Former Saints LB Scott Fujita**
Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita joins me now via the telephone. Scott, always good to talk to you.
"My pleasure. Always good to be here with you guys."
Scott, Sean Kelley and I have had some of your former teammates on this week and some of them have shared stories with us. Is there a favorite story or moment that sticks out to you from the Super Bowl experience?
"Oh, I wouldn't even know where to begin. That week I wrote sort of a blog series, like diary or journal entries. Every once and a while I go back and read it and the amount of memories that were made it that week alone, much less the rest of the season, it was pretty incredible. One that I always laugh when I tell the story – that week when we were in Miami, all weekend with the Super Bowl, like a road trip we have secure hotel rooms so no one can get up to your floor or your hotel rooms. We were spending the whole week there and I have a wife and kids and I remember I wanted to go down to their floor to visit my wife and perhaps sleep in the bed with my wife with the kids in the next room. So I try to go downstairs and security will not let me leave the floor. I say, I'm going down to spend the night with my wife and kids. I had been married to her for like 12 years at that time and they wouldn't let me go. I said, 'listen, I've been married for 12 years and I have a couple of kids, I'm going down to spend the night with my wife.' He said, 'we're going to have to clear it with Sean Payton.' I said, 'I tell you what, it's not going to be a problem.' So, yes, the rules may have been bent for me in that occasion."
And everything was OK when you talked to Sean?
"Everything was all good. Never heard about it again."
That's a good start. That's a good story, Scott, I think everyone we've heard from has had a different way of handling the week leading up to the game. Some it was nerves, some it was anxiety and ready to just get the game going. How was it for you?
"For me it was just a fun experience. I took everything in, as much as I could. Honestly I felt a lot more pressure with the NFC championship game with the Vikings, than I did with the Super Bowl. I think that's because it was played at home, in the Super Bowl, so that was our big moment and we had to deliver. We had to give all the fans and the community a big night then. And then to go to Miami for the Super Bowl, I just felt like it was hanging out and relaxing, having a good time. Obviously we were there to focus and Sean did a good job keeping the guys focused. Especially on game day, I just felt loose and relaxed and I think most of the guys on the team did as well. Walking around during pregame with some my teammates, who had been in the league for a long time and this is our first time getting to that pivotal moment of our careers and say I think I have actually found the fountain of youth. Running around and feeling young again, all the aches and pains we had all season suddenly just vanished. As much as everyone said to conserve your energy because the Super Bowl game, the pomp and circumstance, and the longer halftime, I felt like the whole thing went by in the blink of an eye. I felt fresh and rejuvenated all the way through. I was honestly like a kid who was out there running around for the love of the game again, which is a special feeling."
Absolutely and you said the team was pretty focused and relaxed. Do you think that had a lot to do with how you played in the game and maybe helped you guys with winning the Super Bowl?
"Yeah, I think it did. I don't think you ever want to go into a game like that feeling too stiff. We were very diligent and focused on our preparations but the great thing about Sean and the whole staff is that they always find a way to keep it just loose enough just to keep guys relaxed and keep guys loose. If it's not fun, it's really not worth doing. I felt like we were a team that really really tight-knit and we had tons of maturity. There were enough young, fun guys to keep us loose and it was just a really good mix of players with really good chemistry and we cared about each other and just wanted to have a good time. I think all those things kind of came together and that's what made us so successful."
Scott, you guys are down four at the half, 10-6. Coach Payton calls Ambush to start the second half with the onside kick. Is that when the momentum shifted for you and the team or was there another player moment at second half that gave you guys a momentum swing?
"I don't know if I'd call it the momentum change or not. I think that call was going to be made whether we were up 20 or down 20. I think Sean probably went into that game with full intent of playing that onside kick at some point of the game. The moment he did it, obviously it was crucial. It was pivotal and for those of us watching on the sidelines, watching it happen, to me the message was sent, whether he got that thing or not, he was going to win this game. So I think just the mind-set, the momentum, we got up and we are going to win this game. Again, it was just the mindset and that's kind of the genius from Sean as the coach. He's willing to do things that maybe many others wouldn't be willing to do and that's because of the kind of confidence he has in his guys."
When the clock struck zero and you guys were Super Bowl champs, what was that moment like for you? Obviously your family was there to celebrate for you, what was that moment like?
"Obviously it's special. Especially with a team like that. You play your whole career for that game and you always dream of a moment like that. A lot of us were getting toward the end of our careers and you almost start to have that desperation like, 'hey, it might never happen for me.' Obviously it's really special and to share that moment with and Scott Shanle and Jonathan Vilma, and Drew (Brees), and all of these guys that are such good friends of mine and also Joe Vitt, because he's the guy that drafted me in Kansas City and I spent a few years with him there and then four of the best years of my life with him in New Orleans. To share all of those key moments, I will never forget that. And once the game ended and the confetti starting falling, then it's just like a desperate attempt to find my family. You've heard of buffalo storming the field and you're running around trying to find your wife and kids and it's just one of those moments, or one of the things you'll never forget."
How long did it take you to find your family?
"Probably four or five minutes. My twin girls were just over two at the time so I wanted to get to them quickly for photo ops. We did get plenty of pictures and I just loved seeing them catching confetti falling out of the sky. Nothing gets better than that."
Absolutely. Now, you were one of the first guys to sign once Sean Payton became coach. Did that make this Super Bowl triumph that much more special, Scott?
"No doubt about it and I love to be able to look back at everybody and say, 'I told you so.' Everyone thought that we were crazy when my wife and I decided to go to New Orleans, at the time that we did but for us it was more than just football. We sensed that we could be a part of something really big and not just in rebuilding the team and the community, but just being a part the community and they really just adopted us and took us in, so to be able to deliver to a community that was so good to us, it just felt really, really good. Yeah, and to take that leap of faith with the Saints and for them to take that leap of faith with me and helping get my career back on the fast track. Me and my family, we're just so appreciative to be able to share that opportunity together."
Now looking back also, you were mic'd up by NFL Films. How were you chosen for that?
"I don't know how they chose the guys that do that but Greg Bensel came to me the week before the game and said, 'hey Fuji, they want to mic you up for the game.' At first I said, 'no way would I do that,' because I'm known to say some over the top things on the field – I like to keep it fun, I like to keep it loose, I like to talk trash in a friendly way. It's never mean-spirited, I just like to have a good time. So I was a little reluctant to be in Mic'd Up and just have the stuff that I say out for the world to see. But Greg said, 'listen, you're going to want to do this. Trust me, you should do this.' I'm so glad I did and I'm so glad he had that advice for me, because I was given all of the footage – everything I was mic'd up for. Probably about four or five hours of time. I'm talking 90 minutes before kickoff, the whole postgame celebration, everything audio and video, celebrating with my family. I mean that's footage that is just priceless, so to have that and go back and be able to look at that with my family, I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world, so I'm so glad that Greg talked me into it."
Now when you watch the final airing of what they did choose to air from when you were mic'd up. Was there anything you wish they wouldn't have used or is there anything that you wish they would have used that they didn't actually air?
"No they didn't. Yeah, just going back and watching it, it's all just light-hearted, fun chatter, which I enjoyed partaking in throughout my career. So it's one of those things that's like, 'I don't know if I want people hearing this stuff.' But then once you see it on film, it's like it's actually not that big of a deal. It just shows that it's fun to be a kid out there at recess."
Did you even think about that during the game?
"No, it's funny because during like warmups and stuff, it's just kind of a foreign feeling. Not that you feel the mic at all and once you get into the game you kind of block all of that stuff out."
Yeah, absolutely. Now what about the parade? What was that like? Seems like it was just a huge Mardi Gras parade for everyone when they came back and it was rolling down the streets of New Orleans. So you lived in the Warehouse District, in the CBD, how was that like having a Super Bowl parade going down the streets that you lived on?
"Well, I think from the moment the game ended into the next days, weeks, and possibly months, it just felt like a nonstop party here. The parade was certainly that – it was just New Orleans on full display. From the moment that we landed back in New Orleans from Miami, I mean thousands, possibly 100 thousand people there to greet us at the airport. It felt like the parade had begun at that moment. But then on the actual day of the Super Bowl victory parade, I mean what a good time that was. I think most of us don't remember everything for obvious reasons, but we had a good time. I remember at one point, on the linebacker float, we get into this one section where there is this little bit of turnabout and the parade is trying to make a turnaround and we can tell it's going to take a couple minutes and Jonathan Vilma and I looked at each other and we said, 'screw it, let's go for it,' and we jumped off the float. We went down into the street and just celebrated with a few thousand fans and it was just a blast. I'm sure it was a security issue and the Saints security wasn't thoroughly thrilled with us, but it was just kind of the connection we had with that community when we did that."
That's awesome. That's a great story. I know California is your home now, but do you think you'll always have a special connection with New Orleans? Weren't your twins born here?
"Yeah, my kids were born there and I love for them to be able to say that when they stand up in front of class to say that they were born there and spent the first few years of their life there – it's special and I've never been shy about talking about my commitment and affection for the city. I'll be back frequently for the rest of my life and so will my kids."
Great stuff, Scott.