Check out photos from the 2022 New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. Saints legends Fred McAfee and Devery Henderson join the Saints Hall of Fame as Kevin Mangum receives the Joe Gemelli "Fleur de Lis" award for his vast contributions to the Saints organization.
By Michael Hull, special to NewOrleansSaints.com
When Fred McAfee suited up for his first game after being drafted in the sixth round out of Mississippi College in 1991, it was a monumental moment on multiple levels. Of course, playing in an NFL game is something only a select few ever achieve, but it was also McAfee's first time even attending an NFL game.
"I didn't know what to expect," McAfee said. "I had never been to an NFL game before… It's been a journey, but it's been a great ride."
The current vice president of player engagement for the Saints, McAfee was announced as a inductee of the Saints Hall of Fame for the 2022 season in June and was inducted at a luncheon on Friday and will be recognized along with wide receiver Devery Henderson Sunday pregame. The running back and special teams ace spent 16 years in the league, featuring 10 years over two stints with New Orleans. He made his mark on special teams, tallying 210 career stops on coverage units, two forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and one blocked punt recovery. He had 115 during his second run in New Orleans from 2000-06, the fourth-most in the league over that span after starting his NFL career leading the Black and Gold in rushing as a rookie as the franchise captured their first division title in 1991. McAfee made the Pro Bowl in 2002, won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 1995 and spent time with the Cardinals and Buccaneers. He has been affiliated with the Saints as a player or staff member for all nine of the team's division titles, including three as a player and six on staff.
McAfee played in 122 games with the Saints and 194 in total. At running back, he totaled 304 carries for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns, 35 receptions for 211 yards and on special teams added 119 kick returns for 2,422 yards.
Heralding from Philadelphia, Miss., McAfee was inducted to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. He didn't even play football as a freshman or sophomore in high school, playing in the high school band his first two years at Philadelphia High School. In fact, McAfee once said in an interview with the Clarion Ledger: "If you were going to pick a team, if I wasn't (picked) last, I'd be close to last."
Despite the late start, he made the all-district team as a senior and helped lead his school to the Class 2A State Championship game in 1985. McAfee was also a track star, winning two state titles in the pole vault.
Nicknamed "Fast Freddie," McAfee ran wild at Mississippi College: He compiled 4,416 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground over his career in Clinton. McAfee won the Gulf South Conference (GSC) Freshman of the Year, and he set two school records his senior year — rushing yards (1,583) and touchdowns (17). He was a finalist for the Harlon Hill trophy, given each year to Division II's player of the year, in 1990 and was inducted to the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame in 2011.
"Fred McAfee was a standout football student-athlete and is still the career leader in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns," the GSC said in an institutional statement when McAfee was inducted into the GSC Hall of Fame in 2017. "He exemplifies what the Gulf South Conference stands for in the areas of, 'compete, graduate and impact.'"
McAfee has worked in player development since retiring in 2006 and won Super Bowl XLIV with the club in 2009. One player he really had an effect on was former Usama Young, a former Saints safety and current NFL manager of player engagement and relations.
Young said McAfee was the first person Young met when he got to New Orleans, and he said he watched McAfee and remembered how he supported him throughout his entire NFL experience.
"He was my mentor, so to speak," Young said. "He helped me with so many different things from transitioning to the league to finding a place to live to car rentals… Every little aspect from being a prospect to being a pro, he had a hand in that."
Coach Dennis Allen said when he first came to New Orleans in 2006 as assistant defensive line coach, he remembered seeing McAfee, not really knowing who he was, coming to work every day with a smile on his face.
"We talk all the time about knowing who you are, and it's the one thing I would say about Fred is he knows exactly who he is," Allen said. "He's comfortable with exactly who he is, and he goes about and does that job the best that he can possibly do it with a smile on his face."
McAfee's work with the organization will continue into 2022 and beyond, and he will be properly recognized as a member of the Saints Hall of Fame this weekend, when New Orleans hosts the Las Vegas Raiders.
"It was one of those careers like the little engine that kept going," McAfee said in the 2015 interview with the Clarion Ledger. "I was probably one of the most unlikely people to ever make the NFL or anything like that… Sometimes you can't judge a person's heart or want to. And you don't find that out until they actually do it."
As part of the New Orleans Saint alumni weekend and Hall of Fame ceremonies, several Saints legends joined the team at their walkthrough practice on Saturday, October 29 ahead of Week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders.