METAIRIE, LA. — Linebacker David Hawthorne is that rare New Orleans Saint who actually enjoyed watching the 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch that helped the Seahawks beat the Saints in their 2011 playoff game at CenturyLink Field.
Naturally, that’s because Hawthorne was a Seahawk at the time.
“It was one of the few times in history where you’ve never seen something like that,” Hawthorne said this week from the Saints’ training facility. “As the run continued, it just got louder and louder and louder until the point where he scored, and then everything kind of erupted. I was just on the sideline, and that was for us to advance in the playoffs, so that was a good feeling.”
Hawthorne had arrived in Seattle in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Christian. After a rookie season spent mostly on special teams, he began showing that his undrafted status reflected more on NFL scouts than on him.
Hawthorne worked his way into the starting lineup and over the next three years became the Seahawks’ top tackler with season totals of 117, 105 and 115. That 2011 season would be his last in Seattle because the Saints lured him to New Orleans with a five-year contract starting in 2012.
Now, as the Saints prepare for their playoff return to Seattle on Saturday, Hawthorne carries no trace of bitterness against the team that let him walk away.
“Ultimately, it was a great experience,” he said. “An undrafted free agent coming in, and them giving me an opportunity to come in and make a bunch of plays. ... I have nothing but love for the opportunity that I was given. And now it’s just a new chapter and new life. …
“I’m a Saint, and that’s who I play for, and that’s who I prepare for, and that’s who I hope to do my best job for.”
Hawthorne’s first season in New Orleans was limited to 11 appearances and 10 starts, largely because of a hamstring injury that kept him out of five games. He ended 2012 with 38 tackles, while playing weakside and strongside positions.
This season, his tackle total jumped to 91 — second on the Saints — because of a return to health and a return to inside duties in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 system. He also had three sacks, one forced fumble and three special-teams stops.
In the Saints’ playoff win at Philadelphia last weekend, Hawthorne and cornerback Keenan Lewis shared team-high defensive honors with five tackles each.
“It is great to have him back healthy, and he’s having a good season,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He runs well. He has good instincts and tackles well, and it’s been a plus for us with him being back in the lineup and being healthy. That has been important to this defense.”
Now back in the postseason, Hawthorne said he looks forward to his return to Seattle for reasons that have nothing to do with homecomings or revenge.
“I think the playoff intensity to do something special makes this one special for me,” he said.
Hawthorne is just one of several Saints with ties to the Seahawks or the Northwest.
New Orleans executive vice president/general manger Mickey Loomis spent 15 years with the Seahawks. Director of operations James Nagaoka was on the Seahawks’ staff for 22 years. Assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt held several titles with the Seahawks over 10 seasons. Scout Terry Wooden was a Seattle linebacker from 1990-96. Fullback Jed Collins played at Washington State. Inside linebacker Will Herring played alongside Hawthorne in Seattle and now in New Orleans, and has been impressed with Hawthorne’s progress.
“David’s been playing great,” Herring said. ‘He’s the same old player he was out in Seattle. He’s still bringing it and making plays. He’s been fun to play with, to play alongside in Seattle for a couple and now here.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/seahawks