The first player to sign with the New Orleans Saints after their return to the city following Hurricane Katrina, linebacker Scott Fujita, signed a one-day contract with the team Monday and announced his retirement from football.
Fujita, 33, spent the most productive years of his 11-year career with the Saints from 2006-09, helping the team win Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season before signing with the Cleveland Browns.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in this league for a long time and for some great organizations,” Fujita said in a statement released by the team. “But there is no doubt my time spent in New Orleans were some of the best years of my life.”
Fujita signed the contract at Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He’s there accompanying former teammate Steve Gleason, who has ALS, on a trip to raise awareness for the disease and show that patients can have memorable experiences despite physical limitations.
“What better place to reach the end of the (NFL) road than here, at 10,000 feet above sea level, in the Peruvian Andes overlooking Machu Picchu with my dear friend Steve Gleason?” said Fujita, who played in 143 NFL games with 125 starts.
Fujita joined the Saints in 2006 as an unrestricted free agent when he followed former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton, who was hired when the franchise returned after spending the 2005 season in San Antonio.
“He was a cornerstone of the foundation that we’ve built, and we won a championship together,” Payton said. “It’s been said that, when you win a championship together, you walk together for the rest of your lives. That’s certainly appropriate to celebrate on a day like today.”
General Manager Mickey Loomis noted how Fujita, who signed two days before quarterback Drew Brees, was a big part of the rebuilding of the franchise and region as he embraced the community with his easy-going personality.
“It was an important acquisition for us, getting a player of his caliber to come to New Orleans despite the conditions (after Katrina),” Loomis said. “He saw an opportunity to become involved in the rebuilding of the city yet quickly realized how important the team was to that effort.”
Fujita, voted by his teammates a defensive captain, played in 56 games for the Saints with 54 starts. He had 7.5 sacks, four interceptions, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
After the Saints won the Super Bowl, he received a three-year, $14 million contract from the Browns and played three seasons before a neck injury last fall ended his career.
Fujita, who was active in raising funds for the restoration of the Gulf Coast while with the Saints, never forgot his time in the city.
“I thought that Scott, as much as anyone, became a New Orleanian,” Loomis said. “He developed a love for our city, and the city developed a love for him.”