On July 18, 1990, the New Orleans Saints reported to training camp in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Well, most of them anyway.
Notably absent was Bobby Hebert. Brian Allee-Walsh wrote in the Times-Picayune that week that head coach Jim Mora had "written him out of the script" before training camp even started.
On July 18 it was official. Bobby Hebert was holding out.
It all started during the last three games of the 1989 regular season. Hebert was struggling, and the Saints were 6-7 after 13 games. Jim Mora made a decision. Fourcade was to start the last three games. Start he did, and it was magic. He completed 57% of his passes, threw seven touchdowns to four interceptions, and most importantly, he led the Saints to three straight wins to close the season. Right, I know, those aren't Hall of Fame statistics. Pay attention - this was pre-Brees New Orleans, folks. Fourcade was a hero.
He was appointed Grand Marshal of Mardi Gras parades, riding in a total of seven. Some say he hurt his arm throwing beads (he told management he did so during an offseason workout). Regardless, Saints fans wondered if, maybe, Fourcade was the next great hope.
Meanwhile, Hebert wasn't happy. He demanded a trade. When he wasn't given one, things turned personal. Jim Finks wouldn't pay Hebert the money he demanded, and Hebert was steadfast. As important as a fat new contract was his right to leave - Hebert was looking to make a statement. "Why is it that pro football is the only business in America where you don't have a contract and they still own you?" Free agency as we know it now didn't exist yet. And for Hebert, that was a problem.
He eventually sat out the entire 1990 season, of course. The rest, as they say, is history. Fourcade started five games that year, leading the team to a record of 2-3. Enter Steve Walsh, for whom the Saints had given up a first, second, and third round draft pick. His career wasn't all terrible, but it wasn't first-second-third caliber, either.
It wasn't a terrible season. The Saints struggled to 8-8, made the playoffs, and lost in the first round to the Bears. Meanwhile, Bobby Hebert had a tough time during his year off. He lost his sister and his grandmother, while his father was diagnosed with cancer. Fans turned on him. Burglars robbed a sporting goods store, leaving only Hebert jerseys on the rack.
With his personal life in turmoil, he remained committed to the fight he had begun. "I think you should be able to work where you want to work when your contract is finished. Why is it the NFL is the only place where you can complete your contract obligation and you can`t move on?"
He didn't achieve freedom just yet, but he got his big payday the next offseason. After a year and a half away from football, he signed a new deal on June 4, 1991. His return wasn't exactly hailed with a standing ovation, however. Fans were still angry. They demanded an apology. Hebert was unrepentant, sort of. "I wanted to leave. It's not like I was trying to turn my back on Louisiana. I saw the sign that said I owed the fans an apology. I don't understand that. I always said the New Orleans Saints have the greatest fans."
Bad blood remained. Free agency eventually came into play. And it was time for Bobby Hebert to go. After the Saints rescinded a 2-year, 6.2 million dollar contract offer, and Hebert stated that he would visit the Falcons, the Saints ended the relationship forever, the signing Wade Wilson as their new starting quarterback. I'm not sure I need to tell you how that turned out.
Hebert found himself in a quarterback controversy with Chris Miller that year. He got to play, of course. "Happily ever after" it wasn't.
To be fair, Hebert's key issue, by his own statements, was players' rights. He didn't like being tied down. He thought teams shouldn't have methods of tying a player down to one city, restricting his ability to make money elsewhere, especially after he had completed his contractural obligation. Sound familiar? In fact, many give him much of the credit for changing the game by leading the fight for free agency.
What's the biggest lesson here for Saints fans? A holdout, once it begins, creates division that's difficult to heal. The situation inevitably turns personal, and sometimes the story ends with a quarterback going to a division rival just to make a point, and returning years later to call himself the father of something of which he has no right to call himself the father.
But that's history. Most importantly, we don't have to deal with a similar situation in 2012.
Thank the Loomis.