METAIRIE - Before the first defensive snap of a Monday Night Football game with the New York Giants on Nov. 28, New Orleans Saints linebacker Ramon Humber was as anonymous as any third-year NFL player could be.
Until that night, when the former North Dakota State standout got his first start in 11 games with the Saints, Humber was known more for his special teams contributions than for what he did on defense - and for being involved in one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history.
Humber, who was with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, was at the bottom of the pile fighting for the onside kick Saints coach Sean Payton called to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV - which touched off a rally that led to their 31-17 victory.
After being released by the Colts early in the 2010 season, Humber wound up with the Saints when they were hit by injuries in the final month of the season. He played in three games, primarily on special teams.
But he was relatively unknown to most fans until defensive coordinator Gregg Williams opened the game against the Giants in a 3-4 alignment with Humber starting as an extra linebacker because Jonathan Vilma was still unavailable after arthroscopic knee surgery.
Humber showed up on the first play, sniffing out a stretch play for Giants running back Brandon Jacobs after tackle Kareem McKenzie pulled on the play to lead Jacobs into the hole.
But the 235-pound Humber pushed the 330-pound McKenzie out of the way and took the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs, a former Assumption High School star, down for a 1-yard loss to set the tone for a 49-24 win over the Giants.
“That (play) does a lot for you,” Humber said Wednesday, “especially when you know they’re going to test you on the first play. You have to show them you’re not going to let that happen on our side of the field.”
While fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome were applauding and simultaneously asking who made the sure tackle, Humber was showing Williams and linebackers coach Joe Vitt that their confidence in him was warranted.
“When someone goes down with an injury, they (the coaches) know they don’t have to be worried,” said Humber, who had just one tackle in his first seven games. “Not at all, they know who they have when they set the roster.
“When the next guy goes in, they’re confident we’re going to play to the best of our ability. I’m confident they know my abilities and what I’m capable of out there.”
It only got better for Humber after that.
He also alertly tackled Giants punter Steve Weatherford for no gain when he tried to run for a first down in the third quarter and finished the game with four total tackles.
In the Saints’ next game with the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, Humber, who was cut at the end of the preseason before being brought back in late September, was at it again even though he didn’t start.
He again was credited with four tackles, including a sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, and came up with one of the Saints’ plays of the game.
The Lions clawed back from a 24-7 halftime deficit and were down 24-17 early in the fourth quarter when they faced a third-and-12 at the Saints’ 37. Stafford took the snap and fired a pass into the left flat to wide-open wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but Humber tipped the pass away at the line of scrimmage.
The Lions elected to try a 55-yard field goal, which was no good, and they never threatened again.
“That was definitely a big play,” a smiling Humber said. “It was third down-and-long, and we knew that we had to stop them for no gain and force them to try a long-distance field goal.”
While Humber still isn’t a household name among Saints’ fans as is Vilma, Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins, at least they know who he is now after making two big plays in each of the past two games.
“He’s a guy that’s taking advantage of his opportunities,” said weakside linebacker Scott Shanle, a six-year starter who rarely comes off the field. “That’s the kind of thing you need to have staying power in this league.
“He’s getting snaps in certain packages and has done a good job. He’s had a limited number of snaps, but he’s making plays.”