This spring, a former Saint and Super Bowl champion, Will Smith, was shot and killed by another player, named Cardell Hayes. Their fatal collision highlights the fine line between triumph and tragedy in football and life in the Crescent City.
There’s a dead man spilling out of a Mercedes on Sophie Wright Place, his feet limp on the pavement, the rest of him slumped over the seat. His name is Will Smith and he is a Saint, or used to be a Saint, which is as much an appellation as a job description in New Orleans. Smith played nine seasons in the NFL, had a Super Bowl ring, retired to the city where he was rich and famous because he was a big man with an extraordinary gift. He was an adopted son and a favorite son, out on a springtime Saturday night with his wife and a few friends.
Then he got shot to death in the street.
There’s another football player on the street, a native son, New Orleans born and raised. Bigger than Smith and nearly as gifted, but he never got famous and he never got rich. Almost 30 years old and he’s humping it in a development league even the local press doesn’t bother covering. He’s a workingman, drives a tow truck and breeds puppies and pours concrete to pay the bills and raise his boy.