The word “legend” is grossly overused in today’s society. The label has been associated with one-hit wonders, the latest viral YouTube sensations and occasionally a competitive eater stuffing hot dogs in his mouth at a feverish pace. The word seems to have lost some of its meaning. Referring to former New Orleans Saint Howard Lee “Hokie” Gajan as a legend should help give the work back some of its luster.
A Year Without Hokie Gajan
Hokie Gajan was Louisiana, through and through. Gajan was born in Baker, Louisiana, where he remained through high school. He then attended college at L.S.U. He played his entire career for the New Orleans Saints. Add in a decade and a half of color commentary for the Saints with play-by-play man Jim Henderson, and you can see that Louisiana was a common thread. Chase that all down with his love of hunting and fishing, his southern charm and that Crescent City accent, and you’ve got more New Orleans flavor that a pot of gumbo.
To those who knew him, Hokie Gajan was so much more.
Hokie Gajan: The Player
Typically, you wouldn’t expect much return on a player drafted in the 10th round of the NFL draft. And while Gajan may not have been the most gifted man on the field, his heart and sheer determination more than made up for that. Allen Ulrich from the Under the Dome Podcast recalled, Hokie Gajan “wasn’t the most talented guy, just a try hard guy who epitomized Saints fans favorite kinds of player.”
Gajan used that heart to finish his career with a whopping 5.39 yards per carry average. In fact, in 1984, while Eric Dickerson was setting the all-time single season rushing record, Gajan’s 6.03 yards per carry eclipsed Dickerson’s 5.55 y.p.c. average.
Hokie Gajan: The Man
“He had a profound impact on my life”, stated Kristian Garic, friend and former colleague at WWL. “After his death, it caused me to look at a few things as well in my life in terms of how I’m living my life. I would say, first and foremost, that Hokie was the consummate family man. He was all about his family, all about his grand kids, all about his children.” Garic would go on to speak about how he took notice of Gajan’s family ties and brought those habits home to his own family.
About the man himself, Garic added, “He was just a good hearted soul. He was a guy’s guy. There was nothing about him that was pretentious, or false, or a facade. He was just genuine, the real McCoy. You always knew where you stood with him. He had an uncanny ability to make you laugh in maybe the most awkward situation or the most stressful situation. Of all the human beings I’ve interacted with in my life, is certainly a top-3 in that regard just in terms of all around great human being that’s been a part of my life. I miss him tremendously.”
Without question, it was a testimony that most people would dream to hear about themselves. It wasn’t fluff, it was just Hokie Gajan.
Another of Gajan’s colleagues, Steve Geller, had more to add. “I had the chance to hang around Hokie a lot during the Saints training camp for WWL Radio. He had such a unique way of breaking down a practice and always loved his take just to hear how he would word things. Hokie was cool without even trying. A good man who always had a good story. I truly miss hearing him on game days”. Gajan’s impact seemed universal.
Former New Orleans Saints guard Brad Edelman added, “I can attest to my fondness and respect for him as a teammate and a person.”
Hokie Gajan: The Friend
When I asked Jim Henderson which players he has been closest to throughout his career, the names Stan Brock, Sam Mills and a few others surfaced, but none more quickly and thoroughly than his “man crush”, Hokie Gajan. The relationship both in the booth and off the field is well chronicled. It made for a chemistry that is impossible to duplicate.
Being so close to that “bro-mance” for so many years, Kristian Garic also had plenty to offer on it. “I was pretty close to it having traveled with them and being part of the Saints radio network crew for seven years prior to his death. I didn’t see him interact with a whole lot of people in the work environment as closely as he did with Jim Henderson.” Garic followed by mentioning their close relationship outsides the confines of work and how close the Gajan and Henderson families were.
Garic went on to paint a picture of what life was like working with the two Saints personalities. “All four of us, me, Robert Carroll, Hokie and Jim would travel and go to these games on the road and you could see the inside jokes that those two would have together. Sometimes me and Robert would look at each other and go, what was that about? We kind of felt left out at times but not in a bad way. They had a unique understanding of each other. I think they had an equal amount of respect for one another. The had a very special rapport and chemistry between the two, a very strong connection along with a professional respect for one another that really kind of made magic on the radio on Sundays. They were tremendously close.”
Oh, to be a fly on the wall… It must have been special.
Hokie Gajan: The Communicator
While you can’t find “Hokie-isms” in any dictionary, you could find them on virtually every New Orleans Saints broadcast. Ask 20 Saints fans for their favorite one and you may get 20 different answers. Here are a few:
- Don’t thump a free melon.
- He’s so fast, he could go rabbit hunting with a hammer.
- He’s like a rolling ball of butcher knives. (regarding Chris Ivory)
- I’m sadder than the last piece of lettuce at an all-you-can-eat salad bar right now.
- He flew through that line like a dog through a meat market.
- I’ve seen better hands on a clock.
- They’ve got one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.
- He runs like a sprayed roach. (regarding Reggie Bush)
- He could throw that ball through a knot hole. (regarding Drew Brees)
- That’s just a case of a Ford meeting a rooster.
The “Hokie-ism” was not only an entertaining exclamation point on many of the plays the Who Dat Nation have witnessed since 2000, but they also made those tough games and tough years bearable. You never knew what Hokie would come up with, but you know it would be gold. “He was full of them,” Kristian Garic added. “He was the king of the ‘One Liner’. He had the gift of gab. That stuff is special. There’s not one that I can point to and say is my favorite. Anything that came out of his mouth was my favorite.”
Hokie Gajan: The Legend
It seems almost fitting that the word “legend” could be defined as either a generational icon or a story. Hokie Gajan certainly was a legend to Saints fans and his seemingly lifelong connection to the franchise. The story of Gajan, as a player, as a color analyist and as a patriarch to his family is also the stuff of legend.