Jonathan Vilma speaks with Daniel Sallerson on the Black and Blue Report for Wednesday, Oct. 25. Vilma and former teammate Carl Nicks will be inducted Friday, Oct. 27 during a ceremony at Club XLIV. For tickets, click here.
Jon you've had a while now to prepare for this week, what are some of the emotions going through you right now?
"It's really nostalgia. Thinking back about the good times that I had back with all my years with the Saints. Really going back to my teammates and really enjoying those moments. It's funny, of course the Super Bowl win comes back to mind, that was a great time but, I really think about how much fun I had with my teammates in practice, in the locker room, and how we really enjoyed hanging out with each other."
You talk about nostalgia, has that helped you in writing a speech? Have you finished it? Are you still working on it?
"Still working on it. It's one of those where the close people to me know how much getting into the Hall of Fame means to me and they know how excited I am so it's just a matter of expressing that in my speech. Still working on it but nothing too crazy."
I'm sure people have been talking about your experience in New Orleans since the news broke about you being inducted into the Hall of Fame. When people ask you about your time with the Saints, what do you tell them?
"It was the best time I had, as a professional, it was the best time I had…I always talk about my time during the Hurricanes [University of Miami], I had a ton of fun with the Hurricanes, and even now when I think back it's similar to Saints always thinking about how fun it was going into practice, competing, in the locker room hanging out, after games, our team dinners, everything about football. That's what made it easy when I retired to think back on the times and there are no 'woulda, coulda, shoulda's.'"
You mentioned the Super Bowl and of course that's every players goal to get that Super Bowl ring; during that season was there a certain point when you thought, "man, this team is special, I think we can do something here." Was there a certain point where that sort of clicked for you and your teammates?
"Yeah! It's funny because I think a lot of my teammates back then, all felt like we had something special at the same time. That was when we went to Houston, practice against Houston, and played them in the second preseason game. We had practiced against each other and as I've always said we were extremely competitive, very, very competitive. We didn't realize how hard we were practice until we went to Houston, practiced against them, and they couldn't keep up with our pace. We ended up getting in fights and all types of stuff but the pace of practice, how physical we were defensively, how physical our offense was, they couldn't keep up. In the game, we blew them out in the game. That was around the time we all started thinking like, "Hmm, maybe we have something here, maybe we have something special."
You certainly did that's for sure. Do you have a favorite memory from that Super Bowl season? I know there's so much whether it's getting there from the NFC Championship game or the actual game itself but is there one memory that sticks out to you?
"One memory I would have from that season would be we played the Patriots in New Orleans and I remember playing against the Patriots twice a year when I was with the Jets and I remember how tough a battle it was every time. Lost most of them, won a few. It was such a grind, such a battle. I remember we were preparing for them, everyone had a little different mentality going into that game because obviously you're going against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their defense and offense. They had Randy Moss at the time so I remember thinking that whole time, "This is going to be one of those knock down drag out fights. We're really going to have to battle them and prepare." Which we did, we practiced hard. We went into the game and we blew them out. I remember it was a gratifying feeling, it was the first time I ever saw Tom Brady get taken out of the game early. We blew them out, they put in the backups. It was of those games that I was like, "Wow, we really did that to them we really put it on them." Because that never happens. The times I've played them, the times I've seen it, never happened where a Patriots team was being beaten so badly that Tom Brady was taken out of the game early."
That's a rare thing to see and really cool to see you guys able to do that to him. Another guy being inducted is Carl Nicks, what was it like trying to shed a block from that massive man when you were playing with him?
"That was part of the competition. We would go into a training camp and Carl and I would go at it. Carl, myself, Jonathan Goodwin, Jahri Evans, we would go at it. Carl in particular because he was young, feisty, extremely athletic. He had that defensive mentality playing offensive line and those are the best offensive linemen to have, they're the best type of teammates to have because they want to go out there and not just block you, they want to pancake you. They want to let everyone know they blocked you, they want to dance and shine, just like a defensive player when they get a sack. Going against him was tough, tough battle, tough match up, but as I said it made it a lot easier going into the season."
What about this year for the Saints? Started out 0-2 a little bit rough but now have won four in a row and the defense has really stepped up. What have you seen from this Saints team?
"I've seen them come together. There were many years when you go 0-2, lose a couple games and the finger pointing starts. All of a sudden the locker room becomes divided and you end up with a tumultuous season. I saw the guys that went 0-2 and you didn't hear a peep. Kenny Vaccaro got benched he said, "I got benched, I've got to play better and I'll step up." He did. All the players to a man, they decided to step up and figure out how to win games as opposed to pointing the finger."
What does that say about head coach Sean Payton and guys like Drew Brees that after an 0-2 start things can unravel but then really with them there's never a panic? Now you see they're the top of the NFC South and contending in the NFC.
"It's great because Sean always preached wanting to bring in the right guys, bring in good guys, good players, good teammates. He's done that. There was a period where there were some guys that were questionable. To Sean's credit, to Mickey's credit, I would tell them, "Hey, I don't think this guy would be on the team that I was on." They got rid of them, quickly. To get rid of bad apples, bring in some young guys, bring in some good veterans, that is something to Sean's credit, he's always tried to do. It's paid dividends."
Speaking of good guys, your Miami Hurricane's 6-0 right now and ranked in the top 10, new coach Mark Richt, how about your Hurricanes? I'm sure you're pretty pleased with how they're performing this season.
"Oh man I'm smiling cheek to cheek, ear to ear. It is good to see, refreshing to see because those close games they would find a way to lose in the past and now they're finding ways to win those close games. I always said I start the season, people would ask me, "What're your expectations for Miami?" I would say, "Improvement." They would say, "What does that mean?" I would say, "Whatever we can tangibly see as improvement and go 10-3 as opposed to 9-4, whether it's getting into the AAC title game as opposed to being a play away from it or a loss away from it," so anything that would show improvement this season, they have done, you can see it, it's tangible right now so I'm very excited."
SAINTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONIES
The annual Saints Hall of Fame Alumni Celebration and Induction is set for Friday, Oct. 27 from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at Club XLIV and Encore in Champions Square.
Catered by 23-25 restaurants and caterers, the event includes all you can eat, along with beverages, a silent auction of outstanding sports memorabilia and door prizes.
New Orleans Saints alumni from around the country will attend as part of Saints Hall of Fame weekend.
Additionally, the induction of Super Bowl XLIV heroes Carl Nicks and Jonathan Vilma will take place at 7 p.m. sharp, followed by the Alumni Celebration from 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Longtime New Orleans Saints employee Jay Romig will receive the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis award for his various contributions to the Saints organization and to the Saints Hall of Fame.
Doors will open by 6:30 p.m. If you want to attend the induction or are media seeking to cover the induction, please arrive by no later than 7 p.m. Dress is casual dressy, with no shorts or T-shirts allowed.
The cost to attend is $75 and tickets are available by cash or check by calling (504) 471-2192, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.saintshalloffame.com. You can also purchase tickets via credit card at the following link:
Parking is in Garage 1A on the Poydras St. side of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the garage closest to Champions Square. The parking cost is $15. More information on the event can be found here.
Photos of Jonathan Vilma with the New Orleans Saints. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)