On and off the field, Bobby Hebert makes a statement
by CHRIS PRICE
Twenty years after joining the New Orleans Saints, Bobby Hebert has joined another Crescent City sports team.
Saints fans remember Bobby Hebert as the homegrown quarterback who led their beloved team to its first winning season, playoff appearance and division crown in the mid-80s and early ’90s. But now the “Cajun Cannon” is back in the city, doing the talking on WWL-AM/870’s “SportsTalk” show, which he co-hosts with Saints sideline reporter Kenny Wilkerson.
“Being back in New Orleans and hosting the radio show has been great so far. I always wanted to come back to Louisiana, and this gave me the opportunity to not only come home, but to work with the Saints again,” Hebert says. “I haven’t been this excited since my playing days. I feel like a rookie who just got picked in the first round of the draft.”
Hebert and Wilkerson are taking over the mic left silent by the death of longtime sports commentator Buddy Diliberto.
“Buddy D was New Orleans. He was the voice of the fans. That’s what I want to be,” Hebert says. “I was a Saints fan before I was I player. I love football, and now I get to talk about my favorite team in my hometown. It’s a dream come true.”
Hebert, a native of Cut Off, came home to Louisiana in 1985 to quarterback the Saints after a three-year stint in the United States Football League. He led the Michigan Panthers to the USFL’s inaugural championship, garnering the game’s Most Valuable Player Award, and was named the league’s most outstanding quarterback in 1983. After a short stint with the Oakland Invaders in 1985, Hebert joined the Saints with the help of then Gov. Edwin Edwards.
“When I left Oakland, I thought I was going to join the Seattle Seahawks. But Gov. Edwards got involved and set up a meeting with Tom Benson, who just bought the team to prevent it from being bought by investors who planned to move the franchise to Jacksonville, Fla.
“Mr. Edwards got in touch with Mr. Benson and me, set up a meeting, and I signed with the Saints. That kind of stuff only happens in Louisiana – where the governor is recruiting players for the home team.”
Hebert, who played prep football at South Lafourche High School and college ball at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, says he was thrilled when he signed with the Saints.
“It was special to play football in Louisiana. Everybody is focused on high-school football on Friday, LSU on Saturday and the Saints on Sunday,” he says.
“Being part of that first winning season and being on the first Saints team to go to the playoffs was awesome, especially knowing how the fans feel about the team. You can’t find more passionate fans than you have in New Orleans. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Superdome was rocking, and people wanted to be part of it. It was surreal when it was happening.”
“Reflecting back on it now, I can see just how special it really was,” he adds. But Hebert’s relationship with the Saints turned turbulent and eventually soured. He sat out the 1990 season in a contract dispute but returned to play two more seasons with the Saints in 1991 and 1992. When the Saints signed Atlanta Falcons quarterback Wade Wilson as the starter after the ’92 season, Hebert signed with the Falcons, the Saints’ archrival.
“That was a tough period,” Hebert says. “Of course I wanted to remain in New Orleans and play for the Saints, but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t the only player that happened to. Morten Andersen was let go and went on to become the Falcons’ leading scorer and went to a Super Bowl with them. And Ricky Jackson signed with the San Francisco 49ers and won a Super Bowl with them.
“But things like that happen in sports. If you play long enough, you hardly ever play for one team during your career. Educated football fans understood what happened even though the switch could be likened to transferring from LSU to Tulane.”
Hebert retired from football after 1996 and has served as host of the Falcons’ post-game radio show for the past seven years.
“I’ve been a soccer dad, conducting car pools and getting the kids to school and practice,” he says of his retirement years. “I had the radio show, but I also wanted to take an active role in raising the kids and allowing my wife to work on something outside of the house.”
His wife, Teresa, opened an exclusive clothing store named T in Duluth, Ga., which caters to a who’s who of Atlanta’s biggest names in sports and entertainment. It’s not unusual to find the wives and girlfriends of Atlanta’s professional fooball, basketball and baseball players shopping there. Atlanta magazine even selected Teresa as one of the five best-dressed women in that city. “It used to be, ‘There’s Bobby Hebert and his wife, Teresa,’ but now it’s, ‘There’s T, and I think that’s her husband,’ ” Hebert says.
RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS
Hebert’s return to New Orleans started last year when he made several guest appearances on WWL radio. Although he was the regular host of the Falcons post-game radio show, WWL Program Director Diane Newman asked Hebert if he had any interest in doing a radio show on the Saints.
“Of course I said ‘yes,’ ” he says. “I thought it would be something from training camp to the Super Bowl, primarily for the football season – pre-game, post-game, that avenue. But when Buddy passed away, it grew to the possibility of doing a year-round show.”
Fans love Bobby, says Phil Hoover, general manager and market manager of Entercom New Orleans, WWL’s parent company. Players and coaches respect him and networks seek out his opinions, he says.
“Bobby and Kenny have a natural chemistry. We’re going to have some fun on the drive home and on Saints Sundays. These guys were the people’s choice. From hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters, Bobby and Kenny were the team picked by listeners and sports fans across the Gulf South.”
Hebert was paired with Wilkerson just before the NFL draft in April as co-host of “SportsTalk.”
“I’m learning a lot more about other sports now that I’m covering more than just football, but it’s been great. Especially for an avid sports fan like me,” he says.
“He loves what he’s doing,” Teresa says. “I think fans will take to him much like they did Buddy D and Hap Glaudi before Buddy. They were both characters, much like Bobby. He’ll say anything, whatever’s on his mind. He’s comfortable with his accent, loves to tell stories and is funny. I think that’s why local fans are so excited he’ll be on the radio,” she says.
“Bobby has been a blast to work with,” Wilkerson adds. “We’ve been friends since before his playing days with the Saints. We’ve known each other for a long time, we like each other, and we’re having a good time with the show.”
“He’s so connected to the people here. When he played for the Saints, it was so important for him to play and win for the people. He’s carrying that with him into this,” Teresa says.
Hebert believes the Saints have the potential to be a very exciting team this year if they can get off to a strong start and the defense can do better than its last-place finish last year.
“If the defense can improve to the middle of the pack, with a few breaks and if luck goes their way, I think the Saints could be a 10-6 team. But there’s not much difference between a 10-6 team and a 6-10 team.
“I’m optimistic. They definitely have the talent to win 10 games and to go to the playoffs, but they’ve got to be able to stop the run defensively.”
When he’s not preparing for the show, Hebert travels between his homes in New Orleans, Atlanta, Lafourche Parish and Toledo Bend.
Hebert says living a transient lifestyle has been tough, but he’s making the best of the situation.
“A lot of businesspeople are in transit. I’ve tried to think about it in the short term. I’ll spend half my time in New Orleans and half my time in Atlanta. It’s that simple,” he says.
Since his return to New Orleans, Hebert has taken up residence in the Warehouse District and says his family will settle in New Orleans after his oldest son, T-Bob, 16, currently entering his junior year of high school, graduates.
The Heberts’ daughters, Ryan, 23, and Cammy, 19, are college students in Los Angeles. Their youngest son, Bo, 13, can’t wait to move back to Louisiana, Teresa says.
Hebert says he likes living in the Warehouse District and discovering the transformation that the neighborhood has undergone since his days with the Saints.
“We’ve enjoyed being able to walk to all the restaurants and attractions in the neighborhood. I’ve really enjoyed the change of pace of living in an urban setting. Between the lake house and the farmhouse, I have enough grass to cut.”
“He loves being back in the city, and it’s been a lot of fun for him,” Teresa says. “It’s such a part of who he is. The city has opened its arms to him. It’s been great visiting him and getting to know New Orleans again.
“We have always felt like Louisiana is our home,” she adds. “We’ve been in Georgia for 12 years, and it still doesn’t feel like home. Once T-Bob graduates and I can get to a point where I can become more removed from my business, we’ll be back.” •