Interview: Roman Harper reflects on his Saints Hall of Fame career
It was an outstanding career for Roman Harper.
After being drafted in the second round by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Harper went on to a highly successful 11-year NFL career, including a pair of Super Bowl appearances and a pair of Pro Bowl experiences.
Now, Harper has the distinction of joining the Saints Hall of Fame with Jahri Evans.
The pair will be inducted sometime during the 2020 New Orleans Saints football season.
On The Life Resources Bottom Line Sports Hour Thursday evening on 106.1 FM, Harper mentioned the most significant aspect of his pending honor.
“The best part is I get to go in with Jahri Evans, one of my best friends,” Harper said. “We got drafted together, not only that but he’s probably our best player in our draft class hopefully, he’ll get the call to Canton one day. Lord willing, I’ll be there to see that, too!”
Despite being from Alabama, Harper may have felt a little like a fish out of water at training camp in Mississippi in his rookie season after being drafted in the second round by the Saints in 2006 in the same draft with Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston and Zack Strief.
“We get to a place in New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina,” Harper said. “We were all at Millsaps (MS) during training camp which was absolutely awful. It was melting our cleats, it was hot. We’re just trying to hold on and low and behold, Jahri Evans is the first rookie to start. Anything you name, it happened at that training camp. Everybody knew Reggie was a baller. Nobody knew any of us would play that long.”
Harper was impressed with one veteran member of the secondary when he joined the Saints.
“Mike McKenzie, I had never seen anything like this,” Harper said. “He was on a bike because he was not working out that day during training camp and he had shades on underneath his helmet. That was my first, like, ‘this is the NFL’ moment. I was like ‘wow,’ this guy is so cool! He’s making so much money, he had shades on under his helmet and he’s riding a bike, not practicing. Who can do that? You could never pull that off in college. Those are the things I’ll never forget.”
Harper was not really concerned about going to a city that had just been crushed by a storm.
“I was just excited to get my name called,” Harper said. “I was happy that I was actually in the south. I had never really been there (New Orleans). My college roommate called me and laughed at me because he said ‘you guys are going to suck, you’ll never make the playoffs but congrats on making the playoffs.’ I was just happy to get there. I really hadn’t thought about it. I saw all the pictures and everything, videos and I saw it on TV. It’s hard to put into words until you drive there for the first time.”
Harper remembers his first vision of New Orleans.
“I’m driving down from Alabama on I-10 into New Orleans East and you see where Six Flags used to be and it looked about like one and a half flags,” Harper said. “It was like a bomb had went off. Buildings had holes in it and there was a wall off of a church in New Orleans East and you thought, ‘man, this is kind of scary.’ You pull up in Metairie and you go to work. You’re just trying to go out there and you’re just trying to perform. I was just happy to be achieving one of my goals. I always wanted to be in the NFL.”
Harper and his new teammates made their mark immediately as the Saints won their division and reached the NFC championship game in 2006, despite Harper suffering an injury in his fifth game played.
“I tore my ACL in the fifth game,” Harper said. “I thought we’d just keep it rolling. “Nobody thought we’d make it as far as we did or even have a good team that year. Somehow or another, we ended up with like the second seed and had a bye and everything with 10 wins. It wasn’t like a crazy amount of wins. It just kind of worked out the way it did. That team was so special because it was so gritty. We really trusted each other. We were not the best team talent-wise but we played really tough.”
Harper quickly learned that it is hard to sustain success in the NFL.
“I just thought we’d keep it rolling,” Harper said. “The next year, you just kind of bring everybody back. You use the college mentality. You look up next year, we were 7-9 then we were 8-8 but then, Super Bowl year. It really kind of resets your mind. Just because you’re good one year doesn’t mean that equates to anything the following year. Every year, you start over from ground zero. You’ve got to earn every single bit of it.”
While the Super Bowl season and team were the most special ever, Harper believes he played on a more talented team in New Orleans in 2011 but the Saints lost in the division round of the NFC playoffs at San Francisco.
“Everybody says that, everybody says that,” Harper said. “Everybody knows that is the truth. That is a true statement. The Giants would have had to come to the Superdome. Eli did not want to see that. I promise you that. It’s weird how things work out. It was such a disappointing day. I played that game injured. I felt like I played well. I had some ups and downs but nothing’s ever perfect. We had five turnovers. We played awful and we still had a chance because we were that good. That team was lights out. We all felt that was our best team.”
There was one consolation from the bitter 36-32 loss to the 49ers.
“My daughter was born in the second quarter of that game,” Harper said. “Actually getting back home and getting to see her, it was a blessing, like a blessing and a curse. I went from like down and out to like I have a daughter. It was just full of emotion that day.”
Harper made it to a Super Bowl with Carolina after leaving New Orleans following the 2013 season but came up short in Super Bowl L against Denver. He appreciates how difficult to win a Super Bowl.
“I’ve been to two Super Bowls, I’ve been to a lot of playoff games, I’ve been through a lot of successful seasons,” Harper said. “To win it all, I’ve done that once in my life, you’ve got to be lucky, you’ve got to be healthy, the ball has to bounce your way. You’ve got to be able to win games that you had no reason to win. Everything has to go your way and you’ve still got to able to win the big games. You’ve got to be able to do the right thing to win it all. It’s just so tough to do it.”
Not winning the Super Bowl in the 2015 season was a blessing in disguise. It allowed Harper to return to the Saints to finish his career.
“If I win Super Bowl L, I probably retire and walk away and don’t have that chance to actually come back and really humble myself and have Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) really humble themselves and accept me back hopefully and really kind of just rehash everything and now, I can walk away from this game correctly as a New Orleans Saint.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…