The sub-Saints beat the sub-Rams and the sub-Bears, but Fangio says that DeForest played his best game in a losing effort against the sub- St. Louis Cardinals. "In that game he probably would have gotten the game ball if we'd won," Fangio says. "I would have pushed for it. He was in on eight tackles and did a good job rushing the quarterback."
Fangio figures that DeForest might make it as a reserve outside linebacker, but not now with the Saints, who are deep in linebackers. "It was too hard to keep him over the guys we had," Fangio says. "But If I had a guy hurt now, Joe would come under consideration."
DeForest didn't know what was in store for him after the Saints played Chicago in their final strike game, on Oct. 18. He believed the club would keep him. After the game, he looked around the locker room and thought, Hey, this is the last game for a lot of you guys, but I'm staying. Most of the replacements were released en masse the next day, but Fangio thought enough of DeForest to break the news to him individually. "Joe," he said, "when you get a chance, come back to my office."
The news shocked DeForest. "I wanted to cry, because I didn't expect it," he says. "For the second time in three months, a person I hardly knew told me I couldn't play football anymore. It was like strike two."
He flew back to Florida, but this time he did not slink back into town. After all, he had been on TV, and Summerall and Madden had celebrated his sack. On the Cape, fellow workers came up to shake his hand. He signed autographs. On his first morning back at work, one of his office mates, Bobbi Jo Hurdle, who happens to be the sister of former major league baseball player Clint Hurdle, hollered at him. "Boy, you looked great in those tight britches!" she said.
In a way those britches still pinch him today, reminding him of what he was and could still be. DeForest earned about $10,000 for playing in three games as an NFL pro, but the experience was worth far more than that. In fact, New Orleans has invited him to try out for the team next season.
"The Saints rehabilitated my ego," he says. "No one can make you believe you're not good enough to play unless you can look in the mirror and accept it yourself. Until that day, no matter what anyone else tells you, you still can play. For me, that dream is as hot as ever right now. I'm glad for that. I worked hard last summer, but the experience told me, 'Turn it up a notch.' I will."