When Bobby Hebert -- nicknamed "The Cajun Cannon" in his playing days -- recalls Jerry Rice fumbling on the 1-yard line, only to have the replay official fail to signal that the play should be reviewed, it's clear the quarterback's playing days and competitive juices aren't that far behind him. Stories from his playing days with the Saints (1985-1992) and the Atlanta Falcons (1993-1996, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 1993) start with the excited sputter of syllables of someone who can't wait to tell you all about them.
The native of Cut Off on Bayou Lafourche quarterbacked the Saints during the team's best years, including its first three playoff appearances in 1987, '91 and '92. When Buddy "D" DiLiberto died Jan. 8 of a heart attack, a touchstone for Saints fans was gone. Buddy D had hosted WWL-AM's Sports Talk during the year and Hap's Point After following Saints games, and, in April, Hebert and Kenny Wilkerson were chosen to replace him.
"Buddy DiLiberto was a journalist; I'm not a journalist," Hebert says in a conference room in the WWL studios. "I'm more of a conversationalist. I feel like when I'm doing Sports Talk, I'm sitting in a living room carrying on a conversation, and I feel like I can communicate with the fan."
And that's just for starters of what Hebert has to say about his career, his new gig and this new, question-filled season for the Saints.
Q: Did you hate the San Francisco 49ers as much as Saints fans hated the 49ers?
A: Oh yeah. The 49ers are the only team I don't have a winning record against. One thing I'm proud of is that we won 20 straight games against AFC opponents. I said, "Why can't we be in the AFC?" We were 11-5, 12-4 and didn't even win the NFC West because the 49ers were so good. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was so frustrating.
Q: During your playing days, what were Monday mornings like?
A: You feel like you've been in a bad car wreck. It was so weird because the way your mind works, when you win, even though you felt like Fred Sanford trying to walk up some stairs, it was a good pain. When you lost, you're like, "Man, I just got the crap beat out of me and we lost the game."
I noticed that when I hit 33, that's when I wasn't healing up the same. When I was young, I'd get beat up Sundays. Monday I felt terrible, but by Wednesday I was ready to go again. By the last three or four years, you start practicing on Wednesday, man, I'm still not feeling too good. Then it changed to Friday, but that last year, it was like Sunday to Sunday.
It wasn't so much the hits, but big, 300-pound guys landing on you, or your head just slamming on the ground. Lawrence Taylor hit me so hard one time that the screw -- the bolt on my helmet on my face mask -- just shattered and that was like I'd have got hit by a 2-by-4 upside the head.
Q: Do you have sections of games that you don't remember after your concussions?
A: Oh yeah, yeah. ... When I got all my front teeth knocked out against Tampa Bay in '89, that was like a bad dream.
Q: That was the game where (back-up quarterback) John Fourcade got injured as well?
A: Yes ... and then I had to go back in because Coach (Jim) Mora didn't want to put (wide receivers) Brett Perriman and Alonzo Hill in at the quarterback. My equilibrium was so off, I couldn't even drop back in a straight line. (Lineman) Stan Brock says, "If Hebert gets hit again he might go into a coma, or something. If you're getting beat, just tackle or hold the guy," so we had, like, four or five holding penalties the second half.
That was weird. It was kind of a rush, like a dream. You're avoiding these guys, and they're flying at you, trying to, you know, cream you. You're looking up at the stands and it's surreal. ... I'm like, "Is it a dream or is it actually happening?"
Q: Fans had that reaction watching Fourcade take off running.
A: I called a couple of plays and they were college plays, they weren't even plays we had. The worst thing is, I remember flying on the airplane from Tampa back to New Orleans, I couldn't even pick up my head. I was so nauseated, and you're throwing up and you know nothing's coming out, you're just gagging. And you have to get a CAT scan, all that stuff. That's sort of scary.
Q: I think it was Stan Brock who said that when you got excited, your Cajun accent came out more. The rest of the offense couldn't tell what you had just called in the huddle because you were so excited.
A: Especially in the late '80s, early '90s, when we were winning, the Superdome was packed. Literally, I'm having to scream in the huddle to call a play, and in the Cajun accent and the French language, there's no "-th" pronunciation, so there's no "three," "these," "though." It's "t'ree," "t'ese," and it's "t'at," it's not "that." Brad Edelman, he would always say, "Hebert, what's the snap count on? T'irdy-t'ree and a t'ird?"
Q: You actually did pretty well with the linemen, but the Saints never had the right running back while you were there, did they?
A: No. We had Dalton Hilliard and Reuben Mayes at the time. Reuben Mayes had the speed, if you almost took the moves that Dalton Hilliard had and Reuben's body, he could have been in the top five. Dalton would make people miss but then they could catch him. Reuben sometimes, unless there was like a clean hole he could jet through, he wasn't quite shifty enough. So, yeah we had success, but we didn't even have a 1,000-yard rusher.
Q: One of the sad things about free agency was that it broke up your team because people who otherwise didn't care what happened to the Saints cared what happened to Bobby and what happened to Rickey Jackson. They cared about players.
A: Morten Andersen -- he's probably the first Saint that has a chance to go to the NFL Hall of Fame -- goes to Atlanta. Rickey Jackson goes to the 49ers, Stan Brock goes to the Chargers. Fans, they like it in Denver that John Elway was always a Bronco. In Miami, they liked that Dan Marino was always a Dolphin.
I left New Orleans in '93 to Atlanta, and it was crazy how I even found out. I was scuba diving in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and I'm looking on CNN and find out they just got Wade Wilson from the Vikings. I think it was (general manager Jim) Finks and that whole thing with the holdout (in 1990). He was that vindictive.
When I held out that year, the players invited me to a Christmas party and he did not like that. The players were on my side, and it drove him crazy. We didn't even have a million-dollar player on the team, salary-wise, so the players -- the Vaughn Johnsons, the Rickey Jacksons, the Pat Swillings -- said, "Hebert, if you don't get paid, none of us is gonna get paid."
Rickey Jackson was the kind of guy who told it like it was. If Rickey didn't like you, he'd tell you. That was one player I knew Coach Mora was afraid of because he didn't know where Rickey was coming from sometimes because he'd be too honest.
Q: Did you play with people who were too thin-skinned?
A: Darren Gilbert -- dude from Cal State-Fullerton. Stan Brock -- if he was having a hard time with a guy, he wanted you to get on him and chew him out to get him motivated. With Darren Gilbert, if he was getting whupped and you told, "C'mon, what the ...?" he would play worse. You had to tell him, "It's alright Darren, keep working hard and you're going to do better."
You have to know how to talk to different individuals. Eric Martin -- we would go back and forth and it was no big deal. It was just a case of (me saying), "You gotta get open."
Q: He's one I always thought was tough as hell because he made so many painful catches over the middle.
A: And he wanted them. A lot of receivers will say, "Don't you dare throw that ball in there with the linebacker and the safety kicking down to hit you in the mouth. He'd say, "I'm going to keep the guy on my hip. Squeeze it in there" (showing his hands like a receiver on one side of his body), "I'm going to run over that guy. I'm bigger than him." And he would deliver the blow. That's how he had to play; he ran a 4.8 (second) 40 (yard dash). He wasn't going to outrun nobody.
Q: Were you conscious of being one of the few Cajuns playing in the league?
A: Yeah. Now there's Jake Delhomme, but my accent's stronger than his.
I really wish I could speak it more fluently and pass it on to my kids or it'll be lost. I've lived different places but I've never lost my accent, I don't know why. Even my kids -- we've lived 12 years in Georgia -- we'll be at the dinner table and they'll say, "Ooh, what did Dad just say?"
Q: Do you feel any pressure to sound less Cajun on the air?
A: No, I don't even try. I think if I tried people would notice that. I think I think I might talk clearer when I'm not as excited, but when I get excited, I know I'll say something that people might say, "What did he say?" But look at Buddy. He might butcher some words, but people want you to be from your heart and passionate about what you do.
I remember Joe Namath. When he started doing national stuff, he was pronouncing words like he was trying to be too thespian. That's not Joe Namath. I'm just going to be myself.
- Bobby Hebert and partner Kenny Wilkerson take over for the late Buddy DiLiberto on WWL-AM's Sports Talk and the New Orleans Saints post-game show.