METAIRIE, La. – When the Saints agreed to play in the preseason opener in Canton, Ohio in 2007, the team toured the Pro Football Hall of Fame and left it feeling a little bit empty.
They were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team full of history and with exhibits over the Hall of Fame. The Saints, on the other hand, had nothing of note in the museum, nothing to poke their chest out and feel special about.
Five years later, the Saints are once again set to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And this time, there’s plenty to look at.
“Now we go back and there’s the display with the championship and two great Saints players are now up there being represented,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “It’s funny to see how much stuff has changed in five years but it’s encouraging and it’ll be fun.”
Shanle is one of only 11 players left on the Saints’ roster from that 2007 trip. For everyone else, the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV exhibit might be nice but it won’t necessarily mean the same thing.
From the depths of 2007, when the Saints backed up an NFC championship game appearance with an 0-4 start, New Orleans has risen to a league favorite, winning one Super Bowl and earning three straight playoff spots.
There were no players representing the Saints in the Hall of Fame five years ago and, after Saturday, there will be two.
In other words, 2012 is a completely different world than it was in 2007.
“You look around and first of all, you’re in awe of just the history of this great game and all the great players who have played it and moments throughout history,” said quarterback Drew Brees, another member of the 2007 team returning. “You hope to be a part of those moments when it’s all said and done. I like to think that looking back now over the past six years, we’ve provided a few of those moments.”
There is one other difference between this visit and the one five years ago.
Saints coach Sean Payton won’t be with the team. The man who built the program and turned the franchise into what it is today is suspended and can’t have any contact with the team.
That’s something Shanle has thought about, especially after Friday’s unveiling of the Steve Gleason statue at the Superdome.
“It’s tough when we do things like this,” Shanle said. “Obviously the first big thing was doing the unveiling of the statue of Steve Gleason. It’s something that the first thing that popped in my mind was that it was a shame coach Payton couldn’t be there.
“Coach Payton was a big part of Steve’s life and Steve was a big part of coach Payton’s. That’s something that they’ll never get to do over again, the unveiling of the statue. I’m sure somewhere coach Payton read about it or saw the statue. We just have to deal with the hand we are dealt.”