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But Hebert is the central figure with whom all other New Orleans players identify. He is a durable all-purpose quarterback who excels at nothing except what needs to be done. "He'll play his ass off for you," says Swilling. "That's what I love about Bobby Hebert. He's just like me. By throwing that block on Merriweather, he showed people he's doing everything he can to win."
One afternoon in the week leading up to the Falcon game, the hit on Merriweather was the furthest thing from Hebert's mind. Driving on the 29-mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain to his haven from the public in little Mandeville, La., he was thinking of Jill. "She was so beautiful," he said. "She had two college degrees. So talented. It was just the chemical imbalance...."
Although Jill was a career woman admired by the housewives who knew her, "all my sister really wanted, when I look back, was to get married and have a family," Hebert said. "Just the basic pleasures of life." In finally giving up her 10-year fight with depression, she strengthened her brother's values. He became an even stronger family man, certain now that "I play football only because I enjoy it, and because it's the best way I have to provide for my family. I don't need the recognition for my ego."
While he played football and worked toward a business degree at Northwestern (La.) State University in 1982, he, Teresa and their daughter, Ryan, lived on food stamps for four months because he didn't think it right to ask his father, a civil engineer, for help. After being sidelined for most of his senior season with a sprained right wrist and a broken rib, Hebert was picked in the third round of the first USFL draft by the Michigan Panthers, and he signed for a relative pittance by pro quarterback standards—$70,000 the first year—because he didn't have enough money to wait to see where he would be taken in the NFL draft three months later. When the USFL folded after three spring seasons, during which he threw for a total of 81 touchdowns, Hebert was a free agent—no NFL team had drafted him—and he signed with the Saints. He replaced Dave Wilson as the starting quarterback with six games left in the '85 NFL season and won the job outright in training camp the next summer, only to miss most of '86 with a broken foot.
Clearly Hebert has known his share of hard times. And it would seem that Louisianans would have better understood the needs of one of their own during his personal travails of a year ago.
"No," Hebert says with an understanding, forgiving smile, "because, here, the Saints come first."
As the Second Line filed out of Atlanta on Sunday, the Saints relished the thought of a 5-0 start with next Sunday off, but Hebert's aim was "to try not to get caught up in the hoopla."