NEW ORLEANS – The path to the Hall of Fame for Willie Roaf started in Arkansas and was cultivated in Louisiana.
On Saturday, Aug. 4, the greatest offensive lineman in Saints history will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I think I’ll be number 272, they put the number on your jacket now,” he said. “I think there’s 153 of us living right now, so it’s a select group.”
Roaf’s call to the Hall follows a career that spanned nearly a decade and a half played out in two cities – New Orleans and Kansas City.
He spent his career doing one job and doing it very well – protecting a quarterback’s blind side. Few did it as well for as long as Roaf did.
“I think I got in because I had a real, real strong career. I was able to play consistent for a long time and I’m proud of that.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Roaf’s road to Canton began in earnest in Ruston, at Louisiana Tech.
He was tall and slim with a stature befitting a basketball player. He was blessed with quick feet and eventually, brute strength.
He became such a hot commodity coming out of college that the Saints jumped at the chance to sign him in the first round – breaking up the Dome Patrol to do so. They traded linebacker Pat Swilling to Detroit for the Lions’ first round pick, which they used to grab Roaf.
“I was the last one Jim Finks drafted before he died. I’m his last legacy and I’m proud to be that.”
Playing professional sports on such a high level and keeping in the shape that is required takes much time both during the season and in the offseason. Sometimes a home life suffers and Roaf said he wasn’t always around for his children.
“When I was playing ball, I couldn’t see my kids, especially my oldest two kids as much as I’d like to and I’m trying to make up for that now.
Roaf has four teenage kids from three different mothers. All of them have had to endure the mis-steps taken by their father. He doesn’t mince words when talking about some of his off-the-field issues, saying that infidelity is a big reason that he didn’t play his entire career in New Orleans.
“I met Michelle when I was 24 years old, 25, Me and Michelle had broken up for a certain amount of years, when I was living with another lady. So, if stuff started happening when we weren’t together, and then we got back together, then, that’s fine, just tell me about it, but after we got back together, if there was some things going on… with Joe Johnson….”
Eyewitness Sports contacted Johnson directly and told him what Roaf said and Johnson denied being involved in any capacity.
“I was young and eager and I was All-Pro and having a good time. I did some things and she did some things and whatever, but we’re past that.”
Roaf said he always intended to end his career in New Orleans.
“I would have. That’s why I bought that big house in New Orleans. I thought I was going to finish up in New Orleans and I thought I had done a real good job on the football field.”
But an unsettled locker room eventually led to his departure. He said his move to Kansas City actually solidified and sped up his enshrinement in Canton.
As he looks back he realizes that the motivation to excel was always there, instilled in him by his father – who will be at his side in Canton – and his mother, who he believes will be watching from heaven as he thanks those who paved his way.
“When I realized that I had a chance to use my ability in football, I took it. When I got to the NFL, I think my mom would be proud of what I accomplished.”
Roaf’s father was a dentist. His mother was the first African-American woman to serve on Arkansas’ Supreme Court. Now it’s Willie Roaf’s turn to cement his place in history. And even though he wore two uniforms during his pro career, he says it was never a doubt which team would be the one that he’ll recognize first in the Hall of Fame.
“The fact that I grew up in Arkansas, went just two hours down the road and played ball at Louisiana Tech, and then played my pro career in New Orleans. I grew up and became a man in Louisiana and most of my ties are down there.”