NEW ORLEANS —A small investment in 1997 returned huge dividends for the New Orleans Saints and ultimately has landed former defensive tackle La’Roi Glover a coveted spot in the team’s Hall of Fame.
Glover, 38, will become the 42nd member of the Saints Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies this coming football season, it was announced Friday during a news conference at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
For Glover, the award is a warm reminder of his first meeting with then-Saints coach Mike Ditka in August 1997 after being claimed off waivers from the Oakland Raiders for $100.
“There were some concerns with my size. Here I am a defensive tackle weighing 265, 270 pounds,’’ said Glover, a native of San Diego who starred at San Diego State. “And I remember asking him if that would be a concern. He said, ‘I don’t care how big you are, as long as you make plays, you will have a job here.’
“I’ve never forgotten those words. To this day, I remember them. Essentially, coach Ditka was saying if you do your job, you will have a job. I have taken those words with me throughout my whole career, even now.’’
In that first meeting, Ditka repeatedly referred to Glover as “Lee Roy,’’ with the emphasis on “Lee.’’ Before they parted, Glover set the record straight.
“Excuse me coach Ditka,’’ Glover said, “but my name is La’Roi.’’
“I don’t give a damn what your name is as long as you make plays,’’ Ditka barked.
Glover not only made plays during 13 NFL seasons, but he made enough “big’’ plays to make the NFL 2000s All-Decade team and be voted to six consecutive Pro Bowls from 2000 through 2005.
Originally a fifth-round draft pick of the Raiders in 1996, Glover played the next five seasons in New Orleans under Ditka (1997-’99) and Jim Haslett (2000-01) with later stops in Dallas (2002-’05) and St. Louis (2006-’08).
Glover played well under Ditka, but his career flourished under Haslett. In 2000, Glover moved to the 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme and recorded an NFL-high 17 sacks (second most by a defensive tackle in league history) and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year.
More importantly, Glover played a key role in helping the Saints win the NFC West and capture the franchise’s first playoff victory.
“I had a wrestling background in high school, and that helped me tremendously in my career playing against bigger guys in both the 3-4 and 4-3,’’ said Glover, who finished his career with 83 1/2 sacks (50 in New Orleans) despite being undersized at 6-feet-2 and weighing less than 300 pounds.
After recording eight sacks and earning a second Pro Bowl selection in 2001, the Saints declined to pick up Glover’s $5.5 million option bonus, and he signed with the Cowboys.
“At the end of the day, I was a free agent,’’ Glover said. “I think the Saints were transitioning to a larger defensive tackle. They were looking for a bigger, wider body in the middle of their defensive line. But, it also was about the money (in Dallas) and being courted and being showed a little attention. Why I left New Orleans was all of that.’’
Glover currently is director of player programs for the St. Louis Rams. In a nutshell, he said, “I’m a life coach who helps younger players transition into the NFL and older players transition out of the NFL.’’
“Everywhere I played during my career, I learned something valuable,’’ said Glover, who has his MBA and is working on his Ph.D. “In Oakland, I learned about tradition and the true meaning of their ‘outlaw’ image. In New Orleans, I learned how to become a solid defensive player. In Dallas, I learned how to be a professional and how to play every game in the spotlight. In St. Louis, I learned about leadership.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Who Dat fans. We always used to joke in the locker room that fans went to a party and a football game broke out. It didn’t matter how we performed or what the outcome was, the Who Dats were always there for us.’’
“When I first got the news of this award, I was at a loss for words,’’ he said. “I’m very humbled, very honored and very appreciative. I came into the NFL as a wide-eyed rookie not knowing what the NFL was all about. And now this. It is career fulfilling to say the least. All I can say is thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’’
Glover was a unanimous selection of the 18-member media panel.
In related news, Peter Finney, the distinguished and award-winning sportswriter for The Times-Picayune, is the recipient of the 2013 Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award for his outstanding coverage of the Saints and the New Orleans sports scene for nearly seven decades.
Finney’s inclusion in the Saints Hall of Fame will take place alongside Glover’s induction during in-season ceremonies.