Marques Colston and Reggie Bush joined the New Orleans Saints in 2006 from opposite ends of the NFL Draft spectrum, the first Saints draft for Coach Sean Payton.
Bush was the No. 2 overall pick, a star running back from USC and a face-of-the-franchise selection whose electric abilities matched his megawatt smile, a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion who was expected to lead the team to glory in its first season back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Colston was a seventh-rounder, a compensatory pick at No. 252 overall, the fourth-from-last selection in the draft and the 32nd of 33 receivers taken, an under-the-radar project whose Q-Rating might not have registered beyond the Hofstra campus boundaries.
But on Wednesday, Colston’s 36th birthday, the two Super Bowl XLIV-champion teammates entered the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame the same way they entered the NFL – together, as Class of ’19 selections.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who led Louisiana in its post-Katrina recovery, also will enter as the recipient of the Joe Gemelli Fleur De Lis award, presented to someone who has contributed to the betterment of the Saints and supported the franchise.
Colston played his 10 NFL seasons in New Orleans, the final one in 2015. By significant margins, he’s the franchise all-time leader in receptions (711), receiving yards (9,759), and receiving and total touchdowns (72).
Bush, a Saint from 2006-10, led New Orleans in rushing yards once (‘07), in punt returns four times (2006 and ’08-’10), set an NFL rookie running back record with 88 receptions in ’06, had four seasons of at least 47 receptions and four seasons when he scored at least six touchdowns. He had four punt return touchdowns as a Saint.
“There is some oddity that we’re honoring the first pick of our 2006 draft and the last pick of our 2006 draft,” Payton joked during the introduction of the honorees.
“They arrived here in a little different way.”
Bush was hailed as a savior.
“I would say on a 10 Richter scale, the selection of Reggie Bush was a 9.9 for this organization,” Payton said. “If you have a clear memory, you remember the crawfish boil across the street, you remember season tickets being sold out within two hours and they have been ever since that selection. That’s pretty dynamic. This was Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. That’s how big it was.”
Colston wasn’t similarly feted.
“Every once in a while, you’ll get a tape from a smaller school and we spend a lot of time trying to locate the number, which socks is he wearing, something that stands out,” Payton said, smiling. “So C.J. (receivers coach Curtis Johnson) had a real strong, high opinion. (Offensive assistant) Johnnie Morton, the same way, a high opinion. I know one of our area scouts did (have a high opinion).
“You do look for traits. He had these traits. Now, the route tree was limited. The offense he played in, you didn’t get to see a lot of what we were going to see for the next however many years that he excelled here.”
But once each player arrived, the Saints got to see plenty.
Colston and Bush were instrumental in helping the Saints reach two NFC Championship Games, win two NFC South titles, earn three playoff berths and win a Super Bowl victory during their time together as Saints. After Bush’s departure, Colston helped the Saints to another division championship and two playoff appearances.
They also quickly recognized something extra that accompanied being Saints in 2006.
“I remember the first time I landed and got to New Orleans, I was taken on a tour throughout New Orleans, through the Ninth Ward to see a lot of the devastation,” Bush said. “And right away, I felt this sense of responsibility to give it 110 percent every day, every time I stepped on the field. And to at least do my very best to try to bring this city’s organization a Super Bowl. And fast forward to four years later, and we were able to do that.
“I truly believe that everybody that came to this team during that time period was brought here for a purpose: For a purpose to help restore hope into the city, to the people by going out and doing what we do best, and that’s playing football and winning football games. It’s amazing when you have that opportunity to be able to do something like that, when you look back at it and you accomplished it with the guys…that are still some of my best friends to this day.”
Colston was able to settle in after a rocky rookie minicamp but he, too, understood the seriousness of being in New Orleans.
“When you come in the league as a seventh-round pick, something like (reaching the Saints Hall of Fame) really isn’t on your radar,” he said. “You’re kind of in survival mode day in and day out. The mind-set is really, you’re hoping that you did enough that day to keep your job.
“Sean referenced my rookie minicamp – on numerous occasions – but it really taught me a couple of different things. One, I had never been to New Orleans prior to getting drafted here. You get drafted in the seventh round, (and), one, you’re not really super excited to still be on the board. You’re really not super excited to go to a 3-13 team. To me, I was two or three picks away from being able to find what I thought would be the best destination to go and try to make a roster as a free agent.
“Having the ability to get drafted here and never being to New Orleans, and just seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you ultimately feel that this is bigger than football.”
Blanco proved to be instrumental in the reparations of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“In my mind, every time I looked at the Superdome (after Katrina) – the roof just ripped across it – it was a symbol of despair,” she said. “And I thought, if we drive around every single day looking at the symbol of despair, we’re all going to despair. We’ve got to change that image and make this a symbol of victory.
“Now, that didn’t come without me paying a price, being told that I had the wrong priorities, using money for a stadium. But at the same time, I knew the value was greater than just building a building. This city, and this region, and Saints fans everywhere, really needed to have something to rally around. And after a year of hard, hard work – people who were rebuilding their homes and their businesses, and that really needed a place to rally and to express joy – and that is what we found.”
Blanco, who reportedly has ceased treatment for her melanoma, received her award Wednesday from Saints owner Gayle Benson.
“I do have a lot of challenges ahead of me, (but) I’m going to plan to be here in October (for the induction ceremony),” Blanco said.
The induction ceremony will take place during the weekend of the Arizona game in the Superdome. The Saints and Cardinals play Oct. 27.