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John DeShazier: Carl Nicks, Jonathan Vilma had massive impact on Saints

Posted May 23, 2017

Guard, linebacker were key components of franchise's Super Bowl team

Quality and quantity.

An abundance of one, or both, was a thread that wove together 2017 Saints Hall of Fame honorees Jonathan Vilma, Carl Nicks and Jay Romig.

Former players Vilma, a linebacker, and Nicks, a guard, were selected to the Hall of Fame. And Romig, who is in his 41st year with the New Orleans Saints and is the franchise’s longest-tenured employee, is the recipient of the Joe Gemelli “Fleur-De-Lis” Award, given annually to a person who has contributed to the betterment of the Saints’ organization. Romig’s late father, Jerry, the Saints’ longtime public address announcer, received the Gemelli Award in 2009.

Combined, Nicks (four seasons with the Saints, from 2008-11) and Vilma (six seasons, 2008-13), who are members of the Saints’ All-50th team, were Saints for three decades-and-change less than has been Romig. But their on-field impacts were glaring during their tenure, with each significantly contributing to New Orleans’ Super Bowl-winning season in 2009.

Nicks, a fifth-round pick (No. 164 overall) in 2008, became a starter in the fourth game of his rookie season and started 61 of 64 games in which he appeared. He was a two-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler at left guard for an offense that ranked first, first, sixth and first in total offense from ’08-’11.

But Nicks, who departed as a free agent in 2012 courtesy of a lucrative five-year deal with Tampa Bay, said he was surprised by his selection.

“I found out by phone and at first I thought it was a joke and I told them to stop playing with me, in not-so-nice words,” he said. “But it’s extremely humbling and it’s almost unreal.

“I didn’t play here too long and how I left – I just thought, maybe they would just like to forget about the time I was here.”

But Nicks is appreciative of his time with the Saints.

“(General Manager) Mickey Loomis and (Coach) Sean Payton, I owe them a lot,” he said. “Those four years I was here were the best four years of my life.”

The dominating blocker had an impact on his teammates as well as opponents.

“He was everything you wanted in an offensive guard,” Vilma said. “Forget the physical – big, athletic, quick. He also had that attitude about him. We always said he was one of those guys that had a defensive mentality, where it wasn’t just about the Xs and Os and blocking your guy and making sure that he had the right fit. He wanted to take on that challenge of going against the best defensive tackle.

“He wanted to make sure that everybody knew he was the best guard out there on the field, whether it was in practice or in the games. When you have that attitude on the offensive line, it makes us better on the defensive side and then in the games, it made it that much easier because he was so much better than the other guards that we would face.”

Like Nicks, Vilma also proved to be a perfect fit for the Saints during his tenure. After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Jets, who made him a first-round draft pick in ’04, Vilma was acquired by the Saints in a trade and appeared in 70 games, with 68 starts.

He compiled 530 tackles (331 solo), eight sacks, six interceptions, 27 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. But more than the numbers, the two-time Pro Bowler (’09 and ’10) was the Saints’ defensive leader, often called upon to match wits with quarterback Drew Brees during practice.

“We have a whole bunch of stories but he was a leader, in my eyes, when I was a young guy,” Nicks said. “He brought this team to another level on defense and we owe him a lot.”

Vilma was selected a defensive captain four times for the Saints. During the Super Bowl regular season, he had 130 tackles, three interceptions and eight passes defensed and in the playoffs, he added 14 tackles, an interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“Very humbling,” Vilma said of his selection. “I wasn’t expecting to be in the Saints Hall of Fame. When you play, you don’t think about those things, you think about just winning and being around your guys. So I never expected to be put into the Saints Hall of Fame.

“I received a call about a month ago, two months ago and very humbled, very excited. Of course, I told my family – they told me not to tell anybody else, but I had to tell my family. They were very excited for me because they understood the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that I put into it here. I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed my time.

“I played here for six years and we had some of the best times – I know I had some of my best times playing football here because, one, we were winning and two, we had really good guys and it was just a good atmosphere all around, on the field, off the field. We would always talk about, back then, that we would win for the city, we would do it for the city. We were serious.

“That wasn’t just lip service because when we went out, when we went to dinner, when we hung out, we embraced the city and they embraced us, they enjoyed that. We gave 110 percent on the field and most of the times, we would win. Unfortunately, sometimes we would lose but even those times when we would lose, they respected how much time and effort we put in and how much we worked. That was something that I really enjoyed and appreciated.”

While Nicks and Vilma saw their Saints tenures shortened via free agency and injury, Romig’s service has been continuous for 41 years. Romig, the team’s administrative director, has manned myriad positions for the franchise during his tenure.

“It’s true, I have done a lot of things,” he said. “I even cut the grass one day back at the old facility (on David Drive). I got on a tractor and cut grass.”

That example best exemplifies Romig’s willingness to fit any required job description.

“It’s a job but I don’t feel like I’m working,” he said. “Every day is a reward to get up and go work with these guys. To work for (former Saints owner) John Mecom when he first started, and then for (current owner) Mr. (Tom) Benson, who has been awesome. The friends and family you make in the organization, that’s my reward.”

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