The distance from LeBoeuf High School in Waterford, PA to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is roughly 1,150 miles. For former New Orleans Saints fullback Brian Milne, the road was much longer.
The Most Unlikely Hero of Them All: Brian Milne
The dream for many high school football players across the country, especially from Pennsylvania, was to play for the legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State University. Milne would earn a scholarship to play for PSU, but his story took an unfortunate turn as the all-state back was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 17 years old. After half a year of chemotherapy and surgery to remove a tumor in his chest, Milne was cleared to play football again.
Paterno reached out to Milne to make sure he found his way to Penn State, regardless of his health. Milne started to paint the picture of how important Paterno’s actions were. “At my weakest time, when I was at my sickest battling cancer, he (Paterno) called me in the hospital and said ‘Hey, don’t worry about football. Just come to Penn State’. So he is the biggest reason I was successful.” Milne continued, “I can’t express enough thanks to him and his family.”
Milne was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round of the 1996 draft surrounded by family and friends at his sister’s house. But did the Pennsylvania product have any dreams to be selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers? “It’s a funny story,” Milne responded. “Many people don’t know about this but when I went to the Combine and I spoke to a Steelers representative or Steelers scout, I think my honesty stopped me from playing with the Steelers to be quite frank. He (the Steelers scout) said, ‘Well, what are you gonna do? Are you going to continue with the discus and try to make the Olympic team or are you gonna go in the NFL?”
Milne’s reaction to the scout was surprisingly honest and may have changed the course of his professional career. “Being honest, I basically said, ‘Well, it depends on how high I’m drafted. So, they took my roommate John Witman.” After some laughs, Milne concluded, “I think the answer to that question took me out of Pittsburgh. I think if I said, ‘Yeah, I’m totally committed to football. This is what I’m gonna do’, I would have been drafted by Pittsburgh.”
An Unforgettable Year with the New Orleans Saints
After some time playing in the NFL for both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks, Milne’s path would lead him to the Big Easy for a very memorable 2000 season. When asked what he remembers most about the city, Milne’s answer was amusing.
“I can remember when we had the voodoo lady come into the Superdome and she had the snake. I mean, you don’t see that anywhere other than in New Orleans.” Milne was referring to the Saints bringing in Ava Kay Jones, a Yoruba and Voodoo Priestess, to remove the curse on a Saints franchise that, up to that point, had not won a post-season game in its history.
As he continued to speak about his memories in New Orleans, Milne expressed his appreciation for coach Jim Haslett, and his “no-nonsense” approach to getting the best out of his players. He also made mention that he missed the southern hospitality, the culture and the overall vibe of the Crescent City.
Hakim Drops the Ball!
With regard to memories in New Orleans, however, nothing trumped the “Hakim drops the ball” play which sealed the Saints first ever playoff victory.
The Saints led the St. Louis Rams 31-28 with under two minutes to go and were punting the ball back to Az-Zahir Hakim and the Mike Martz ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ offense. The punt was muffed by Hakim and was recovered by a kamikaze of sorts in Milne.
Milne recalled the legendary play. “In my mind, when I run down on special teams, I would always remember what coach Paterno said. ‘Get to the ball! Get to the ball!’ I’ve always believed in that and any special teams player would tell you, if you’re not hustling, you’re in trouble. Basically, on that play, I was hustling to the ball, getting down field as quickly as I could and obviously it worked out the way it did. That basically goes back to Joe Paterno.”
So what happened to that ball that Hakim dropped? “I have that ball”, Milne mentioned. “Afterwards, it was the only time I ever spiked the ball in my career and one of the other guys that I was close to on special teams got the ball and goes ‘Here, you need this.'” Very few trophies could measure up to that one.
Life After Football
Milne is fortunate to say his NFL career did not have any major negative physical affects. The knees, shoulders, neck and back that took the impact of so many head-on collisions are holding up just fine. These days, rather than protect the running backs and quarterback that lined up behind him, he now protects the public.
“I’ve been a police officer for 11 years and I haven’t lost a foot pursuit yet,” Milne proudly stated. He then shared a rather humorous story from his post-NFL career. “I had one guy run from me for a silly reason. We jumped a ditch and I tackled him. He told the judge that he felt like he got hit by Ray Lewis.” The judge’s response to the defendant was equally as funny as he stated, “Dummy. You just got tackled by Brian Milne. He played in the NFL.” Milne also serves on his local SWAT team.
Thank you, Brian Milne, for your service both on the field and off.