Joe Horn needed a hug, and Sean Payton delivered.
By the time Horn was introduced Tuesday as the latest player elected to the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, the hard feelings over his departure from New Orleans in the winter of 2007 had melted away.
Payton took care of that a day earlier, initiating a backslapping embrace as Horn walked off a steamy golf course where both had taken part in the Hall's fundraising tournament.
"When I came back to the city, I've been gone for a while and I didn't really know how … the atmosphere would be because of the some of the situations and how I left," Horn said Tuesday. "But after me and Coach Payton embracing one another and smiling and talking about the good times, I felt so good leaving that golf course, I talked to my agent and told him I'm happy to be retiring as a Saint."
Horn and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said they're working on a ceremonial contract that will allow Horn, 38, to formally rejoin the club before officially announcing his retirement.
Playing in New Orleans for seven seasons from 2000 to 2006, Horn became wildly popular for his clutch catches and end zone dances on the field, and his approachability off it.
During his time with the Saints, he caught 523 passes for 7,622 yards and scored a team-record 50 receiving TDs while being named to four Pro Bowls.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans in 2005, Horn traveled from San Antonio — where the Saints were temporarily based — to Houston, where he spent eight hours talking to hundreds of storm victims that had been taken shelter in the Astrodome.
Horn also was an outspoken advocate for the club's eventual return to New Orleans in 2006, which would be his last season with the club.
"I wanted to see the team come back and go through everything everybody else was going through. It wasn't just about football," Horn recalled. "For us to sit back …. in Texas and not be able to come back and go through that, I didn't think that was right. And once we got back, it was all worth it."
The Saints went to their first NFC championship that season, although Horn did not play in it because of a nagging groin injury that also kept him out the last four games of the regular season and the Saints' divisional round playoff win over Philadelphia.
Soon after, Horn was released and said he felt betrayed by Payton. Horn said then that Payton apparently felt New Orleans wasn't big enough for the two of them and that the coach, then going into his second season with the club, wanted to prove he could "win without Joe Horn."
"I was hurt about some things and I said some things that I wished I could take back, because on a professional level, looking outside-in, Coach Payton came in with a blueprint and he's executing that blueprint to perfection," Horn said. "I understand that now after three years. …. The hatchet is buried. I'm done with that."
The Saints Hall of Fame also honored longtime equipment managers Dan "Chief" Simmons and Glennon "Silky" Powell with the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award for service to the franchise.
Simmons has been with the Saints 37 seasons and Powell 35, joining the club long before its first ever winning season in 1987. Both said they'd consider retiring if the Saints ever won a Super Bowl. Now that they've tasted a championship, they've developed an appetite for more.
"Who would have ever thought that 37 years ago that I'd receive a Super Bowl ring and go into the Saints Hall of Fame in the same year," Simmons said. "Who dat would have thought that? I certainly didn't."
Powell joked that he'd need to stick around for two more championship rings in order to give one to each of his three daughters.
Although Horn missed out on the Saints' Super Bowl win by three seasons, he said he was pulling for New Orleans.
"For a city to have to go through so much that this city has gone through, that they can eat the beignets, eat the crawfish, dance on the street and have a ball while the New Orleans Saints are playing for the Super Bowl — that's what I was feeling that night," Horn said.
Even if he had been around for the Super Bowl, Horn wasn't sure that would have been his greatest memory as a player.
Horn wondered aloud whether he could ever top the feeling he had in the Saints' first game in the rebuilt Superdome after the club's return — the scene of "people yelling and screaming that loud and people wanting you to win that game, because that game was personal."
"It was personal because there were so many who said we would never be back here," Horn continued. "And just to come back and be a part of that, to bring this football team back to New Orleans, I felt I could have died on the football field that day and I would have been (satisfied)."