the annals of New Orleans history, where Horn ranks with Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong and Mardi Gras.
Even so, the Saints are treating Horn like spoiled gumbo.
"I never sat in the stands before, but I was up there with the fans, and they were just stunned to see me," Horn said, telling FanHouse that he bought his own ticket to watch his old team clobber the Cardinals. "I wanted to sit in the nose-bleed section. I wanted to be with the rowdy of the rowdies, and I also wanted to be me, and that's exactly what I was. The 50 to 100 people who got the autographs and the hugs from me, they got them, and they enjoyed themselves, and I enjoyed myself.
"But they kept asking me throughout the game, 'Joe, we love it that you're up here with us, sharing your hot dogs, eating popcorn with us, enjoying the game with us, but why aren't you down on the sidelines right now?' "
It was because Horn wasn't invited. In fact, ever since he ended his seven wonderful years with the Saints after the 2006 season by ripping head coach Sean Payton on the way out of the free-agent door ("This town isn't big enough for Joe Horn and Sean Payton") -- well, let's just say, if the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, Horn won't receive a special world championship ring.
He should. He also should get a high-profile seat in the lead car during the Saints' victory parade down Canal Street. That New Orleans history says so, especially regarding its local heroes dressed in black, old gold and white.
In the beginning, there was Archie Manning, and except for the epidemic of losing for his Aints, it was good.
Now, nearly three decades and an apocalyptic storm later, it is great. You have Drew Brees, Sean Payton and Reggie Bush replacing Manning as the city's inspiration, and you've heard about the following: These Saints are the antithesis of those Aints, because they did the outrageous on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings by moving four quarters shy of a world championship.
Let's forget Manning, Brees, Payton and Bush for a moment. Let's remember the guy in between those other guys -- the guy that everybody keeps ignoring.
The guy who was not only the inspiration of New Orleans, but its hope, its face and its NFL spirit. The guy who helped the city begin its five-year recovery from Hurricane Katrina after he did more than a few things that led to New Orleans having what later evolved into this Super Bowl team.
This could have been somebody else's Super Bowl team.
Instead, after Manning and before Brees, Payton and Bush, there was that guy -- Joe Horn, who was an exceptional wide receiver for the Saints, but he was much more than that. He comforted those who retreated to San Antonio and Houston after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and he did the same for those in the ravaged Fifth Ward and beyond. He even used his gifted tongue to help talk NFL officials into keeping the Saints in its 1967 birthplace despite rumors that the franchise would bolt for a bigger and more economically favorable place.
"I've never mentioned any of this before, but I'll do it now," Horn told FanHouse, recalling a time in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina forced the Saints to practice and play in San Antonio. Horn had two visitors back then. One was the late Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL Players Association, and the other was Paul Tagliabue, the league's commissioner. They approached Horn, because he was the Saints' undisputed leader, consummate professional and noted straight-shooter.
When they asked Horn the question of the moment, they had the look of two executives on the edge of a decision. What decision?
They didn't know.
That's why Horn became huge.
"They pulled me to the side, and they said these words to me, and this is something that a lot of fans will be surprised to hear," Horn said, adding: "They asked me, 'Joe, how do you feel about the team staying in San Antonio or going back to New Orleans?' And I looked at both of them, and I said, 'I don't think it's fair for the fans who live and die for the Saints to have to rebuild that city alone. I think we should go back and help them rebuild that city.' This was before anybody else came to the Saints (like Brees and Bush) or any new coach brought in his program (like Payton).
"The next morning, I woke up and watched ESPN and the Saints were being awarded back to New Orleans. That made me happy.
"I can't prove it, and there will be a lot of people saying whatever, but if I had not looked into the eyes of Upshaw and Tagliabue and said, 'You know what. I think we should stay in San Antonio a couple of years to see how it goes and then go back to New Orleans,' I think we would have been the San Antonio Saints.
"That's OK that a lot of people don't realize that happened. It's really OK. I know (Saints officials) don't talk about Joe much, but I know the fans in New Orleans care that Joe Horn stood on the top of the table and pounded his fists and wanted the Saints back in New Orleans. And it happened, and I was happy that I was able to play at least that season (in 2006) when they came back."
Now Horn lives with his wife and kids outside of Atlanta as a splendidly fit 38-year-old who works out a couple of hours each day. He hopes to revive his NFL career. He hasn't played since finishing the 2007 season as a part-timer for the Atlanta Falcons, but he kept doing the things in the shadows with the Falcons that he did all of those years with the Saints: helping teammates.
In New Orleans, Horn was a force behind Marques Colston becoming a significant wide receiver. Then, with the Falcons, he whispered enough times into the ears of Roddy White to turn that youngster into a Pro Bowl wide receiver.
Horn doesn't need to coach or play, by the way. He has a slew of entrepreneurial gigs that span from Alabama to Florida. He also spent Monday partaking in the first day of filming a pilot for a reality show that roughly would chronicle his life in search of stardom in Hollywood -- and his long-time nickname ... "Hollywood."
Plus, Horn has more than a few basketball games and track meets to attend involving his two teenage sons.
So there was Horn on Sunday, sitting in his Atlanta-area home with those sons, his wife and others, watching the impossible occur in the Superdome, where the Saints survived the Vikings in overtime of the NFC Championship game. Long before Garrett Hartley booted the game-winning field goal from 40 yards, Horn pulled his 10-year-old son, Jaycee, to his side.
"It was right before Brett Favre threw that interception near the end of regulation," Horn said. "I told my son, 'Let me explain to you destiny. There is nothing the Vikings can do to keep the Saints from winning this football game. Things are just going to happen in the Saints' favor, because it is meant to be.' And in my heart, I'm picking the Saints to win the Super Bowl. The Colts have done some wonderful things, but I think, right now, the story wouldn't be written right for the Saints to lose.
"Hurricane Katrina, and the reason these guys are playing for that city -- it wouldn't be right if they went to Miami and lost. It's not going to happen."
This also might not happen: Horn at the Super Bowl.
He thought, and then he thought some more. "What. The Super Bowl is next Sunday?" said Horn, who was told it is two Sundays from now. "My wife wants to go, but I haven't really given it a great deal of thought. I haven't been contacted by anyone (namely Saints officials) to be there, but that's not why I wouldn't go. One of my sons is in the playoff with his basketball league, and I won't miss that. I could just watch the game on a big-screen television.
"Don't get me wrong. The Saints are great, and the fans deserve all of this. So you never say never, because my heart will definitely be with them. Every night I get down on my knees hoping and praying that they pull it out."
Which means he'll be in Miami ... in spite of his ungrateful former bosses.