Browns LB returns to face Saints as enemy

CLEVELAND BROWNS LB SCOTT FUJITA RETURNS TO FACE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS AS ENEMY
Written by Brian Allee-Walsh, NOC Saints Beat
Monday, 18 October 2010 09:48

NEW ORLEANS – One of our city’s best friends and lovable sports heroes is coming way down yonder this weekend … and he wants nothing better than to kick some Who Dat butt.

Nothing personal, mind you.

It’s strictly business, NFL style.

“I think this game is going to be one of those where it’ll be a little more emotional than usual,’’ Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita told NewOrleans.com during an interview last week in anticipation of Sunday’s game against his former Black and Gold teammates at the Superdome. “Obviously, I’m not going to lose focus ’cause I’ve played in a lot of these games before. But I hope I’m emotional about it to be honest. I don’t see how I couldn’t be because I have so many deep relationships there.

“Everyone in the community has been so good to me. I think every fan in the Superdome has always been so good to me. I’m getting voice mails and text messages and emails from people already just saying, ‘Hey man, it’s going to be great seeing you come back.’ So, I’m excited about it.’’

We last saw Scott FOO-gee-tuh on the first day of free agency in early March after he agreed to a hefty three year, $14 million contract with the downtrodden Browns now run by first-year President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Thomas Heckert.

The surprisingly lucrative deal included $8 million in guaranteed money, a key ingredient for the father of a young family who knows this could be his last multi-year contract.

Fujita, 31, wanted to remain in New Orleans. He loved the Saints’ organization. He loved his coaches, particularly Coach Sean Payton who brought him over from the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. He loved his teammates, and he especially loved the Big Easy. In one of his last acts as a breadwinner in our town, he donated one half of his $82,000 in playoff earnings to community charities, including coastal restoration in Louisiana.

And the Big Easy loved him right back.

But money is money. And when the Browns waved the green, well, momma didn’t raise no fool. Fujita took the money, kissed the Saints goodbye, packed up the Suburban (or whatever) and headed North to the Cleveland suburb of Westlake.

“We’re within walking distance of restaurants, the movie theatre, Trader Joe’s grocery store … an organic place is about a block away,’’ Fujita said. “We’re close to everything.

“They’re actually building a park right in front of our front door this week. So, everything we need is right here. It’s easy on Jackie and the girls because they can walk everywhere. I don’t have to drive anywhere except work and back. I’m probably about a 20-minute drive to the Browns facility, not too much farther than it was from New Orleans to Metairie.’’

Fujita still owns a condo in the Warehouse District, near Lucy’s, the site of his going-away party in May. His current tenant, naturally, is a huge Who Dat fan. I think it’s safe to say that New Orleans will always be near and dear to his heart, whether he’s in Cleveland, San Francisco or Timbuktu.

But business is business.

Yes, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, Coach Sean Payton, Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers’ Coach Joe Vitt probably wanted to keep Fujita. He’s a solid player, a man’s man, a great presence in the locker room and a pillar in the community.

But Saints officials wanted him at their price, not at an inflated price dictated in part by other’s whims in free agency.

When the Browns’ blew the Saints’ offer completely out of the water, all Loomis and Payton, et al, could do was wish Fujita and his family good luck and turn the page.

“I never look back on those kinds of decisions,’’ Fujita explained. “The decision was pretty much made for me to be honest. But I don’t look back on it. They are two completely different separate chapters in my life. I always enjoy changes anyway and I enjoy new experiences and we got a new one up here, and now we’re just trying to turn the program around in Cleveland.’’

Not to belabor the point but it needs to be mentioned that Saints officials could have fit Fujita in their business model. But they decided to be fiscally responsible and not overextend themselves on a player at a collision position, who, perhaps, is on the downside of his career.

That is their prerogative. Hey, when you win Super Bowl XLIV, you can damn well do most anything you please.

“I think, realistically, I saw myself finishing my career in New Orleans, and that’s just being honest,’’ Fujita said. “But as free agency got closer and closer with nothing on the table at that point, you kind of saw some writing on the wall. They made kind of a last ditch effort, but that’s the reality of the business sometimes and I was kind of at the back end of my career.

“Hey, I’m 31 years old and I know how it works, especially at the linebacker position. They had to make their decisions fit into their formula, especially when they got to start taking care of guys like Jahri (Evans) and Drew (Brees) and guys like that. That’s just the way the business works sometimes, and I’m fine with that.’’

Fujita, however, is not OK with the Browns’ record after six games.

Cleveland dropped to 1-5 after Sunday’s tough 28-10 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who welcomed back starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after a league-imposed four-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy.

The Browns’ only win came at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, in Week 4.

Fujita informed me that he is 2-0 when playing his former team the next season (Dallas beat his old team Kansas City 31-28 in 2005 and New Orleans beat his old team Dallas 42-17 in 2006).

“We’re struggling to finish games,’’ said Fujita, who has started all six games and collected 33 tackles and 2 ½ sacks. “That’s kind of the scenario that we got to get better at; finishing games and learning how to win those close games. So far this season, every game has kind of played out the same way. We’ve only been able to close out one of them, so that has been disappointing.’’

The Saints (4-2) are fresh off an impressive 31-6 win at Tampa Bay and hope to extend the Browns’ losing ways Sunday.

Meantime, Fujita will spend the coming days exchanging texts with former Saints’ teammates Scott Shanle, Jonathan Vilma, Brees, Vitt and the boys, try to rustle up a boatload of game tickets for family, friends and new teammates and finalize Saturday night dinner plans with Who Dat alumni Steve Gleason and Mike McKenzie.

“After last season, I think it’ll be one of those things with a lot of those guys where we’ll probably be good family friends and go on vacations for the rest of our lives with our young kids,’’ Fujita said. “They are going to be relationships that are going to build through that kind of experience from this past season. I think they’ll hold together forever.’’

Fujita paused (which is a rare occurrence; if you know Scott Fujita, you know what I mean), then continued.

“Yeah, I imagine it probably will be pretty emotional Sunday,’’ he said. “But I’ve been there before and I’ve done that. I’m more excited about it than I am nervous. I think it will be fun to come down and fun to see everybody. To be able to play in so many big games and such a great atmosphere, I’m really looking forward to coming back.’’

No doubt, Fujita also will make time to visit his old condo, check in on his tenant and walk around his old stomping grounds in the Warehouse District.

He indeed knows what it means to miss New Orleans.

“There is an adjustment living up here in Cleveland, because yeah, we love New Orleans so much but we’re always going to have New Orleans,’’ Fujita said. “We’re always going to come back. It’s where our kids were born, and I’m always going to want them to have a part of that culture with them.

“So, I know it’s going to be emotional Sunday, and I honestly hope it will be real emotional. The more emotional it gets, the better I play for whatever reason. That’s one of the things I always liked about playing in New Orleans. It always seemed like it was so much bigger than football, and I kind of let the emotion carry me. It helps you play big.’’

In four years as a player and a citizen of New Orleans, Scott Fujita came up big in so many ways.

Saints beat writer Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at balleewalsh@neworleans.com.  Story can be found at http://www.neworleans.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=517852&Itemid=4452

Filed in: Press Room • Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Comments

I just want you to know that we wish you all the best in the world! We miss you dearly. It’s still hard to believe that you are not a New Orleans Saint anymore. But, we will never forget what you have done for our city. Scott, you are truely and amazing man. Like you said before, it is business. Too bad the business took you from us. Good Luck to you and your family. Take Care and Be Safe!!!!!!!

I am a big fan of Scott Fujita. I applaud his social activism, work ethic and character. When I learned he went to the Browns, I ordered a custom Fujita jersey from the Browns’ store. The day after I received it, my house was burlarized. The jersey plus 3 TV’s were stolen. I promptly ordered another. So, if Scott sees a spike in his personalized merchadise sales, it’s me.

this post is very usefull thx!

By Bart Boushley on November 30th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

You are truly missed in New Orleans! I admire everything you do on and off the field. You are a leader…I will be a fan of yours no matter what team. It doesn’t matter…you will always be a Saint to the people of New Orleans!

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About

Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more