Evans and Harper arrived in 2006 draft class, enter Saints Hall of Fame in 2020
Jahri Evans and Roman Harper are classmates again.
They entered the NFL as classmates in the New Orleans Saints draft class of 2006. On Tuesday they were introduced as the 2020 class of the Saints Hall of Fame.
“It feel like I’ve been drafted all over again,” Evans said during a conference call Tuesday morning.
Evans, a four-time first team All-Pro guard while in New Orleans, and Harper, a two-time Pro Bowl safety with New Orleans, will be inducted in the Fall in conjunction with a Saints home game to be determined.
The recipient of the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award, given for service to the betterment of the Saints organization, is former long-time Spanish language radio play-by-play announcer Marco Garcia.
This is the second consecutive year that two members of the 2006 draft class were selected for induction. Last year it was running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Marques Colston.
Team owner Gayle Benson said Tuesday that the 2006 draft class was “the backbone for establishing the culture that we have today.” She also praised Evans and Harper for being “active and engaged members of the community.”
Coach Sean Payton said his first draft class “completely changed the culture” of the organization and he noted several similarities between Evans and Harper as members of that class.
Both players were selected after New Orleans made trades to drop back a few spots in the draft to acquire a veteran player to bolster the rebuilding effort of a team that had finished 3-13 while displaced because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Saints traded with Cleveland to move back in the second round to acquire center Jeff Faine, then drafted Harper. They traded with Philadelphia to move back in the fourth round to acquire defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, then drafted Evans.
Evans and Harper both left New Orleans after lengthy tenures, which included being what Payton called “pillars” of the team that won the Super Bowl after the 2009, then returned.
Evans played with the Saints from 2006-16. New Orleans released him during the 2016 off-season, Seattle signed and released him during the preseason, and he returned to the Saints on a one-year deal for 2016. He played his final season with Green Bay in 2017.
Harper played with the Saints from 2006-13, then went to Carolina for two seasons before returning to New Orleans to play his final season in 2016.
Payton noted one significant difference between the two. Harper played collegiately at Alabama and Evans played at tiny Bloomsburg University. When the Saints scouted Harper’s tape they could see every play from every conceivable angle. Evans’ tape, Payton said, looked like it arrived “by horse and buggy.”
Still, Payton said, there was enough on the film to convince the Saints that Evans was a special prospect.
Evans said it didn’t take the rookies long after being around one another to know “we had some ballers coming in.”
Harper had a slightly different recollection, noting that Evans arrived wearing “big, thick glasses” that he became known for and Colston was overweight and by his own admission had a terrible rookie mini-camp.
“We didn’t look the part,” Harper said, “but we definitely were.”
Payton held his first training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. It was a brutally intense camp conducted amid spartan living conditions.
“I probably could have played two more years if it wasn’t for Millsaps,” Harper joked. “But it built character. It set the standard.”
The Hall of Fame announcement added to an eventful couple of days for Harper. Word broke Monday that he would be joining ESPN as an analyst after serving in a similar role at WDSU-TV. Also on Monday, his wife gave birth to their son.
Garcia, a native of Honduras, was the play-by-play voice on Saints Spanish language radio broadcasts from 1996-2014 and 2016-18. He credited his late son, Luis Fernando, for encouraging him to accept the broadcasting opportunity when Luis was just 10 years old.
Luis was hospitalized in Dallas during the Saints’ Super Bowl run after the 2009 season. Marco tried to visit him a couple of times, but Luis told him not to.
“Stay there,” Marco recalled his son telling him. “I’m OK. I want you to be there because the Saints are going to be in the Super Bowl.”
Luis succumbed to cancer just a few weeks before his prediction came true. Garcia said it was difficult for him to call the NFC Championship win over Minnesota shortly after Luis had died, but “I had to do it for my people.”
When Garcia called the Saints’ Super Bowl win over Indianapolis from Miami, he was seated next to an empty chair. He recalled that several times other members of the media tried to take the chair, but a co-worker of Garcia’s wouldn’t let them.
“At the end of the game I looked at her and asked her, ‘why didn’t you let the media take the chair beside me?’” Garcia said, “and she told me because it was for your son Luis. He was with you.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…