Uncle Neaky and his wife, Tracy, were there to learn from the owner and his wife, Marilyn, who’d become their mentors, shining examples of how to handle NFL life and fame and remain grounded and true to their faith.
“He spent a lot of time with us,” one of the sons said. “Watching us grow up, he saw us at a very young age. Me and my brother were running around the house, being knuckleheads. He’s seen us grow up through the years.”
The son, who now is an adult?
The father, who remains friend and mentor to the visitor? Gill Byrd, a member of the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, currently cornerbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The visitor, “Uncle Neaky?” Aeneas Williams, NFL Hall of Famer, Class of 2014.
So, the chain link goes this way: Gill Byrd, a four-time All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowler who remains the franchise leader in interceptions (42) and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1998, mentored Williams, who on Feb. 1 was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a 14-year career in which he intercepted 55 passes, recovered 23 fumbles, scored 12 defensive touchdowns and was an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro.
And now Williams, a New Orleans native who attended Alcee Fortier High School, mentors his “nephew” Jairus Byrd, who in five seasons has become a three-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler who has 22 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
Thus, long before Jairus Byrd agreed to terms on a six-year contract to become a Saint, he already had been exposed to some of the best New Orleans has to offer. He has been the recipient of some of the same kind of wisdom – regarding football and life – that his father provided to Williams.
And he’s been in position to receive a double portion, considering he also could turn to his father for some of the same kind of advice.
“Any time you can have someone with those types of experiences, who has that type of experience in the game, to be able to draw advice and knowledge from them, it’s definitely a blessing,” Jairus Byrd said.
“It’s exciting to be able to go there (New Orleans), the place where (Williams) grew up. It makes the transition a little smoother, to have someone that knows the area.”
Williams, who currently lives in St. Louis and is pastor of Spirit of the Lord Family Church, felt it only was natural to continue extending the kindness that he had been extended.
He worked out with Jairus last year, helping prepare him for the season.
“He was out with me last year, for three or four days,” Williams said. “His father was one of the best cornerbacks that I’ve ever seen and one of the guys that poured into my life. So we have to stay in contact.”
Said Jairus, with a twinge of admiration: “I just decided to go out there and work out. He’s still going through the drills.”
That’s not much of a surprise. To see Williams today is to see a man who physically appears still to be able to suit up and play. He played every game in 12 of his 14 NFL seasons, starting 207 of the 211 games he played.
Williams, a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team, played left cornerback for 12 seasons and free safety for two in a career during which he was a Phoenix/Arizona Cardinal from 1991-2000, and a St. Louis Ram from 2001-04.
Better than most, he knows what it means to be a defensive back that’s capable of forcing turnovers. And better than most, he knows what a defensive back can do under Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan was Williams’ defensive backs coach with the Cardinals in 1994 and ’95, the first two of Williams’ All-Pro and Pro Bowl seasons. Williams had nine interceptions in ’94, then followed up with six – two returned for touchdowns – the next year. He also recovered a total of four fumbles in those seasons.
“Many of my friends and relatives (are Saints fans); I’ve always been a Saints fan,” Williams said. “I sold popcorn, peanuts and Cokes as a fan, I played some of my high school games and some of my college games at the Dome.
“(Jairus) is going to my home and my old coach. The opportunity he will have with that particular defense and how he can help the team get back to the Super Bowl, I’m excited for him.
"Any time you have a guy that is around the ball and also causes turnovers, you have a chance to turn the game around. The type of style of defense that I know Coach Rob has, it’s going to allow Jairus to not only just make plays all over the field, but when you have a guy that can make plays in the backfield, it gives you an opportunity to make up for mistakes sometimes. Being a cornerback, I know that having a great safety can afford young cornerbacks a lot more confidence because you know that if you didn’t play it perfectly, you had someone behind you – like a Jairus – that can also back you up.”
Jairus, too, has ample back up. Especially off the field, being able to glean information from Williams has helped him excel.
“I look up to him like a family member, an uncle-type, a mentor to me,” Jairus said.
“Really, we talk about just the game and the parallels in the way you live your life and how life can transcend and carry over to your game. There’s a lot of carryover in those two things so that’s really a lot of stuff we talk about.
“It might not always have to do with football, but it can be about life. Those things correlate.”