The arrival of coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006 has made the Saints one of the league’s top teams since, and they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in the 2009 season. But the real cool thing is the recent success undoubtedly has helped people remember some of the bright spots of what had been a mostly inglorious franchise history.
The Saints weren't a dominant team in the 1990s, but don't blame Willie Roaf. In his 13-year career, Roaf was selected to 11 Pro Bowls.
The latest example of that came Saturday, as offensive tackle Willie Roaf was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This summer, Roaf joins linebacker Rickey Jackson, a 2010 inductee, as the only other player to spend the bulk of his career with the Saints in the Hall of Fame.
Roaf’s selection was more than deserved. In a 13-year career, he was an All-Pro seven times and a Pro Bowl selection 11 times. He also was selected to the All-Decade team for the 1990s and 2000s.
Roaf played for the Saints from 1993 through 2001, then went on to finish his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. His final season was 2005. There’s no doubt Kansas City fans are celebrating this one as well, but this is bigger for New Orleans because Roaf spent the bulk of his career there.
The Saints weren’t great during Roaf’s tenure. They won two NFC West titles (that’s the division they played in before the NFC South came into existence in 2002) but little else. That could have worked against Roaf, but it didn’t. His résumé was strong enough because he was viewed as one of the elite tackles of his era.
He and Jackson now represent the Saints in the Hall of Fame, even though this isn’t like baseball’s Hall of Fame, where an inductee has to choose which team’s cap he wants forever on his plaque.
Roaf did some time with Kansas City, and Jackson also played in San Francisco. But they’ll be viewed mostly as Saints, and that’s great for the franchise’s legacy.
There’s some pride from the old days now, and the legacy is only going to continue to grow with the success of the modern-era Saints. It’s a virtual certainty that Brees will join Jackson and Roaf five years after his retirement. And there could be more. Tight end Jimmy Graham is only in his second season, but he’s showing signs he can be an all-time great.
Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are generally viewed as the best in the league at their position. If they keep that going, they could also get there. If Payton continues to pile up wins and offensive records, he someday could be a candidate.
The Saints have built a legacy through the years, but Roaf’s selection takes it to another level, and there’s going to be plenty more to come.