Saints News | New Orleans Saints | NewOrleansSaints.com

John DeShazier: Heath Shuler visits New Orleans Saints practice

Former Saints quarterback, Congressman now an executive with Duke Energy

It wasn't a totally foreign land that Heath Shuler stepped onto Tuesday.

He was a new Orleans Saints quarterback in 1997-98, one of the signature acquisitions made by then-Coach Mike Ditka. He knows his way to the team's practice facility in Metairie.

But the building he remembers from then, and the buildings he saw Tuesday, are a testament to the growth of the franchise and the expanded ownership of Tom Benson.

"It's unbelievable where the facility is," Shuler said, laughing. "It was kind of that shell and now, the Pelicans facility is there, too, and the indoor facility looks so great. Not having those 100 percent humidity days and 95 degrees, to be able to practice inside is great."

It was the first time that Shuler has been to the facility since he left the franchise. His five-year career was cut short due to a foot injury that he suffered as a Saint in 1997 (he was unable to play in '98, retiring after re-injuring the foot with the Oakland Raiders in training camp).

Shuler, currently a senior vice president at Duke Energy, was in town to attend an industry conference with Edison Electric Institute. But he made it a priority to visit his old workplace.

"I called (Saints senior vice president of communications) Greg Bensel a couple of weeks back and told him I was going to be in town, I wanted to stop in and say hello to everyone," he said. "I had not been back since I was a Saint, and I wanted to come back and first of all, congratulate Mr. Benson and Sean Payton and the whole crew there for an outstanding win in the Super Bowl. Tell them how proud I was of the team and the organization.

"It was great. It was great to see Mr. Benson and kind of my highlight was getting a chance to see a quarterback like Drew Brees perform over his career – a future Hall of Famer, just absolutely incredible.

"It was that offense that you see on TV and the great throws. Brees inside the red zone went 4-for-4 with three touchdown passes, just incredible accuracy that he's been able to display over the years. You can see how competitive he was during practice."

Shuler went on from the NFL to become a leader in a different arena: politics.

First, he went back to Tennessee to where he had real estate companies and got involved in development and charity work. Then, he went home to North Carolina and, after a pretty strong push, decided to go into politics.

"We were giving back to the community in a lot of different ways with the foundation that we have, and had people ask if I'd run for Congress," Shuler said. "At that point in time I had zero political experience, and ended up getting a phone call from several people encouraging me, one of those being President Clinton. And I ended up looking at how I could give back to my community and ended up running for Congress.

"I was that middle-of-the-road, in-the-middle type member of Congress – not right, not left but dead in the middle. It was a great experience, being able to give back to the community, representing your country and your community and state, it was a really big deal."

That wasn't a typo. President Clinton made a personal call to the potential candidate.

"That was kind of unique," Shuler said. "I had been asked by both political parties at different times in my life to run for office, and I always grew up as a conservative democrat. And that's what I ended up running as."

He was a congressman from 2007-13. Once he left office, it was on to the next challenge.

"I've kind of had that entrepreneurial, business spirit my whole life and after leaving Congress, I kind of wanted to be involved and thought there were a couple of different industries that were very intriguing and had bright futures ahead," he said. "The health-care sector and the energy sector were two of those.

"So I applied for another job and ended up being with one of the execs for Duke Energy, just kind of educating myself and next thing I know, they offered me a job. Just incredible timing, in the right place at the right time and I couldn't be happier and blessed with the opportunity I have with a great company. We're the largest utility now in the U.S."

It gave the former Saints quarterback a chance to come back and express gratitude to some of the people who helped him in New Orleans, and to talk to the man who made it all possible.

"It was a great conversation," Shuler said of his conversation with Benson. "I was congratulating him on the Super Bowl victory and the success with the Saints and the Pelicans. He was very gracious and glad we could reconnect after many years. That was important to me, to say hello to someone that had given me such an opportunity and just be able to say thank you, and reconnect.

 "It was a great outing. It was certainly a day I'll never forget."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content

Advertising