As an important player in the New Orleans Saints 2009 Super Bowl title run, Jo-Lonn Dunbar cherishes his journey. A combination of hard work, natural God-given talent and a little bit of fate led him to immortality on February 7, 2010 as a member New Orleans’ sole championship. Despite a hamstring injury during the week 13 contest against the Washington Redskins, Dunbar’s contributions helped the New Orleans Saints reach the unthinkable plateau.
Catching Up With Former New Orleans Saints Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar
I had the opportunity to speak with Jo-Lonn Dunbar about the path through his football life, some off-the-field topics and his future. Here is how the interview went.
At what age did you realize you were a better player than your peers?
“That had to be in the ninth grade. I was playing junior varsity football one week, and the next week I was playing varsity football, starting and actual playing. So I think at that time I figured I must be a little better than the kids my age.”
Playing high school football in the Syracuse area, did you have aspiration to play for Syracuse University?
“Actually, that’s who I wanted to play for. I wanted to go right from Corcoran [High School] to Syracuse University. Me and Coach Pasaualoni didn’t see eye to eye. He wanted me to play fullback I was not trying to play fullback. I would play running back or play linebacker but not fullback. He didn’t budge. I didn’t budge. That’s how we had that mutual split I guess.”
What led you to ultimately choose to play on the defensive side of the ball?
“That wasn’t necessarily my choice either. I was at B.C. (Boston College) playing running back my first year there and I was red-shirting and I kept getting a nudge from the defensive coordinator and the head coach ‘What about playing defense. What about playing defense.’ And before you know it I realized I’m not gonna play on the offensive side of the ball anytime soon. So I tried it out and I’ve been pretty good ever since.”
Considering your success at Boston College, were you surprised you weren’t drafted?
“Heck yeah! That was one of the most surprising things that’s happened to me in my life. I thought I was gonna get drafted since I played pretty well at B.C. I had All-ACC honors two or three years in a row. I figured I would be drafted. I don’t know where, but I would be drafted. Draft day was certainly a tough day for me, one of the toughest days of my life. As you look back at it, it’s just a moment in your life and doesn’t define you as a player. And it doesn’t define your success or failure. It was just a moment. It was just a day.”
Can you describe the situation when the Saints called you?
“I was with my mom and a couple of my buddies. Later on that night I got a few phone calls. It was New Orleans, Arizona, and I think maybe Indy. So I got a few phone calls. We were going back and forth. My agent and I basically decided between New Orleans and Arizona. I got a good deal from New Orleans. I figured I could probably get down there and play. I think that was the year after Arizona went to the Super Bowl. They were a pretty good defense and had some players, so I kinda took the path of least resistance on that one. It proved to be the right decision. I don’t think they made the playoffs after that. And things went well after that in New Orleans. I think in the end, I won that decision.”
Where did the inspiration for the ‘Crazy Dance’ come from?
“I’m pretty close with my little cousins Ronnie And Jerrod and they would always come up with little things for me to do if I made a play. They actually came up with that. I’m not sure which one did. We’re like brothers and that’s the first thing that came to my mind. Its been kind of an inside joke for the family ever since. If you watch that play in slow motion (Dunbar’s famous block versus the Vikings during a Reggie Bush punt return touchdown), that guy was parallel to the ground.”
Describe the polarity of the thrill of winning a Super Bowl and the frustration of not being able to play in that Super Bowl due to injury.
“You’re always happy because you’re part of it. As a competitor, you want to be playing. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. As a teammate, knowing what you put into it to help the team get there, you have to take that into account and enjoy the moment. That’s something that Will Smith, Charles Grant, Jonathan Goodwin and even Joe Vitt kept in the forefront of my mind at that point in time because I was really not happy about not playing. But I pulled my hamstring in that Washington game, close to the end of the season. I wasn’t gonna be able to play until the second or third round of the playoffs, and who knows if you’re gonna make it that far. We needed a roster spot and so it was kind of a situational thing. Sean [Payton] explained that to me. I can’t complain.”
What stands out to you most from the Super Bowl run in 2009?
“There’s a lot. The battles against Atlanta, that play that [Robert] Meachem made in Washington, the play that [Jonathan] Vilma made in Washington and the end – the interception to seal it. There’s a lot of big plays that come into account. That NFC Championship game was probably the most physical game I’ve ever seen in my life. Here’s a lot of things that came into play during that season that were memorable. I’m guessing its memorable because you’re on that kind of run, but its also memorable because of that team. Those guys are class acts. There are guys that I’m still friends with to this day, and we all talk and laugh and still see each other once in a while.”
Which Saints players are you closest with?
“Before Will’s passing, I was certainly close to Will [Smith]. Will and I grew up 20 minutes away from each other, and I’ve known him since I was 14 years old. Without a doubt, him and his wife. I still speak to his wife once in a while and their children. Outside of that, it would be Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis.”
How would you compare the 2009 and 2011 Saints?
“One was luckier than the other. I think everything comes down to timing and a little bit of luck. In ’09, we were really lucky in terms of catching breaks. 2009, we got a lot of interceptions, a lot of turnovers. I think that’s the difference. 2011, we were just a nasty defense. I think we were a top-10 defense, just a nasty defense. ”
Are you officially retired?
“I’m not, but I’m not gonna play ball anymore. My playing days are over.”
Throughout your life, who has been most influential in helping you reach the level of success you have reached?
“There’s a few. My mother is super competitive and has been very supportive my whole life. My grandmother, again, super-supportive. I think every level of football, every coach had influence on me. There was some point in time where I was pushed by each of them. Then when I got to the NFL, playing with Gregg [Williams] and Blake [Williams] was a blessing. It’s been a blessing having all of them as coaches and friends. Each coach got me to play a little better at each level. I’m definitely appreciative of their effort and how much they cared about me.”
Who were your favorite players growing up?
Is there one quarterback you were especially happy to sack?
“Nah, they’re all the same. When you get one, you get one. That’s all that mattered to me.”
Who was the toughest guy you ever played with/against?
“The toughest guy I ever played with? It probably goes back to Vilma and Will Smith. One of the toughest guys I ever played against? It would probably be Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. Every time they touch the ball, they’re bruisers. It was fun to play against them. That’s exactly what I would have been. That’s exactly what I was in high school.”
What player was the biggest motivator in the Saints locker room?
“We didn’t have many rah-rah guys. Maybe Gregg Williams. Gregg Williams was the motivator. He would always motivate you to play that much better. If I had to pick a player, it would probably be Drew [Brees]. Drew definitely tries to get the best of all of us as players. He has a certain sense of leadership and motivation, so I’d say Drew Brees.”
Do you have future aspirations to coach?
“I was coaching in Cleveland. Blake [Williams] called me a few days ago and asked me if I wanted to get back into coaching in Cleveland next year. I’m not sure. It’s something that I’ve dabbled in and I’ve thought about. If the family situation is right and I can do it, good. If not, I’m pretty content doing what I’m doing now.”
What’s it like seeing yourself in a Madden video game?
“It’s a dream come true. It’s something you always thought about. The first time you get the game, you literally only play as yourself. I went through that phase for a while, which was great. Then you just start enjoying the game, but it’s surreal to see and be a part of.”
Describe the moments you’d see a fan with your jersey on.
“It’s all cool as hell. I remember when I was in New Orleans, if I see a Dunbar jersey, I’m stopping this guy. I’m stopping him and I’m talking to him for a few minutes. I did that in New Orleans and in St. Louis.”
Any concerns about the long-term affects of head trauma?
“Absolutely. The science behind it says that it’s real. That’s something that, as a player, is certainly in the back of your mind. Thank God I haven’t experienced anything like that and hopefully I don’t, but that’s certainly something that has to be going through your mind both as a player while you’re playing and after your playing days are over.”
Thank you Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the time, and for helping bring the Lombardi trophy to the city of New Orleans.
Main Photo:Embed from Getty Images