Aaron Brooks and John Carney, a pair of former teammates with deep respect and admiration for each other and who were key members of historic New Orleans Saints teams, were inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame on Friday at the annual luncheon held at the Chateau Estates Country Club in Kenner.
Longtime chain gang members Al Nastasi and Tony Piazza were honored with the Joe Gemelli Fleur De Lis Award. Friday's luncheon was the first event of the Hall of Fame weekend. The Saints Gala is Saturday night at Club XLIV at Champions Square and Brooks and Carney wiil be honored at halftime of Sunday's Saints-Bengals game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Brooks, the Saints' starting quarterback from 2000-2005, led the team to the first playoff victory in franchise history, a 31-28 defeat over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He started 82 regular-season games for the Saints and finished his Saints career by completing 56.4 percent of his passes for 19,156 yards, 120 touchdowns and 84 interceptions.
Carney, one of the all-time great kickers in NFL history, spent all or part of eight seasons (2001-06, '09-10) with the Saints. He played in the NFL for 23 seasons and is one of three players to play in four decades. He scored more than 2,000 career points.
"I'm honored and so pleased that we're going into the Hall of Fame together," said Carney, who came in from San Diego for the induction with his wife Holly, their children and numerous friends and family members. "During a few rough spots in my career, Aaron was always there."
Brooks also referenced the close bond and respect he has for Carney. The two were pictured hugging on the cover of Sports Illustrated after Carney kicked the game-winning field goal over the Carolina Panthers in the team's first game folllowing Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Brooks, dressed in a dapper bow tie and blazer, was joined by his wife, their children and numerous friends and family members. He was presented by friend and teammate Michael Lewis.
Brooks said he was proud that he was able to "change the mind-set and history of New Orleans Saints football. ... What I didn't want to do was change who I was as an individual. ... My goal was to bring everyone together."
Rita Benson LeBlanc, Saints owner/vice chairman of the board, told the attendees about how Brooks helped create the franchise's winning legacy by leading the team to its playoff defeat of the Rams. She described Carney as a "stoic competitior with a heart of gold."
Carney, wearing a pin-stripe suit and black and gold fleur-de-lis tie, was presented by his uncle Ken Lake. Carney spoke about how special it was to play for the Saints and owner Tom Benson, who personally greeted him on the field at his first practice with the Saints in 2001.
"I knew there was something different about this team and this ownership," Carney said.
That feeling grew stronger over time and Carney said he's "never seen a community and a team mesh so well. ... I love it down here."