Scott Fujita, now with the Browns, was a member of the Saints in coach Sean Payton's first season in New Orleans in 2006. The Saints were back in the Superdome after the hurricane and there was excitement about the team being back.
As it happened, the Saints launched their comeback in Cleveland in the 2006 season opener with a 19-14 win over the Browns. Drew Brees was still reclaiming his arm strength and passed for a mere 170 yards. Fujita had an interception in the game.
"That was an interesting game," said Fujita. "We had a tough training camp and a lot of new guys. We didn't know what to expect."
By the time the Saints returned home in Week 3 and beat the Falcons 20-3 on a Monday Night Football Game and improved to 3-0.
"It was electric," said Fujita. "I chalk that up as one of the top three football moments of all time. A really special night. I don't know how talented we were. We just rode an emotional wave."
That wave carried the Saints for four years, culminating with a storybook 2009 season in which they won their first Super Bowl.
"As we started rattling off wins every way possible, it was hard not to think, "Man, we have something special. There's nobody out there that scares us," said Brees.
"The whole thing was more than you could ever ask for in your professional football career," said Fujita.
So now the Browns and Saints meet again on Sunday with the Saints already on top of the football world and the Browns wondering if the Saints can do it, why can't we?
With the Saints finally winning a Super Bowl, the group of non-participants is four now - Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit and Cleveland.
The Saints returned to last season's form win a convincing victory over Tampa Bay last week and will continue to return to form against the Browns with new rookie running back sensation Chris Ivory, who is filling in nicely with Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas still out.
Prediction: The Saints move to 5-2 and cover the 13 points against the Browns. Other NFL weekend NFL predictions:
Steelers -3 over Dolphins; Falcons -3 1/2 over Bengals; Chiefs -8 1/2 over Jaguars; Titans -3 over Eagles; Bears -3 over Redskins; Ravens -13 1/2 over Bills; 49ers -3 over Panthers (lock of the week); Rams +2 1/2 over Bucs; Cardinals +6 over Seahawks; Chargers -2 1/2 over Patriots; Broncos -68 over Raiders; Packers -2 1/2 (best bet) over Vikings; and Giants +3 1/2 over Cowboys.
Saints coach Sean Payton issued the injury report which was encouraging, the new members in the Saints Hall of Fame and his opinion of new running back Chris Ivory at his daily news conference,
“On the injury front, Drew Brees today was full with his knee; Jon Stinchcomb (shoulder) was full; Zach Strief (knee) full; Anthony Waters (hamstring) full; Leigh Torrence (shoulder) full; Jahri Evans was full today; Julius Jones (shoulder) was full today. Limited were cornerback Patrick Robinson (knee), defensive end Will Smith (groin), we limited safety Roman Harper (hamstring). The following players did not practice: Scott Shanle (hamstring), Jabari Greer (shoulder), Reggie Bush (fibula), Tracy Porter (knee) and Pierre Thomas (ankle); those five players.”
You’re playing another team with a tight end as its leading receiver. Does that speak to the way that position is emerging across the league?
“Everyone’s looking for a guy that can be a threat in the passing game. You get some favorable matchups and maybe some higher-percentage throws when you have one. It seems like in the past few years that each year the drafts have featured a handful of those types of players. I wouldn’t say a hybrid, but guys that are pretty good in the passing game. You’re seeing a number of teams in the league that feel like they have someone they can throw to with confidence. I don’t know if that’s a result of anything new in the college game, but we are seeing more tight ends that are ready to play in regards to the passing game. The trick always is when you’re looking for one is to find one that can function well in one area and then excel in another. But I think that certainly we’ve seen more in recent years.”
Does the fact that your opponents have looked to their tight ends more reflect the fact that you’ve played some inexperienced quarterbacks?
“That’s a good question. I don’t necessarily think that because the quarterbacks are younger that they’ve altered and changed the passing game. I know that we view the tight end as a valuable asset to us what we do, certainly in the run and in the passing game. I think it just gets back to when you’re choosing to throw the ball on earlier downs, you’re wanting to look for higher-percentage throws.”
Do you remain optimistic on the chances of Jabari Greer and Scott Shanle playing this week?
“I do. It’s Thursday and we have a lot of time, but with both players, I do.”
How did Darren Sharper respond today after his first practice yesterday?
“Pretty good. He moved around again well and got some work. Today we featured a lot of third down and we’ll just keep taking it day-to-day.”
Is he taking any snaps with the first unit?
“Yes. We’re rotating. We constantly rotate these guys in. But day-to-day, we’ll just see how he feels. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow after today’s work and just keep paying attention to that.”
How special was the victory over Cleveland for you the last time you played, being that it was your first win as a head coach?
“It seems like 10 years ago. What I remember is coming out of training camp, and certainly that first year you really don’t know what you have. You’ve had a hard camp and you’re getting ready to play your first game. I know it was a close game that went back and forth and we were able to get the win late. Certainly you remember it because it was your first win and it was ours as a team together. Aside from that, there are not a lot of specifics that I remember from it.”
Was it a big sigh of relief to get that first win?
“To get that win, starting off at 1-0 on the road – we had two road games and were coming back against Green Bay and you start feeling confident that you’re going to be able win some games. I think that early start certainly helped us.”
Is Jabari Greer can’t go, is Leigh Torrence a consideration in the base defense?
Could you talk about Torrence and the career that he’s had?
“He’s a veteran player who understands who he is and we feel like is a big asset in the kicking game and is someone that plays in the nickel and can line up and play. I would describe him a little bit like Terrance Copper that we had a few years ago who played in the special teams units and and at times started for us at receiver. He’s versatile and he can do a lot of things. There’s value in the player when that’s the case.”
Do guys like him endear themselves to you in the sense that he’s fought to be where he is?
“I think the most important thing a player like him can have is that ability to recognize exactly who he is. Whether it’s a gunner, whether it’s a guy in coverage on kickoffs, a guy playing in punt return; a guy that can do those things and do them and execute them well and also give you snaps defensively, those players become valuable as long as they can do their jobs well. He’s someone who has been able to do that.”
Are there guys like him and Pierson Prioleau who have discovered their niche in this league?
“That’s important, because generally the ones that don’t figure that out don’t play as long.”
Is there an AFC North style that you notice, especially since you don’t play these teams but once every four years?
“Three of the four teams are based out of a 3-4 front, so with that being said, you have a little different body types in the front – a bigger front when you look at the defensive linemen. And certainly with the weather that they play in they have to be able to run the football. And more than that, it’s a very competitive division. If you look at it, two of the teams right now – Pittsburgh and Baltimore – are playing real good football. I don’t know if there’s necessarily a style but certainly there’s a lot of confidence because of the strength of that division.”
Have you guys had to get more physical on offense to counter these physical 3-4 defenses?
“We feel like we’re physical and we understand the importance of playing that way and that’s something each week that sooner or later the battles up front offensively and defensively along the lines are critical within the fronts of both teams. Certainly this 3-4 defense is different than some 3-4’s that we’ve played already. This is a two gap front, which is different than some of the 3-4 under defenses that we saw from San Francisco, so we’re familiar with it. We practiced against it with New England. It seems like we’re playing more and more of those teams.”
Is this defense a lot like the one both the Jets and New England play?
“Yes, there would be some similarities.”
You talk about players responding to adversity or success. How is Chris Ivory reacting to this big game with people writing articles of him becoming the next Jim Brown?
“I think he’s handling it fine. I think he’s pretty level-headed and I think he recognizes the challenges of playing week in and week out in this league, so his week as far as I can tell has been very normal and very much like it has been the prior week. I think he’s handled all that fine and he’s still working on the things he knows he has to improve on.”
How important is it for you guys to be able to show you can continue to run the ball consistently, especially with Cleveland having some issues with their run defense the last couple games?
“I think it’s important for us to have that balance. I think it helps us when it comes to third down conversions. You find yourself in manageable third downs. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air on early downs, the efficiency of those early downs is critical. We feel like one of the strong suits of our team is our offensive line. It’s a group that’s been together and it’s a group that‘s physical. Whether it’s in pass protection or whether it’s blocking for the run, it’s a unit we have confidence in.”
Who did you give your game balls to?
“Defensively the two safeties, Malcolm (Jenkins) and Roman (Harper). Offensively Chris (Ivory) and in the kicking game, Pierson Prioleau.”
No offensive linemen received game balls?
“No, they got attaboys.”
With Mike Shanahan coming back, Eastern Illinois now has three head coaches. Eric Mangini’s alma mater has only two. Has Eastern Illinois supplanted Wesleyan as the intellectual center of the football universe?
“We have a lot of Miami of Ohio coaches here who claim that’s still the cradle of coaching. I think more than anything else there’s some coincidence to it. If Mike Heimerdinger were to get going here he’d be the fourth head coach from Eastern. We pull for him at Tennessee. That was good learning grounds for all of us that went there and had a chance to play there and certainly advance our careers. I’m not too familiar with Wesleyan..”
Do you think playing at a smaller school or in that environment helps develop good coaches as opposed to people from big schools?
“Jeff Fisher was a really good player at USC and he’s probably the longest-tenured head coach in our league. I think just like players, they come from all schools, big and small, all regions, the south, east and west. I think playing ability and coaching ability is not prejudiced at all to where you’re from or the size of the school you’re from. Some coaches hadn’t played football, but have become very good head coaches. I think much like playing they come from all areas.”
Did you see the article that ranked the playing careers of NFL coaches where you were ranked eighth?
“I didn’t see that.”
Mike Singletary was number one.
“Nobody would argue with that.”
Tomorrow Joe Horn, Dan Simmons and Silky Powell are going to be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on all three?
“All three are certainly well-deserving. Yesterday we had a chance to sit down with Silky and Chief, Archie Manning came by. We just spent some time just talking in Chief’s office. When you look at the tenure and the time those guys have invested in this program and the jobs they have done, it’s very impressive. When you look at Joe Horn’s career, certainly the best part of it was as a New Orleans Saint. For our players and our staff to have an opportunity to work with him in ’06 and to see him still play at that high level was exciting. All three are passionate about what they do. That’s the one common denominator and a big reason why I’m sure they’re being recognized. We’re excited and happy for all three of those guys.”
Can you discuss all three of those guys being a part of your building process here?
“Number one, I think having been at a few other places with good football tradition. I do think the uniqueness of the Saints Hall of Fame is unlike other places. That doesn’t exist at most if not all of the 32 NFL teams. The group that’s in charge of that and their efforts in making it something uniquely special is impressive. I know they take a lot of time and take it very seriously. I think the people that are inducted into it, that’s a great honor.”
Scott Fujita, Browns linebacker, a member of the the players union executive board, on crackdown of violent hits: "Everyone’s confused. The NFL isn't consistent in its message. They talk about banning these hits and suspending players, but these are the same hits they're showing in every highlight on NFL Network to promote the game. Just like celebration penalties. They're fining guys for that, flagging guys for that, but they show that over commercials advertising the game.
"We've been coached a certain way our whole lives. People out there would be shocked at things players hear at their position meetings with coaches, the things they're supposed to do, the way they're taught to hit people. That's the reality of the game."
by Ed Staton