By JORDAN IKEDA
RAFU SPORTS EDITOR
The term “double nickel” was made famous on March 29, 1995 when Michael Jordan went into Madison Square Garden, five games into his first un-retirement party, and dropped 55 points on the Knickerbockers, thus announcing to the world that his “Airness” had officially returned.
Perhaps then it is fitting that Scott Fujita of the New Orleans Saints dons that same number. Coming off a down year in which he had lost his starting spot on the Dallas Cowboys, Fujita signed with the New Orleans Saints in March of 2006, less than seven months after Hurricane Katrina had left the city in ruins.
Since then, the Saints have seen a renaissance. Over the first 38 years of its existence, the franchise had been to the playoffs five times, winning only one wild card game.
After Fujita signed on four years ago, the Saints have a record of 38-26, have captured their division crown twice and now find themselves in their first ever Super Bowl this Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The media has constantly portrayed quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton as the saviors of the franchise—and rightfully so. Brees not only resurrected his career, but also the spirits of thousands of people ravaged by the hurricane and it was under Payton’s guidance that the Saints rebounded from a 3-13 season to advance all the way to the NFC championship game the following year.
But history should not forget, that it was actually Fujita (and his wife Jaclyn) who took the leap of faith first—two days before Brees signed on.
“We sensed there was potential to do something that was much bigger than football,” Fujita said. “I’ll never forget the conversation we had that night in our hotel room…we said, ‘This is it.’”
Since then, Fujita and his wife have done big things outside of football. They’ve been involved in countless community efforts from breast-cancer awareness to wetlands restoration to adoption. His work both on and off the field this season earned him the Saints’ 2009 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
For those who don’t know, Fujita is adopted. His adopted father, Rodney Fujita, was born at Gila River internment camp. His grandfather fought in the 442nd. He observes Japanese holidays, eats Japanese foods, and even identifies himself as a Japanese American, all in spite of the fact that he is a 6’5”, 250-lb Caucasian male.
One can imagine the struggles a white child with a Japanese surname might face and yet instead of folding under the scrutiny, Fujita has been breaking down stereotypes his entire life, drawing strength from his grandmother who endured internment. Fujita was a walk-on free safety at Cal State Berkeley, one of the most progressive thinking colleges out there. All of these factors no doubt have helped create the man that he is today. He’s socially aware and never hesitates to voice his opinions.
This week, he was asked to share his thoughts on CBS’s decision to air an antiabortion message from Focus on the Family and reject an ad for a gay dating service during this weekend’s Super Bowl.
“It’s just me standing up for equal rights,” Fujita said during Super Bowl media day Tuesday in Miami Gardens. “It’s not that courageous to have an opinion if you think it’s the right thing and you believe it wholeheartedly.”
Fujita has spoken out before in favor of abortion rights and gay rights. Last fall, he endorsed the National Equality March for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and not surprisingly, is an outspoken defender of civil liberties.
“My father was born in a camp, for God’s sake,” Fujita said. “It’s a horrible chapter in our history, and it bothers me that, like most people, I wasn’t even taught about it in school. It’s something I feel very strongly about, especially after 9-11, where there were so many similarities with people’s civil liberties being violated. It scares me, and that’s why I speak out as much as I can.”
Through all of his outspoken beliefs and community involvement, one might forget about Fujita’s main talent—his ability to play football. While not the most athletic linebacker, he has a nose for the ball and seems to be at the right place at the right time, perfectly exemplified when he recovered the fumble exchange between Adrian Petersen and Brett Favre at the Saints’ 10-yard-line during the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago.
He recorded a career high 111 tackles in 2004 while still with the Kansas City Chiefs. As a Saint, he averaged 90 tackles over his first three seasons, finishing in the top two in tackles on the team each season. This year, he missed five games and only managed 58.
But its more than his boxscore production.
“He’s a great teammate, “ Brees said back in December when Fujita was honored with the Saints Man of the Year award. “He’s a very productive player, but I’d say just as a voice in the locker room, he’s a guy who when he talks, everybody listens. He’s just a true professional, and everybody knows what he has invested and how hard he works. . . . I think everybody just has a lot of respect for him, because he’s one of those guys that does things the right way.”
This Sunday, the gold, black and white will be represented by their own double nickel who will be looking to return to New Orleans with something the city has not yet experienced, a Super Bowl championship.