The New Orleans Saints begin their 2017 regular season in 34 days. They will take on the Minnesota Vikings on September 11, the league's first Monday night football game of the season. Canal Street Chronicles resumes our countdown to kickoff series. Today we take a look at a few greats that have donned the No. 34 throughout Saints history.
Tony Galbreath (RB, 1976-1980)
New Orleans selected Galbreath with a 2nd round pick in the 1976 draft. He started 13 games as a rookie, finishing second on the team in both rushing (570) and receiving yards (420), while topping the Saints with 7 rushing touchdowns and 54 receptions. Galbreath teamed with backfield mate Chuck Muncie to make the famous "Thunder and Lightning" duo that threatened opposing defenses for over four seasons together. Galbreath led the Saints in receptions in 3 seasons, finishing second in two others. His 74 receptions in 1978 ranked 2nd in the entire NFL. Galbreath was not only a terrific receiver in the New Orleans offense, but he was also an accomplished runner as well. He led the Saints in rushing yards during the 1978 season, and finished second each of his other 4 seasons with the team.
Tony Galbreath rushed for 2,865 yards with 27 touchdowns in his five year career with New Orleans, and added 284 receptions for 2,221 yards and another six scores. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1981, where he would play for three seasons before playing out the last 4 years of his career with the New York Giants. Galbreath, one of the best all-purpose threats in franchise history, was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1991.
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward (RB, 1988-1992)
Heyward was a 1st round draft choice by the Saints in 1988 out of the University of Pittsburgh. Heyward had a rare blend of quick feet with a power running style throughout college. Unfortunately, he could never quite translate his physical talents into "the next Earl Campbell", as some were touting him to be coming out of college. Heyward's best season as a Saint was 1990, when he led New Orleans with 599 yards rushing and 4 scores. He left the Saints after the '92 season with 1,813 career rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. "Ironhead" did have one Pro Bowl season, in 1995 when he rushed for 1,083 yards, but unfortunately it came as a member of the hated Atlanta Falcons. Heyward's career ended in 1998, after it was discovered he had cancer. Surgery was briefly successful, but sadly, the cancer returned in 2006, causing his death at 39 years old.
Ray Zellars (RB, 1995-1998)
Zellars was a 2nd round selection by the Saints in the 1995 draft from Notre Dame. He would play all four of his NFL seasons in New Orleans, tying for the team lead in rushing touchdowns in 1996, and leading the Saints in rushing yards and scores during the '97 season.
Ricky Williams (RB, 1999-2001)
Williams was drafted with the 5th overall pick of the 1999 draft, after one of the most famous trades in NFL history. Then-Saints coach Mike Ditka wanted Williams so badly that he sent the Washington Redskins the Saints 1st round selection (12th overall) plus New Orleans' No. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7th round choices that year plus the Saints 1st and 3rd round picks in 2000 to select the Texas Heisman Trophy winner. Williams actually didn't have a bad career statistically during his three years with the Saints. He led the team in rushing all 3 years, including a 1,000-yard season in only 10 games for the playoff-bound Saints in 2000, followed by a 1,245 yard effort in the '01 campaign.
When the Saints drafted Deuce McAllister with their No. 1 draft pick in 2001, they deemed Williams expendable at season's end. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins in the spring of 2002 in exchange for Miami's 1st and 4th round draft choices that season, along with the Dolphins 1st round pick in 2003. Williams rushed for 3,129 yards and 16 touchdowns during his New Orleans career, and went on to a somewhat successful, but controversial, seven-year stint in Miami before ending his career with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011.
Mike McKenzie (CB, 2005-2009)
McKenzie was a successful starting cornerback for the Green Bay Packers for four seasons before being acquired in an early season trade by New Orleans in 2004, then leading the Saints with 5 interceptions in just 10 games. Switching from No. 43 worn the year before to No. 34 entering 2005, he continued as one of the league's most respected defensive backs on a Saints team that struggled following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. McKenzie tied for the team lead in interceptions during 2006, as New Orleans shocked the league with a run to the NFC Championship game. He again tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions in 2007, returning 2 for touchdowns and topping the Saints with 17 passes defensed.
A torn ACL in that season's final game threatened to derail his 2008 campaign, but McKenzie bounced back to start 6 games, before another major knee injury ended his season during the stretch run in November. Released by the Saints during the offseason, McKenzie was re-signed during the team's '09 Super Bowl season in November, following a series of injuries to their defensive backs. He proved to be a key part of their defense down the stretch of the regular season, seeing action in five games and coming up with a key interception in a victory over New England.
Tim Hightower (RB, 2015-2016)
Hightower had been out of pro football since early 2012 when the Saints signed him to a contract in 2015. After a promising start to his career with the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins, Hightower suffered a devastating injury to his knee that seemed to end his career. He made the most of his opportunity with his chance in New Orleans. He finished second on the team in rushing yards and touchdowns during the 2015 and '16 seasons, providing a perfect compliment to Saints starter Mark Ingram. Hightower left New Orleans following the '16 season, signing a free agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Other Saints players to wear No. 34: Tony Lorick (1968-1969), Carlos Bell (1971), Jess Phillips (1973-74), Bobby Johnson (1983-84), Jeff Rodenberger (1987), Barry Word (1987-88), Tebucky Jones (2003-04), Patrick Robinson (2010)
Who was your favorite Saints player to wear No. 34?
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