If boxing is the sweet science, then football in America is majestic violence.
And there was no one greater a disciple in the black and gold than a man named Pierre.
In a world colored in sin from Darren Sharper’s pills to Joe Paterno’s lack of keeping safe *all* kids we sometimes can gloss over the best of stories and indulge in the worst. Perhaps because it those terrible and tragic of stories that linger with us.
Instill in us a sense of emotion — often utter outrage — that gets clicks and keeps people tuned in. Well, Pierre Thomas did not one thing notorious.
In fact, his name was so seldom spoken leading up to the 2007 NFL Draft that it went uncalled through seven agonizing rounds. The unheralded rookie chose a destination out of Illinois that already featured returning and budding superstar Reggie Bush and Saints first ballot Hall of Famer Deuce McAllister. Two of the most beloved Saints players not just of their era, but of any in the franchise sad sack, brown paper bag history. Asked by a reporter why he chose to come to such a star laden backfield that seemed a little too crowded for the former Fighting Illini tailback, Pierre responded in, well, typical Pierre Thomas fashion.
You want to play with the best.
That lack of fear for competition not only would drive him from unknown rookie free agent to Saints mainstay, but it will someday lead him through the arches of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. As deftly as he would pirouette and bounce again and again off of and about desperate tacklers, Pierre Thomas shuffled and shimmied his way deep into our hearts. And Sean Payton’s accomplished offensive mind. There will be no Saint from the 2009 Super Bowl championship roster that when all is said and done did more with less than he did. In fact, that’s hardly a fair statement to him. One of those slight compliments that reads more like an insult. Unfair life often is, but Pierre Thomas made the very best of his on and off of the field. We are staring at an era in sports where the phrase, “You don’t really know who a player really is as a person.” That makes him standout all the more from the crowd. If you were to wager money on the character of a man there are probably three that would come to mind.
And it is those three that have been the cornerstone for the most prolific period in the annals of the fighting Fleur de Lis. How fitting is that? In a backfield with guys that could and likely will go by and be instantly recognize with one name only in Deuce and Reggie he threw his helmet into the mix.
And there it stuck.
Stuck on the roster, stuck in the game plan, and will be stuck deep within the bleeding black and gold hearts of every Saints fan. Stories will be told of him streaking down the right sideline and juking his way past a defender and then cutting back hard; racing into the endzone on a simple screen pass against the Minnesota Vikings earning the first points of the only NFC Title Game the team has ever won. Furthering his legend in the biggest contest this club has ever played two weeks later he did it again. It covered less yardage in the record books, but it required far more effort. Truly, there is no more dazzling a display of the confluence of effort, drive, and the most important quality any player with the football can have — elusiveness from contact. Pierre weaves a magical tapestry of a touchdown again the outset on the right flank, but this time a player is screaming toward him unblocked and Thomas barely moves at all. A slight lean and the defender is rewarded with air. One missed tackle. Another defender to his left squares up with no blockers clouding his vision. One straight ahead and to his right does the same. Two Colts are galloping behind him, hot on his trail. The net is cast and quickly it tightens around him. Four defenders. And only open field. Oh, and one Pierre Thomas. Then a sudden burst from a guy who would never wow you with his speed on any athletic level ever, but he had just enough to blast past the two enclosing Colts players in fiery pursuit. They would not catch him. I doubt Usain Bolt would have – because neither did the squared up defender to his left. He was again given the gift of a miss. Pierre gave out a lot of those in his Saints career. However, that allowed the Colt to his right the perfect shot to take him to the ground five yards from scoring six. And in what is atypical of physics and yet so typical of him, Pierre somehow throws his weight to his left while running right. That left the Colt defender Pierre’s hips and his right leg. His arm draped around the former until it slid down to the latter.
You cannot arm tackle Pierre Thomas.
Somehow he shakes the defender and literally leaps into the endzone, into our hearts, and into Saints lore.
His worth immeasurable in a game defined by everything that can be measured — height, weight, speed, and more. They even try to put a number on a player’s intellect. Wonderlic – Whatever.
Pierre was truly the antithesis of all of these things numeric.
Only one ever mattered.
His jersey that read a number that was 23, and every time he slipped it on, he was magical. So much so that his concussion at the goal line on his way to pay dirt against the 49ers in San Francisco 2 years later not only knocked him out of the game but it knocked the team out from routing their opponent. It was an instant classic of a football game, one marred by Saints mistakes that allowed the New York Giants to avoid a return trip to the Superdome. That Giants team openly spoke of how they wanted no part of New Orleans. That Giants team would win it all.
The Saints not only lost Pierre and thus that game but they also lost their best shot at a second World Championship.
That’s how close the game of football is — maddeningly close.
It also spotlights how important Pierre was to the team. I say was with purpose, Pierre Thomas no longer plays for the Saints.
News broke March 4, 2015 – He was released. Cut — no word more appropriate for how every fan felt immediately afterward. Father Time, as it is said, remains undefeated.
Yet Pierre Thomas cobbled together a career when no one expected one and then he began carving out a storybook resume with the same whimsical fluidity that he would carve up defenses.
And he stole our hearts.
Despite the millions of dollars he earned throughout his career and all the luxuries being a professional-athlete-slash-celebrity affords, I would say when all is done and everything is tallied it was the fans that truly won.
Thank you, 23. Thank you, Pierre. Pierre Thomas.
The Hall awaits your number.