New Orleans Saints radio analyst Howard Gajan dead at 56

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The color analyst of New Orleans Saints radio broadcasts and a former Saints player, Howard ''Hokie'' Gajan, has died. He was 56.

Diane Newman, operations manager and program director of WWL AM, the flagship station of the Saints radio network, said Gajan was diagnosed with cancer last year. He died Monday night, Newman said.

Gajan was an all-state back at Baker High School and later a back at LSU.

In 1981, he went from being a 10th-round draft choice to a prominent runner with the Saints.

''Hokie Gajan was a true New Orleans Saint, as a player, a valued member of our scouting staff and later as a broadcaster,'' said Saints Owners Tom Benson and Gayle Benson. ''Overall, he impacted our whole organization and had a special relationship with our fans for 36 years. We will miss Hokie dearly and our thoughts and prayers go out to Judy, their four daughters and the entire Gajan family.''

LSU sent a tweet Tuesday offering condolences, adding, ''Gone too soon.''

Gajan played in 45 career games as fullback for the Saints and posted career totals of 252 carries for 1,358 yards (5.4 avg.) with 11 touchdowns and added 63 receptions for 515 yards with two touchdowns, also passing for a 34-yard touchdown in 1984. Gajan's yards-per-carry average ranks second all-time in Saints record books.

Gajan suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 1986 season and following a subsequent injury to the other knee in 1987, he retired and immediately transitioned into a 14-year career as a scout for the club.

Following the 2000 NFL Draft, Gajan took over color analyst duties for WWL, where he utilized his perspectives as both a former player and scout for Saints games, and handled the station's coverage of the NFL Draft, offseason and training camp practices and other club-related programming.

Veteran broadcaster and the Saints play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson, in a statement released by the radio station, described Gajan as ''a man's man.'' Henderson called Gajan ''true and genuine.'' ''He's one of the most original people I've ever met.''

Former Saints quarterback and WWL radio host Bobby Hebert met Gajan in 1972 when his high school team, South Lafourche, went up against Baker in the playoffs.

Hebert called Gajan ''the common man's favorite football player, as tough as they come.''

''I always enjoyed doing shows with Hokie, because he was always straightforward, no BS.''

Newman, who hired Gajan as color analyst, described him in a statement as ''Authentic. Honest. Purely Hokie. Tougher than tough, yet innocent & tender ... and funny, even in intensive care. That's why we all love him so much.''