My All-Time Saints ‘Hit Men’ (part 1)
Throughout the 54-year existence of the New Orleans Saints, the loyal fans have been treated at times to a top-notch physical style of football.
The hard core loyalists of the game enjoy a bone jarring collision as much as they would appreciate an explosive touchdown run or pass.
It has been a challenging chore but thanks to some input from some former Saints players throughout the history of the franchise, I have compiled an all-time list of ‘Hit Men’ in Black and Gold. These individuals drew the attention of the crowd upon contact. When a collision took place, it seemed bones would rattle in the opposing player’s body. In some cases, fans would gasp or avert their eyes.
I would expect a little debate since over five decades produced many physical players for the Saints.
What we have here is my list of 22 players broken into two parts.
22. Kenny Vaccaro (2013-’17)
The 218-pound safety played in 51 games with the Texas Longhorns before he was made a first round pick by the Black and Gold. The versatile safety tallied 385 tackles, 8.0 interceptions and 7.5 sacks here. His best season came in 2015 with 104 stops. Still in the league with the Tennessee Titans, Vaccaro plays with high energy and likes to be a striker.
21. Joe Johnson (1994-’01)
First round choice in ’94 out of Louisville, he was twice a Pro Bowler and accumulated 384 stops, 50.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles. The Saints Hall of Fame inductee played with a purpose and had a high water mark of 12 sacks in 2000 when he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year that season. Johnson was a major disruptive force at defensive end who brought it snap to whistle, at times a one-man wrecking crew.
20. Mark Fields (1995-2000)
The first round pick out of Washington State in ’95 was a physical freak (4.54 40-time and 38″ vertical). The 244-pound linebacker was a Pro Bowler in 2000. Fields piled up 414 tackles in the Big Easy with 23 sacks. Fields had three consecutive seasons (1996-’98) with more than 100 tackles. He pursued the ball carrier like a cheetah.
19. Fred Whittingham (1967-’68)
He arrived from the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1967 NFL expansion draft, and the 240 pounder was a “Mad Dog” for the early Saints (1967-’68). Whittingham was a bright spot for a team that enjoyed little success. He made thunderous tackles in an era when the Mike linebacker would set the tone for the defense. He fit the mold of a barroom brawler-type who would obliterate the runners to a ‘T’. Not kidding about the brawler part. At age 21 years, Fred won the 1958 Intermountain Heavyweight boxing title and regional Golden Gloves in Las Vegas. He was a player for whome opponents had deep rooted respect. He spent 28 seasons as an assistant coach in college and the pro following retirement as a player.
18. Joe Federspiel (1972-’80)
Making 135 starts at middle linebacker for the Saints, No. 58 left it all on the field. He made opposing ball carriers pay with his signature hits that could be heard a mile away. While in college at Kentucky, Federspiel posted 125 tackles for the ‘Cats in 1970. The Saints were 37-94-1 during Joe Fed’s tenure but Joe made the games worth watching with his physical style of play. Following his retirement from the NFL, he served as an SEC football umpire.
17. Steve Korte (1983–’90)
“Jumbo” was not only one of the strongest players in the NFL at the time (595 lbs. bench press, 740 lbs. squat, 390 lbs. power clean) but he put that power to functional use. The 1983 second round selection out of Arkansas played in 83 games at guard and center. The trend in the NFL was employing a 3-4 front defensively, but a pulling Korte would light up outside linebackers and DE’S. Chronic injuries impeded his progress. He was a mauler and a brawler.
16. Roman Harper (2016-’16)
The second round pick out of Alabama twice earned Pro Bowl honors. He was a key member of the Saints first Super Bowl Championship. In 108 contests over two stints in New Orleans, the strong safety recorded 556 stops with 38 for loss, 17 sacks, 7.0 interceptions, 52 passes broken up, 40 QB hits and 15 forced fumbles. Extremely active, he topped out with 118 tackles in 2012. Harper made up for any coverage deficiencies with big hits and leadership.
15. Frank Wattelet (1981-’87)
The 6-foot, 185-pound undrafted safety out of Kansas was typical of the NFL era. His devastating hits came consistently as he dropped the sledge hammer on opponents. He also flashed ball hawking skills, grabbing 12 interceptions. A gritty performer, Wattelet was a fan favorite.
14- La’Roi Glover (1997-2001)
The devastatingly quick defensive tackle started 65 games in New Orleans. The 290-pound block of granite was a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL who capped his Saints days with a NFC Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2000. He tallied 50 sacks with the Black and Gold, managing four seasons with at least 8.0 sacks. He totaled 17 sacks in 2000. Known for his agility, Glover was also a physical presence up front who could fork lift a blocker. He was super explosive with his initial step and left many linemen grabbing at air, resulting in many crunching sacks.
13. Tommy Myers (1972-’81)
The third round pick in ’72 became a franchise legend at safety. The Saints and Syracuse Hall of Famer recorded 36 interceptions in New Orleans. Pound for pound, Myers may have been the most physical tackler to ever don the Fleur-de-lis. He would sacrifice his body in combat, usually giving away 40 to 50 pounds wiht his 185-pound frame. He laid devastating hits on anyone venturing into his territory, so much so that he had receivers looking over their shoulder. Myers also managed 15 forced fumbles, second most in team history.
12. Curtis Lofton (2012-’14)
A traditional middle linebacker at 245-pounds, he made 392 tackles for Saints during his three-year stay. The former Oklahoma standout was a read-and-react tackler, coming up to knock sparks off of runners. Lofton was a reliable run stuffer.
Up next, part two – the top 11 “Hit Men” in Saints lore.
- < PREV Former LSU safety Grant Delpit suffers torn Achilles
- NEXT > Monday Night Futbol: August 24, 2020
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…