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Life of a Saint: Dave Waymer

Family, friends and teammates come together to share their memories of the late Dave Waymer

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

“While Dave was at Notre Dame, we ran up our parents phone bills and his father and my father contacted each other to put an end to it and we were limited to one call a week for a limited amount of time. That was too much for us to go to bed without some sort of communication so we came up with “I love you rings” and either he or I would call and ring one time and hang up. And the other would do the same back. It became a tradition that we never stopped even after we could afford to talk and beyond.” -Sally Hampton (Dave’s first wife)

Life of a Saint: Dave Waymer

Dave Waymer was a National Champion at Notre Dame. He was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft in 1980. He amassed a 13-year NFL career, accumulated 48 career interceptions and was a Pro Bowler in 1987. Waymer also posthumously achieved the honor of being inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1996.

But all the gaudy stats and accolades don’t tell the story of one of the most revered men in New Orleans Saints history.

Sally Hampton on Dave Waymer

Sally Hampton, when asked to share some memories of her late ex-husband, generously pulled back the curtain on both the pleasant and the painful. Hampton offered, “I remember the first time I met Dave. We were almost 18 years old. It was love at first sight. And my family fell in love with him, too - he was just so personable, and fun to be around. He had the best laugh, a twinkle in his eyes. I remember the first time he met my parents. He was so nervous. Oh, how my grandma adored him.”

She also shared, “We were driving down the road and I saw a kitten dodging through traffic between the cars. I screamed to stop so I could jump out to save it, but it was not in time before the kitten had been hit. The kitten was still alive when I picked it up, but it died in my arms. I was beside myself crying - I guess because we were so young, and I had not yet experienced a lot of death yet. Dave very gently got me back to the car and when we got home, he conducted a funeral for the kitten before he buried it in our backyard. It may seem silly to some, but it was such a sweet gesture and one example of his deep empathy for others.”

Waymer, despite his NFL success, never lost sight of who he was. Hampton recalled her husband going out of his way to be friendly with all of the kids that grew up in his neighborhood. One of those kids, Bernard Parks Jr., had this to offer: “At that age, I think I was probably 9 or 10 years old. It was just a big deal to have a professional ballplayer live in your neighborhood. It was like, your neighborhood is really something.” Parks Jr. continued, “He’d be working out. Kids would come by and watch him work out. He’d talk to you about the games and different players and so forth. But definitely personable.”

But as happy as those memories were, and as proud as she was to see Waymer fulfilling his dreams, things wouldn’t continue to resemble the fairytale they once knew. Hampton shared that some of the early hurdles in their marriage came from the fact that they were in an interracial marriage. She mentioned that they were just different times back then and some of the toughest critics of their relationship were people close to them.

For Hampton and Waymer, it was nothing that they couldn’t overcome. Hampton cited that the state of the NFL in those days presented a much tougher hurdle to clear. She offered, “He was just a sweet, country boy before the football world swept him up and all the vultures came out - managers who exploited him and drug dealer ‘friends’ who got him hooked on drugs.”

“When we were married, I had thrown out of the house and fired his former manager (who was selling him drugs) but he had a “friend” who lived in the neighborhood who was also selling him drugs. To make a long story short, after Dave died, this guy tried to call me to apologize. He kept leaving me messages over a period of years with updates on how he was changing his life (he had gone back to school and become of all things a drug counselor) and how sorry he was for the role he played in Dave’s drug addiction”, Hampton recalled. She continued, “I never responded until he left a message saying he had gotten a license to run his own halfway house and was having a lot of success - high percentage of his clients went on to live clean lives - and that he wanted me to come and visit his halfway house, which he had hanging a picture of Dave as a reminder.”

Hampton also recalled the helpless feeling of reaching out to many people close to them and feeling like no one would listen. The stigma of being a professional athlete often seemed to blind people to the fact that there were serious concerns and Waymer was viewed as being above reproach.

But one person took a very active role in trying to save Waymer’s life. That person was Bum Phillips. Both Hampton and Phillips tried to get Waymer help, pleading to him to stop the drug use and seek treatment. Hampton continues to be grateful for everything Bum Phillips attempted and the care and concern he had for Waymer.

In speaking with Wade Phillips, he wasn’t involved in those life-saving efforts, but does recall his father being disappointed that he couldn’t help Waymer.

Pat Swilling on Dave Waymer

“Of all the people I think I’ve ever met in my life, there was just something about Dave Waymer. I think you can hear it in my voice as I talk about him, the late Dave Waymer, that was just unique. It wasn’t just about football. He had a worldly approach to life and to the game that was just wonderful. I gravitated to him early on and we would sit on planes coming back from games and just talk about life. His Notre Dame background was intriguing to me. Me being a Georgia Tech guy think was intriguing to him. It was just refreshing to me.”

Brad Edelman on Dave Waymer

“Dave was a fun-loving guy. I mean that in every good sense of the word. He was a joy to be around. He was very serious when it came to playing his position, playing in the game. He was intense. He was a vocal leader on the team, a guy that was respected. He inspired with his play. He was a lot of fun off the field. There are a few stories that I won’t tell; that I can’t tell. He oved music. We used to hang out down on Bourbon Street in our early 20’s and in other parts of town. But I remember cruising down to Bourbon Street, listening to the bands and just enjoying that new scene. It was all new to me back then. I certainly mourned his passing. He died too young.”

Brett Maxie on Dave Waymer

“The reason Dave was a guy I watched and learned from is because he was an early riser, which I was as well. But I could never beat him into the building. He was always the first guy in the building, preparing for his day. And he would be one of the last guys to leave, especially the practice field. He would stay out and do extra.”

Johnnie Poe on Dave Waymer

“Dave was probably ones of the best guys I ever knew. Dave was one of those guys that was gonna speak his mind in the huddle. He was gonna keep you hyped up out there on the field, no matter what mistake you made. Everybody was like that, but with Dave, you knew you were gonna get a pat on the back and a, “Hey. We’ll get them on the next play.” He was just that type of guy. And Dave was one that was gonna battle a wide receiver. Dave liked it when the bump and run calls came up. Now, he could get in the guy’s face and put his hands on him. Coming out of college, I was one of those guys where I made All-American Strength Team. I would bench press 505 pounds. I enjoyed being up in a guy’s face. But Dave was one of those guys that just went vicious after them.”

Toi Cook on Dave Waymer

“I always get emotional when I talk about Dave because I just think it’s wrong the way he died, because it doesn’t represent who Dave was. It was a mistake”, Cook shared. Cook mentioned that one of his biggest concerns with how everything transpired was the stigma that came with the “drug addict” label.

“It’s like when somebody says, ‘They’re an alcoholic’, you think of a guy sitting on the corner with a bag. It could be a CEO or an owner of a team. It’s the same thing. Dave dying of cocaine was not who he was. And that’s the travesty. That’s not who he was; not even close. He was so much smarter.”

When Cook arrived in New Orleans in 1987, he didn’t see this version of Waymer.

“When I got there, I never saw it. Dave didn’t even drink. I think I might have told you this story. It was our strike year and we were playing in a softball game. Some guys had beer in their water bottles. He had run around and scored and said, “Hey. Let me get a water bottle.” I gave him one with beer and he spit it out. I was like, ‘What are you doing?” He’s like, “Oh, I don’t do that during the season. In the off-season, that’s a different story. But during the season, no.” I thought that was pretty cool.”

Cook chooses to remind us all of the man he considers the greatest DB in New Orleans Saints’ history. “Where I used to stretch was the very back. When you’re looking at a team stretching, you have the guys in the front – whoever the team captains are. But then it just kinda goes back. Dave used to stretch all the way to the back in the left corner. He would always be like, ‘No one can get behind the DBs.’ Literally. I remember my rookie season, I was jogging out and I was stretching next to him. He was like, ‘What are you doing, rookie? Why are you coming back here?’ I was like, ‘How many years do you have?’ He goes, ‘Ten’. I said, ‘Well, that’s what I’m getting, so I’m gonna be right next to you.’ He was like, ‘Okay.’”

Cook mentioned that throughout his life, he always had a knack for seeking out the smartest or the most skilled guy in the room and learn from them. Dave Waymer had the knowledge and the skill to earn Cook’s respect and, as a result, his company.

Cook also shared, “Being around Dave, I learned how to watch film, how to prepare. I learned how to scout referees and who the back judge and the line judge. “He then jested, “We’d find out their first name so we could talk to them during the game, versus, ‘Yo, ref!’ When you say, ‘Ref, what do you know?’ versus when you say, ‘Jerry…’ Then, it’s personal. I learned that from Dave. Personalize it with the refs so you get the calls. It all adds up.”

Cook spoke about Waymer’s competitive spirit, laughing as he offered, “Dave would do things like, he’d get the script for practice so that he’d know all the plays. I didn’t take it that far.” He added, “But Dave was just ahead of his time.”

“I had the guy that I understood and was willing to teach me, and that was Dave. Like I said, my whole career, where I stretched was because of Dave Waymer.”

Cook finished with, “I just think that he was the greatest defensive back. He’s number one, in my opinion. He’s THE greatest defensive back. Dave taught me how to play football. He taught me how to watch film. He taught me how to be a pro.”

One Last Ring

Sally Hampton shared one more story.

“24 hours before Dave died, I had a bizarre experience/dream because even though my body never left my bed, it felt more real than a normal dream. I dreamt that I got up and went into the den and found Dave sitting on the couch and we had a long talk about all that had transpired between us (we had had a bitter divorce) and we forgave each other. The next morning, I felt like a weight had been lifted from me and I was on cloud nine. I called my mother to tell her about it and that I thought that we would be able to be friends. I was so happy all day and that night went to sleep to Eric Clapton’s song, ‘Old Love’ and said, ‘Wherever you are, this is for you, Dave.’”

“The next thing was the phone rang and was his former teammate and his wife calling to tell me he had just died. I was beside myself with grief for nearly 6 months. But the first 2 months I had to be in Cannes, France for a film festival. I was staying in a friend’s apartment just outside of Nice and for the past several years, was vacant except on the trips I made. I say that to make the point that the phone in the apartment was never used other than by me. To make a long story short, one day I couldn’t stop crying (my eyes swelled shut at one point) and I couldn’t go out. Around 2 A.M., as I was sobbing in bed, the phone rang once and stopped. 15 minutes went by and the same thing happened and then I called everyone who had that number to see if it was them. I remember my mother saying, ‘No. We would never call you knowing the time there!’ The next day I was gone all day and evening and returned back late. Just as I closed my eyes, the phone rang once and stopped. I said, ‘I love you, too.’”

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