Hokie Gajan was Louisiana.
He played football. Excelled at it really, as anyone who reaches the NFL must be said to have done.
He was a Baker Buffalo, knowing the adoration of the small-town Louisiana high school football star.
He was an LSU Tiger, knowing the devotion that comes to those who get to start and stand out in the purple and gold. It was his dream, and through him countless other Louisianians got to live out their dream as well.
“Nobody could have pulled me away from LSU,” Gajan once said. “If Bear Bryant would have come and talked to me, it wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever.”
Then he was a New Orleans Saint, the club taking him in the 10th round of the 1981 NFL draft. There aren’t even 10 rounds anymore, so one could say Gajan’s talents were considered marginal by pro football standards. But he lasted for four seasons before injuries cut his career short, so there was something there, ability and tenacity more than most ever had.
He loved the outdoors, too, another thing that made him distinctly Louisiana. He was as at home in a blind or on a boat as he was on the football field.
After a stint as a Saints’ scout, he made his transition to the broadcast booth as the Saints’ radio color analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson. Hokie wasn’t polished like a Jim Nantz or a Mike Tirico. He told it as he saw it, always with a tinge of empathy for his Saints, but never failed to tell it like it was if they weren’t doing what they should.
It was that everyman quality that was so endearing about Hokie. He was all of us when he was playing the game, casting a line or delivering one from NFL press boxes from Foxboro to Seattle. You kind of felt if Hokie could do it, then so could you.
Meeting famous people is part of my business, and invariably I’ll be asked what is he or she like. They want to know if the famous sports star is a good guy or a jerk. That the legacy lasts, far longer than the yards gained, the championships won, and certainly the money earned.
After a man’s death, there are few if any who will stand up to speak ill of them. But with Hokie, that will certainly last a lot longer, if not forever. Few if any players or broadcasters have come through this state and made themselves more enmeshed with our culture.
He was, Henderson told WWL radio, “a man’s man.”
He was a guy anyone felt they could like. And they would have been absolutely right.
Aside from the days after Hurricane Katrina, it’s hard to imagine a sadder week in the history of the Saints franchise than this one with loss of two giants of the club’s history: Hokie succumbing to cancer Monday and Will Smith being murdered in the street late Saturday night.
There will be a void at Saints games next season. Two voids. When the Saints play their first preseason game or first regular-season game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there will no doubt be remembrances of Hokie and Will. It will be hard to think of the Saints without them.
More than their place in Saints history, or Louisiana sports lore, Gajan and Smith will be remembered for the people they were. For how much they meant to so many.
They will be remembered, simply, as good guys. And what could be a better tribute than that?
— Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.