Monday, November 22, 2004

Joe "Little Big" Horn

Michael C. Hebert, from NFL.com

Horn has steadily climbed the Saints season and career receiving charts since he was signed as an unrestricted free agent from Kansas City. His best season with the Chiefs came in 1999, when he had 586 yards on only 35 receptions. His first season with the Saints in 2000 proved why the club signed him. He more than doubled his numbers in receptions (94) and yards (1,340) and found the end zone eight times.

The 94 catches and 1,340 yards are both still the highest in a single season for any Saints player and it was the start of a stretch in which Horn went over 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons (just missing the mark again in 2003) and caught at least 78 passes in each of his first four seasons in a Saints uniform.

This season, Horn could be on a pace to break both of his club marks. He has 59 receptions for 839 yards and five TDs, including a five-catch, 167-yard performance against his old team on Nov. 21 in the Superdome. He capped off his day with a 42-yard touchdown reception that lifted the Saints to a 27-20 victory - one of the many great moments Horn has had in New Orleans.

He ranks second in team history with 39 TD catches and is 10 shy of breaking the mark held by former WR Eric Martin (48 from 1985-93). He went over the 100-yard receiving mark for the 22nd time as a Saint in the game vs. Kansas City, which extended his club record.

His consistency as a receiver has been amazing. He has caught at least one pass in all 73 regular season games with the Saints and in his last 87 games, dating back to his time in Kansas City.

Every quarterback in the NFL has a favorite receiver and Horn certainly has been Aaron Brooks' big target. They are the top quarterback-wide receiver scoring duo in club history as Brooks has thrown 31 TDs to Horn since 2000.

All of this from a receiver who played junior college football at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College in 1991-92, spent the 1993 season out of football washing dishes and working in a furniture factory to support his family before getting into the professional ranks in the Canadian Football League in 1994.

After two years in the CFL with the Memphis Mad Dogs, he was drafted by Kansas City in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft.

His first two seasons, he caught two passes each for the Chiefs and just 14 in 1998 as he also spent time as a kick returner.

In 1999, he showed flashes of what Saints fans have been used to over the past five years as he scored six touchdowns and averaged 16.7 yards per catch.

In that offseason, he was eligible for unrestricted free agency and the Saints were very interested in him. New Orleans was one of the busiest teams in free agency and the franchise knew that Horn could give the Saints a true deep receiving threat.

"I knew that over the last four or five years before I came there, they were not stacked at wide receiver," Horn said when asked about why he chose to come to New Orleans. "I saw a city that deserved to have a receiver who gave his all. I had a lot of opportunities to go to other places. I visited New Orleans on a rainy day and I saw a city that was yearning to win. It wasn't the money, because other teams wanted me to visit. I made a commitment to the Saints that if I liked what I saw, I would sign. I saw it as an opportunity, with how I came up in my life because I never had anything, it would be good for me to go to a team that wasn't used to having a winning record, so that when we did win, I would be a big part of that."

As one of the league's most prolific receivers, Horn knows what it takes to be the best at his position.

"Number one, you have to be consistent," he said. "You can't be up-and-down, and having said that, sometimes you have an injury that you know might take two to three weeks to heal. You bite the bullet, get treatment (in the training room) and get ready to play through it. And, you have to have a lot of heart. There are a lot of soft receivers in this league, meaning if they have a small injury they can play with, they'll sit out two or three games. When you have an injury like that and you can play and be a little effective, you sacrifice yourself."

Communication with the quarterback ends on the playing field, but starts on the practice field, according to Horn.

"It's good communication on the field, because we have good communication in practice," he said. "One thing Aaron wrote to me in a Christmas card one year was, 'Let's make history together.' At practice, he throws the ball to me so much and in so many different ways, on gameday, it's like clockwork."

With over 400 catches with the Saints, there have been several that were memorable. His best, according to him, a TD grab in the Superdome against Carolina last season.

"Aaron was throwing the ball to Boo Williams in the end zone," he said. "While I was running my route and watching Boo run his since we were close by. When Aaron released the ball, I didn't think that based on where the ball was thrown, Boo could catch it because of how high the pass was. I didn't want the ball to go past my face without an opportunity to catch it in the back of the end zone. I jumped up in the air at the last second, without thinking about it, and jumped over a pair of linebackers to make the catch and got flipped upside down. I might have surprised Aaron by catching it"

As to what drives him to succeed in a position where every catch is precious and receivers are judged by their last game, Horn is driven by a single passion.

"My love for the game," he said. "My love for football, my desire to win and to compete is what drives me."

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