I always thought Sammy Knight was one of the smartest New Orleans Saints ever. And eight years after he departed the team, my thoughts on the retired NFL safety were confirmed.
The once-undrafted free agent reeled off truism after truism during several interviews with media before-and-after the press conference to announce that Knight had been selected for the clubâ€™s Hall of Fame.
Knight was quick to point out that the Saints' free agent class of 1997 was outstanding. The playmaking free safety Knight, linebacker Keith Mitchell, quarterback Jake Delhomme and defensive tackle Laâ€™Roi Glover were all undrafted rookies. Each of the quartet were selected for at least one Pro Bowl with Glover making six trips to Hawai'i.
Forever a student of the game, Knight knew the stats of his fellow free agents inside and out.
Sammy Knight was always prepared. His ability to be in the right place at the right time was uncanny. In his NFL career, he had 42 interceptions, 28 of those with the Saints. Knight also forced 12 fumbles. This week, as I searched for archived video of Knight, the visuals didnâ€™t lie. Sammy Knight was, most of the time, at least one step ahead of the quarterback.
In September of 2001, Knight was several steps ahead of Bills quarterback Rob Johnson in Buffalo. That day, Knight did what he always did best, roaming the field and reading the quarterbackâ€™s eyes. That day, Knight had 3 interceptions. Each time, it appeared that he, not the opponent, was the intended receiver.
Was Sammy Knight a gambler? â€œI never looked at it as gambling. I looked at it as doing my study," said Knight. "There was an 80-20 percent chance I was going to meet with (the ball).â€
As good as Knight was, the Saints still thought Sammy was expendable at the end of the 2002 season. Then-head coach Jim Haslett replaced Knight by trading with New England for Tebucky Jones. That was one of Haslettâ€™s biggest personnel mistakes in New Orleans. Haslett replaced a real football player with true instincts for one who looked like a player but lacked the feel for the game to make a difference.
Knight went on to play 6 more years with 4 NFL teams. But he said none of those stops could equal in one where he experienced the passion that New Orleans Saints fans had for their team. â€œI have the greatest love for the city of New Orleans," explained Knight. "I definitely feel that they are not only great fans but great people. They will give you the shirt off their back. I have so many found memories of the city, I love the city.â€
New Orleans loved him back, too.
It took seven years for the Saints to replace Knight with another big play safety. Infact, that man, Darren Sharper, tweeted his congratulations to Knight. As players, they are kindred spirits.
The actual draft of 1997 will go down as one of the clubâ€™s worst. It began with guard Chris Naeole in the first round follwed by defensive end Jared Tomich and safety Rob Kelly in the second. Mike Ditka then selected running back Troy Davis, quarterback Danny Wuerffel, wide receiver Keith Poole and tight end Nicky Savoie.
None of the chosen had significant NFL careers.
But the street free agent safety from USC sure did. As a result, Knight has finally been drafted -- into the esteemed group representing the very best of the New Orleans Saints.
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