Yummo!I've been remiss in failing to properly acknowledge Sammy Knight's having been selected for induction into the Saints Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago.

@skooks probably put it best on the twitters: "If you weren't around to see Sammy Knight play for the Saints, I pity you." Ain't that the damn truth. There was absolutely nothing not to love about this guy. He was a bona fide playmaker at a time when the Saints' roster was sorely lacking them. His face looked (and looks) vaguely like the face of some kind of fuckin' tiger. And, of course, he remains hands-down the single best Saints player ever to come out of USC. (What, you expected me not to mention that? Heh.)

For six seasons, we had a go-to phrase around my house when an opposing offense was going through the Saints defense like shit through a goose and we were getting desperate for a stop. "Sooner or later, Sammy Knight's gonna put his foot down." To date, he remains the only defensive player since the Dome Patrol to warrant that kind of blind confidence that, no matter how bleak things looked, he'd figure out a way to make a play and keep hope alive.

Not Joe Johnson. Not Wayne Martin. Not La'Roi Glover. Not Darren Howard or Charles Grant or Will Smith. Not even Jon Vilma. We did briefly resurrect the phrase in 2009 for Darren Sharper, but it was as much about raising a glass to Sammy as it was about Sharper's insane performance. It was about celebrating the fact that the Saints finally had a guy back there who could do it like Sammy did.

He was inarguably the best thing Mike Ditka ever did for the franchise. I mean, for fuck's sake, here's Ditka's entire Saints draft record: Chris Naeole, Rob Kelly, Jared Tomich, Troy Davis, Danny Wuerffel, Keith Poole, Nicky Savoie, Kyle Turley, Cam Cleeland, Fred Weary, Julian Pittman, Wilmont Perry, Chris Bordano, Andy McCullough, Ron Warner and Ricky Williams. Naeole and Turley were fair-to-good players. Neither was as good as Sammy Knight, and both were hugely overdrafted as top-10 picks in the first round. Ricky Williams, of course, is the very definition of overdrafted. And while he did some good things in a Saints uniform, Sammy did more.

God only knows how Ditka and Kuharich managed to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to pull it off, but the fact remains that a decade before undrafted gems like Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory started sticking on the roster for reasons other than by default, there was Sammy.

We've all seen the stats. Third in franchise history with 28 interceptions. (Dave Waymer – 37, Tommy Myers – 36) First in franchise history with 4 interception returns for touchdowns. Tied for first in franchise history with 4 total defensive touchdowns. Second in franchise history in interception return yards. The only player in franchise history to post 5+ interceptions in 5 different seasons. Led the team in interceptions in 5 of his 6 seasons with the Saints. And on and on.

So here's my question: Is it possible for a guy like that, a guy who's about to be inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame, to actually be underrated? Sammy will be the third "safety" in the Saints Hall of Fame, and I suspect that most Saints fans would rank Sammy 3rd on that list, behind Tommy Myers and Dave Whitsell (in that order.) And there's probably a handful of people who would even rank Darren Sharper higher than Knight based solely on 2009.

As groin-grabbingly fantastic as 2009 was, and specifically Sharper's performance, it's still just one year. So it seems silly to me to include Sharper in this conversation. So I'm disqualifying him.

Dave Whitsell was before my time (high five!) and I never saw him play, but I'm disqualifying him too. Why? Same reason I put "safety" in quotes a couple paragraphs up. According to Pro Football Reference, Whitsell was really a corner. He was a corner for the first 10 years of his career, including his first year in New Orleans in 1967. '67 was his Pro Bowl year, and he posted 10 of his 19 Saints interceptions that year. At corner. He was only a safety in 68 and 69, his last two years with the Saints and the last two years of his career.

Perhaps one of you geezers out there (I'm looking in your direction, emaciaTed) could smarten me up a bit on Whitsell if you feel strongly about him. Because I've gotta tell ya, I'm having trouble understanding why he's even in the Saints HoF. He only played in 42 games for the Saints, for crying out loud. Darren Sharper's at 22, and if he comes back this fall and stays healthy for all 19 games (high five!) he'll be at 41. But like I said, I wasn't around in '67-'69 and never saw Whitsell play. I'm perfectly willing to stand corrected on his Saints HoF-worthiness, but I'm still excluding him from the safety discussion because over half his Saints résumé is from 67 when he played corner.

So we're down to Tommy Myers and Sammy Knight for Best Saints Safety Ever. And again, I have to plead "before my time" on Myers. I'm sure I saw him play, but I was 9 years old in his last season (1981) and was far too stupid to really comprehend much more than Bum, Buddy and Bagheads. So let's be clear, I'm mostly going on numbers here, which are imperfect to begin with but especially given that things like tackles, passes defended and sacks weren't official stats during Myers's day.

Further complicating matters are the different eras. 14 game seasons vs. 16 game seasons. The evolution of NFL football from a ground game in the 70s to more of a passing game in the 90s and Aughts. To whose advantage is that evolution? Or do added responsibility in the defensive backfield (i.e. DB is a harder job now than then) and more opportunities to accumulate stats cancel each other out? I don't know, I'm not sure anybody really knows.

 (Saints-only stats) Sammy Knight Tommy Myers
 Years  6  10
 Games  94  136
 Starts  89  121
 Sacks  5  N/A
 Interceptions  28  36
 Games played/INT  3.36  3.78
 Interception return yards  464  621
 Return yards per interception  16.58  17.25
 Fumbles forced  5  5 
 Games played/FF  18.8  27.2
 Fumbles recovered  10  15
 Games played/FR  9.4  9.07
 Defensive touchdowns  4  4
 Passes defended  22  N/A

 

So Myers has the longevity, and consequently, the cumulative stats. But on a per-game and per-play basis, it seems to me that Sammy was every bit as good, if not slightly better (at least in a "playmaking" sense) than Myers was.

I'll concede my built-in bias toward Sammy because I watched him play, and the incompleteness of the statistical comparison. So again, if any of you geezers want to step up and yell at me to get off of Myers's lawn, please feel free. I'm even receptive to arguments that Myers's was a taller order than Sammy's because of the difference in eras, should you want to make that argument. I'm not sure I'll agree, but I'm open to it.

Meantime, having not quite reached 40 just yet and therefore still maintaining a tenuous grip on the arrogance of youth (ha!) I'm gonna go ahead and assert that if Sammy Knight isn't the single best safety ever to don the black & gold, he's at the very least in a dead-heat tie with Myers. No matter what you grizzled 1890s prospectors say, consarnit!

And then, of course, there's this. Oh sure, Myers never had that opportunity, and that's not his fault. But it's not my fault either, and it damn sure ain't Sammy's fault. History will remember Az-Zahir Hakim and Brian Milne and Aaron Brooks and Willie Jackson moreso than Sammy. Heroes were the order of the day, and the Saints lose that game if not for each of them individually. Robert Wilson (TD reception.) Chris Oldham (INT that led to the only score of the 3rd quarter.) Willie Whitehead forced and La'Roi Glover recovered a Warner fumble at the Rams' 16 leading to the Saints' final touchdown of the day.

It took all those things, and all those people (among many others) for the Saints to finally show us that "there is a God after all."

But without Sammy Knight intercepting Kurt Warner – twice – in a playoff game – while Warner was still in full-blown Brees Mode™ (possibly concussed though he might have been) Hakim never drops the ball, because the Defending Super Bowl Champs would have blown the Saints out that day.

2nd quarter, score tied 7-7. Sammy picks Warner at the Saints' 48 and returns the ball all the way to the Rams' 20. The offense proceeds to drive a whopping 5 yards on 4 plays. If not for Sammy taking the INT that far back, Doug Brien doesn't kick the FG to put the Saints up 10-7 in what would eventually be a 3-point win.

4th quarter, the Rams had just scored the first of what would turn out to be 3 straight Rams touchdowns after the Saints offense had packed it in for the day. Saints take the kickoff, can't move the ball, and punt. Hakim takes the ball at the Rams' 26 and returns it 65 yards to the Saints' 9. Sammy promptly picks Warner again, an absolutely insane one-hander across his body at the Saints' 11. Have I mentioned that it would eventually turn out to be a 3-point win?

Oh, and by the way, Sammy also tied with Norman Hand for the team lead in combined tackles/assists that day (each with 3 solos and 2 assists.)

Sammy's performance that day was as good as you'll ever see from a defensive back in a playoff game. It's a shame that his performance will forever be overshadowed by Brooks-to-Jackson and Brian Milne.

Which is why I'm so glad that the franchise is showing Sammy the love, because his whole Saints career seems doomed to purgatory. Too late for the Dome Patrol, too early for the Championship Era™. Too recent to benefit from the romanticism of the Bad Ole Days like Myers and/or Whitsell, too long ago for some of the younger wave of Saints fans to really remember and appreciate. (Has it really been a decade already?) And outshone at the pinnacle of his career by a bunch of guys who weren't nearly as good as he was. Damn.

But Sammy is every bit as deserving of Saints HoF status as anybody who's ever put on the black & gold.

Which isn't to say that he's the best player to ever play for the Saints, because of course he's not. But you can't tell The Story of the Saints without him. He's arguably the best player the Saints have ever had at his position, which as far as I'm concerned puts him right there with Rickey Jackson, Drew Brees, Morten Andersen and Reggie……………… Sutton.

So good on you, Sammy Knight. And thanks for everything. You were the balls.

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