E/F – The Glass of New Orleans: a tale of sons, fathers, Mannings, my mother, and a bunch of Superbowls

E.  All the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to realize that you’ll never appreciate winning unless you know how to lose.

F.  The resilience of the forgotten, the underdogs, the left-behind, and the lost in time, whose story one day becomes everyone’s, making all of us just a little bit better than we were before.

Oh – and the smell of garlic bread and fried oysters, creamy red beans, and my grandmother’s tomato-colored jambalaya.  Ernie K-Doe’s mother-in-law.  Po-boys at Domilise’s.  And above all, the New Orleans Saints.

The Glasses

Half-time, February 7, 2010.  Superbowl 44.  New Orleans Saints 6, Indianapolis Colts, 10.  The glasses aren’t so full.  The Maker’s Manhattan was just ordered by a New Orleanian wanting to soothe his anxiety.  The next beer, at half mast, was being nursed by a lawyer from New Jersey who wasn’t so deeply invested in the game but nonetheless wanted us all to be happy.  The last glass, beer again, belonged to an office administrator from New Jersey who discovered an unforeseen attachment to the Saints as her emotions boiled up and over during the course of this back-and-forth duel between an intrepid underdog and a (s)lumbering giant.  Our locale:  The Village Pourhouse (64 3rd Ave at 11th Street, Manhattan).  An hour and a half later, the game was over:  New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17.  Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?

The Story

When I was little, we used to listen to the Saints games on the radio while doing chores around the house – cleaning the garage, trimming the lawn, weeding the gardens, and so on.  The games were called on WWL-AM by Wayne Mack and Danny Abramowicz.  Mack had achieved fame as “The Great McNutt,” a local radio and television personality who ran Three Stooges shorts on Channel 6.  Abramowicz was the Saints’ leading receiver from 1967 (their first season) to 1972.

Whenever I could, I wore my #8 Archie Manning jersey to school beneath my khaki uniform.  I used to hide the jersey from my mother to keep it out the wash and continue wearing it.  Archie was incarnation of our city, a would-be superstar hobbled by a supporting cast that never allowed him to shine like we all knew he could.  Archie’s 35 wins, 101 losses, and 3 ties is the worst winning percentage (26.3) among NFL quarterbacks with more than 100 starts.  But you wouldn’t know that from the way we still talk about him.  Archie eventually joined Danny and Wayne to call the games on WWL.

On December 9, 1973, I went to my first Saints game at what was then Tulane (or Sugar Bowl) Stadium.  I was all of 9.  We drove up and parked somewhere uptown, and then we walked to the stadium on the “neutral ground” (what folks in New Orleans called the median) of South Claiborne Avenue – my brother, my father, me, Uncle Howard, and cousin Brett.  The Saints played the San Francisco 49ers that day and won, 16 to 10.  The odds of catching a winning game at that point in the team’s history were about 1 in 3.

Later, in high school, our band joined 3 other Catholic High Schools to form a mega-marching band when the Saints played Philadelphia on September 16, 1979.  Conley, the tuba player, ran into to Archie coming out of the tunnel and reported the encounter to all of us like one who had run into a Titan.  The Saints’ first touchdown was a 52 yard bomb from Archie to Wes Chandler.  Our guys lost, but it didn’t matter.  They were our heroes and we got to march on the greatest field in the world in front of all the fans.  It was the highlight of our marching band season.

The next year, the Saints went 1 and 15 and the fans began coming to the games with paper bags over their faces – mimicking the then-famous Unknown Comic of Gong Show fame and calling the team The New Orleans Ain’ts.  The agony of what it was to be a Saints fan can be summed up, Harper’s Index-like, by reviewing their stats over the team’s 44 years of history, including the Superbowl season of 2009.

First season:  1967

First season to break-even: 1979

First winning season:  1987

First playoff victory:  2000

Total winning seasons:  9 (of 44)

Total break-even seasons:  7

Total losing seasons:  27

Number of seasons with double-digit losses:  14

I was of course elated and ecstatic on February 7 when Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning, Archie’s hall-of-fame son, toward the end of Superbowl 44 and returned the pic for a touchdown, all but sealing the Saints’ victory.  As they shouted “who dat” here in New York, I remembered when they first started saying “Who Dat?” back in the day when winning 2 games in a row resulted in shouts of “The Saints are going to the Superbowl!”  Now here it was.  Finally.  And they actually won the game.  The Bible itself holds no words to describe such an event.

From my perch at The Village Pourhouse on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I called my father, who was at my brother’s house in Nacogdoches, Texas.  Over the background din in both of our respective locales, I choked up a bit and said, “Mom would have loved to see this.  She must be smiling up in heaven.”

Mom’s First Big Superbowl

The Saints victory brought me back in time, to 1975, when the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Superbowl.  It was a family event that had us all together around the television, breathless, excited, and cheering.  My mother grew up in Monessen, Pennsylvania, a steeltown on the Monongahela River about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. In 1969, her mother left Pennsylvania and moved in with us in Louisiana.  I remember them talking about it after the game – “after 40 years, finally!  It’s about time!”  The Steelers were apparently as hapless as the Saints for most of their history to that point.  It took the mighty Steelers, who now own 6 Superbowl titles (more than any other team) 42 years to get it done.  The Steelers pre-Superbowl stats:

First season:  1933

First season to break even:  1936

Mom is born, Monessen, Pennsylvania:  1940

First winning season:  1942

Total winning seasons, of first 42:  10

Total break-even seasons:  5

Total losing seasons:  25

Number of seasons with double-digit losses:  4

Superbowl:  1974 (season)

Of Fathers and Sons

Nowadays in my Brooklyn apartment, I sometimes listen to the Giants games on 660 WFAN.  Archie’s youngest son, Eli, calls the signals for Big Blue.  “Manning drops back and fires one over the middle . . .” and I am right there in 1978, cleaning the garage, growing up, wearing my Archie Manning jersey.  Only I’m not.  I’m 46 and my 7-year old son is listening to the Giants game with me.  He’s got his own Manning jersey, big and blue #10, for Eli.

Drew, Brittany, and Baylen in the glow of victory

One of the beautiful things about life is its circularity, and that’s how it felt on February 7.  The great wheel goes round again and again, and with it our memories and lives lived, yet alive again.  Archie Manning never played in a Superbowl, much less a winning season, but his sons Peyton and Eli each quarterbacked Superbowl victories in 2007 and 2008, and each was named MVP for the game.  In the moments after drew Brees won his Superbowl MVP in 2010, he lifted his own baby boy up in the blaring lights.  Father to son, and father to son, so it goes.

Of all this, my mom, mother to two sons, would be proud.

Notes and Credits

The opening photo of glasses on the bar at the Village Pourhouse is from the author’s personal collection.

The photo of Drew Brees with his son, Baylen, and wife Brittany, was taken by David Bergman and is used here with permission.  The photo made the cover of Sports Illustrated – Bergman’s 8th SI cover – the week after the game.  David’s site has much more about his work, and you can watch the slides roll past of photo after wonderful photo.

The New Jersey office administrator whose quarter-filled beer is in the lead photo is hereby forgiven for her devotion to the Boston Red Sox.

On a personal note, I began writing this post the day after the Superbowl, but it took a while to finish.  The main reason was that I recently took a regular paying job and had a bottleneck of work to complete that is finally playing out.  The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be growing, with new essays and a number of E/F postings in the weeks to come.

In Memoriam

Mary Krupa Guidry, 1940-2007

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9 Comments

Filed under death, fathers, ideas, life, sons, struggle, truth

9 responses to “E/F – The Glass of New Orleans: a tale of sons, fathers, Mannings, my mother, and a bunch of Superbowls

  1. One of the beautiful things about life is its circularity. I couldn’t agree more. It is often the everyday things that remind us of this.

    Your mother was beautiful. I love that photo!

  2. Hi John, I’m a big fan of yours. I truly enjoy your blog. I have been reading the blog and thinking about the half empty half full posts. It reminds me of this Cherokee Indian folk story I want to share with you.

    An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

    “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

    The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

    enjoy! Love

  3. From my cousin Rick, via FaceBook:

    Rick Guidry
    John – great article that connected with me on several fronts. 1st i am a diehard Saints fan and my first team jersey was Archie Manning’s, my first NFL game a Saints game. As a member of the extended Guidry family i can picture everyone in the scenes. The tribute to your mom (Aunt Mary to me) is awesome and touching. The circularity of life is… See More amazing. My 12 yo daughter Erin is a huge Saints fan b/c I am (though she cannot fully appreciate the losing history). She is on her 2nd jersey. I have copied this link and will be sending so some of my diehard NFL friends who will certainly appreciate it. Had no idea you were so talented. I have enjoyed connecting with you through FB.

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  6. Mary Ferguson

    Hi John: I really enjoyed your blog above and share the sentiment of others about the circularity of life. We have never met but recently i visited St Louis Cathedral in Nawlins. I am surprised I did not notice it—my sister-in-law first realize the coinicidence and mentioned it to me. Your mother’s maiden name was Mary Krupa,who I understand was from Pennsylvania. My paternal grandfather’s family name was Krupa, but after emigrating from Poland to Canada, around 1905-1910, he changed it to “Cooper”, So if he had not changed it my maiden name would also have been “Mary Krupa”!!! Do you know where your mother’s parents/grandparent’s came from? My grandfather and his brother were the only two to leave Poland, as far as I know but they are all long dead (in the circle of life) so no one now to ask. I was just curious—-I thought it was a very neat coincidence that your mother’s name would have been the same as mine.

    Have a great day. ———————-Mary Ferguson

    • Greetings Mary,

      Thank you for your kind words on my blog. I appreciate your sharing about your family. Mom’s Krupas are from Slovakia, though my grandmother always called it “the old country” or “Austria-Hungary.” Some were from Bratislava. Others were from other parts of the country. We don’t really know much about the family back in Europe. There was a kind of split in the family between the ones who emigrated and the ones who stayed in Europe. We have some letters that we need translated now, but I haven’t done that yet. It would be interesting to find some folks over there. I know some folks, Irish and Scottish, who have these cousins that they’ve visited and stuff. Interesting.

      Anyway, thanks for getting in touch. I hope to be able to add more to the blog, though I’ve been on a hiatus for a while due to work. Hopefully that will change.

      Cheers to you and Happy Easter.

      John

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