Monday, February 1, 2010

New Orleans Saints Memories

“We’ll get ‘em next year” was 2010.

I was one of the now 3.9 million people cheering in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans in 1970 when Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints kicked the record-breaking 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions. That long a kick was so unheard of at the time that Alex Karras the football player who would became a celebrity on the sitcom “Webster” was the only one who tried to block it.
My father, sister and I had season tickets and were in the upper deck on the goal line at the end of the field that the kick was made. It was forth down with two seconds left on the clock and the coach thought the saints in heaven and the Saints of the field didn’t have a prayer. The “Hail Mary” play he felt wouldn’t work, so he sent in Dempsey.
My sister and I had torn up the program my father had bought us so we could have confetti to throw at the end of the game but with the Saints losing and figuring they weren’t going to win we threw the confetti prematurely on the ground and didn’t have any left for a kick we weren’t aware would come.
I remember the play being forth down and my father’s exact words, “Holy, shit! They’re bringing on Dempsey!” Then he looked at me as if he shouldn’t have cursed, something my father rarely did in front of us.
I remember the snap, the hold, the kick, and my eyes following the ball in the air from my left to the right. Since I was on the goal line, from my perspective I didn’t know if it was wide to the left or wide to the right but I could see it was just long enough. I seem to remember the official extending his arms upward to signal “good’ but what I definitely remember is my father going completely crazy. He jumped and yelled and smiled and laughed, it was one of the happiest and silliest I’ve ever seen him. My old man was giddy.
My father was a semi-pro football player in New Orleans, was a college umpire, football referee, and a NORD playground supervisor and coach. NORD is the New Orleans Recreation Department, the little league that played the major sports in and around the neighborhoods of New Orleans. He loved sports and the Saints and he would have loved to see the Saints win the Super Bowl.
When I got older, my father up-graded his tickets to give him a lower seat and ended up the first two seats in the aisle over the seam in the stadium where the players go on to the field. They would gather before they ran out some fifty feet below us and we would shout our pleasure and displeasure with the other team.
This one particular day we were playing the Chicago Bears and my hero after Archie Manning was the famous Dick Butkus who played linebacker. I thought the world of this guy. He was the hero I wanted to become on the football field, and I was going to watch him play.
Before the game as Butkus was going through the throngs of people below I was leaning over the railing, yelling to get his attention. I kept shouting and yelling but my voice just didn’t reach him. I was heart broken because I wanted him to wave back at me.
My older cousin, closer to my dad’s age, who was the crazy and outlandish one in the group was with us. He asked me, “Larry do you want me to get his attention?”
I said, “Please, Uncle Lloyd, I want to wave to him.”
My uncle leaned over the rail, and yelled very loudly, “Hey Butkus! Butkus! Hey! Up here!”
Dick Butkus casually waved his hand high as to just acknowledge the crowd.
My cousin yelled again, “Butkus! Up here! Hey, look man!”
I was trembling. I just knew he was going to wave at me.
My cousin said again, “Butkus, up here!”
Dick Butcus, my hero, in his Chicago uniform, looked up at me, an admiring nine year old and smiled. I waved like a kid whose dream had come true.
That’s when my cousin realized he caught his attention and said, “Butkus you’re a fucking sissy!”
My head swooned. I was mortified. I thought I was going to faint. How dare he say that about the most wonderful man in the world, the epitome of football, the man who I was going to become.
Everyone around me was laughing and giving each other high fives knowing he played right into my cousin’s hands. I didn’t see it coming.
Hurricane Katrina gave me another great Saints memory. The Dome was ruined for the season and Tiger Stadium at LSU was the venue for the home games. The tickets were cheap and I got to take my teenage stepson. The games were never sold out so at half time he and I would go and take seats closer to the field and I would watch the game like never before. I could hear the quarterbacks when the signals were called, the slap of the pads, the grunts and groans of the linemen and the cheers from all around me and not just from the seats below.
Try, at least once to watch a professional football game close-up with a person you care for. It is absolutely thrilling.
I’m from the beginning and the memories of the Saints, Tulane Stadium, The Dome, Archie Manning, Tom Dempsey, Super Bowl coaches like Hank Stram, Gilliam’s opening, franchise kick-off touchdown, the losing seasons, the Hesiman Trophy winning players, Buddy D, Bobby Herbert, the Dome Patrol, through Katrina, Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and of course all the other memories in-between too numerous to mention are flooding back into a man who never thought it would happen. I along with millions of people am astonished.
The Saints are finally Super Bowl caliber. “We’ll get ‘em next year” came to an end in 2010.
Now, its “we’ll get there again next year.”
I hope so, next year and many years to come.

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