Most New Orleans Saints fans will wear Drew Brees or Reggie Bush jerseys for the Super Bowl.
Wayne Colman will wear a Wayne Colman jersey.
The Ventnor native played 7½ seasons for the Saints as an outside linebacker from 1969-76. The team was not very good in those early years but developed a bond with the fans that never frayed.
Colman, a former coach and teacher at Ocean City High School, found that out just a few years ago. The only reason the 63-year-old is able to wear his Saints jersey for the Super Bowl is because of the kindness of a fan from his playing days.
"A guy from New Orleans called me out of the blue just a little while ago," Colman said. "He said, 'I was just at a yard sale down here and I saw your game jersey there.' I didn't have any mementos from those years, so the guy actually sent me my game jersey. He wouldn't take any money for it, so I sent him a box of salt water taffy."
That was actually the second souvenier Colman received.
In 1996, Wayne's son, Doug, was in his rookie season with the New York Giants. When the Giants hosted the Saints that year, Wayne went to Giants Stadium and ventured over to the Saints' sideline to see if anyone was left from his playing days.
"Believe it or not, they still had the same trainer and the same equipment manager," Wayne said with a laugh. "They surprised me by presenting me with a Saints jersey with my name and number on the back."
Wayne Colman, a former standout at Atlantic City High School and Temple University, got his start in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 1968. He played special teams and linebacker that first year.
In 1969, starting outside linebacker Harold Wells missed the beginning of the season in a contract dispute, so Colman replaced him for the first four games. A week later, the Eagles traded acquired linebacker Ron Porter from Baltimore, and Colman was released. He then quickly signed with the Saints.
The Saints deserved credit not only for saving his football career but also for starting his marriage to Tonagee, his wife of 40 years.
"My wife and I got married within a week because I wanted her to go with me to New Orleans," Colman said. "And I've got to say we really enjoyed our time there. If we didn't have so much sand in our shoes - Tonagee is a Margate girl and I'm from Ventnor - we would have considered staying there after my career was over."
The Saints, who were formed in 1967, never won more than five games during Colman's tenure. Fans later famously took to wearing paper bags over their heads and calling the team the Aints out of frustration.
But not in the early years. When Colman played, the Saints were an interesting mix of veterans and younger players such as quarterback Archie Manning who entertained a city that was grateful just to have an NFL franchise.
"The people there were so nice to us," he said. "I remember one day I accidently left my playbook on top of car and took off. I was going to get fined for losing it, but somebody found it on the street and returned it to me with a nice note."
Colman played outside linebacker and also contributed on special teams. One highlight came on Nov. 8, 1970. He was on the field-goal unit when Tom Dempsey kicked an NFL-record 63-yard field goal to beat Detroit. Denver's Jason Elam also kicked a 63-yarder in 1999, but no one has broken the mark.
Colman missed most of the 1975 season with a broken arm and began to realize his NFL career was close to ending. He returned in 1976 but walked into the coaches' offices midway through the season and announced his retirement.
"They wanted me to just sit on the bench and let my arm heal, but I got bored and asked to play special teams," Colman said. "But then I realized it was time to settle down. We were both a little homesick, and it was a good time to call it a career."
Colman, who lives on North Somerset Avenue in Ventnor, had spent the offseasons teaching English and working as a driver's education instructor at Atlantic City High School. Upon retirement from the NFL, he got a job as a physical education teacher at Ocean City, where he also coached football and track before eventually retiring in 2003.
Fishing has since replaced football as Colman's passion, but he still follows the Eagles and Saints. He considers himself an Eagles fan but is rooting hard for the Saints to beat the Indianapolis Colts.
"It's a great story for the town and the team," Colman said. "I'm very happy for the Saints and their fans because it's been such a long time coming. The fans really deserve it. I probably still get five or six (playing) cards a month in the mail with nice notes asking me to sign them."
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