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saintz08 08-29-2003 11:55 AM

Remembering a great Saints fan

Al Hirt's ‘ultimate fantasy' was to play before a Super Bowl in New Orleans that included the Saints


Peter Finney

When it came to Fantasy Football, no one played the game with more passion than Al Hirt.

I'm not talking about the game you play with statistics. I'm talking about the game you play in your dreams, the one many of you are now playing, when your heroes have not lost a game.

Ordinarily you would think such a gifted trumpet player would be satisfied with winning a Grammy, performing for six presidents and playing "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II.

But something was missing. Sadly, the man who embodied his hometown's rollicking spirit would not live to see what he wanted as much as another best-selling album: the Saints in the Super Bowl.

Hirt died in 1999 at age 76. When we last talked a little more than two years earlier -- the week of Super Bowl XXXI, when the Packers were preparing to face the Patriots in the Superdome -- he was still holding out hope.

At the time the Saints were the only NFL franchise without a playoff victory, something expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville already had accomplished.

"Seeing what the Panthers and Jaguars did," Al said, "got me thinking of my ultimate fantasy: A Super Bowl in New Orleans with the expansion Saints."

He said he thought about it as he stood in Tulane Stadium playing the national anthem before Super Bowl IV, thinking how great it would be if Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs were playing "my Saints" (Al owned a small piece of the team) instead of the Minnesota Vikings.

For Al and his horn, it was one of five Super Bowl appearances. "I'd swap them all just to see our guys play in one," he said.

He admitted he was partial to the early Saints, who played, and lost, like an expansion team should, when halftime shows included chariot races, ostrich races, balloons, pigeons and a re-creation of the Battle of New Orleans (in which one of the participants lost part of his hand). The aim was obvious: to distract fans from another impending loss.

"What a list of suspects you had in those days," he recalled, going back to the beginning, when the roster was loaded with castoffs: Doug Atkins, Billy Kilmer, Fred Whittingham, Steve Stonebreaker, Monty Stickles, Ray Rissmiller, Joe Don Looney, Lou Cordileone, Dave Whitsell.

And the stories.

"You did not fool around with Atkins," Al said, "especially if he was having a toddy. The only thing meaner than Doug was his dog, Rebel. One night Doug came to my place on Bourbon Street and asked me to make him a martini. Which I did, in the usual martini glass. When he saw it, he called it a sissy martini. He said he wanted a real one. So I poured him one in a hurricane glass. Then another."

Later that night, according to Hirt, they decided to lock Atkins in Cordileone's new station wagon, figuring he'd go to sleep.

"Bad move," Al said. "Doug smashed his way out, ruined the wagon, then headed back for another martini. In a hurricane glass."

When the Saints were playing the Giants in New York, in Yankee Stadium, and Stonebreaker triggered a postgame free-for-all, Hirt said he watched as Atkins grabbed a couple of Giants players, one under each arm, and knocked "their heads together like bowling balls."

During a preseason scrimmage in San Diego, Hirt watched Whittingham, unhappy over the sideline deportment of the Chargers, floor San Diego coach Sid Gillman with a right cross. On another occasion, Hirt showed up at central lockup one night to get Whittingham out of jail (he had taken a policeman's gun). Hirt said he had second thoughts when Whittingham announced: "If you get me out, I'm gonna take ‘em all on."

Hirt remembered Stickles, unhappy about a penalty flag, going out of his way to run over the official on an ensuing play. He remembered Looney, who played up to his name, quit after playing half a season, then resurface years later as a mystic, washing elephants in India.

He remembered sitting next to the father of Kilmer, the quarterback, in Tulane Stadium. "He'd tell me: ‘Al, they're killing my son.' I'd say: ‘You're right. They're killing him. But he keeps getting up.' "

Hirt became a big Kilmer fan, and a few years later it was a bittersweet experience for him watching the knuckle-ball-throwing quarterback take the Redskins to Super Bowl VII.

As the years went on for the star-crossed Saints, as we talked with the 20th century coming to a close, Hirt said he was beginning to agree with the people who suggested the Saints had a curse on them.

"Maybe the curse will wear out," Al said. "Maybe we've suffered enough. Maybe we'll be the team of the 21st century."

That's how you play Fantasy Football.

. . . . . . .

JOESAM2002 08-29-2003 12:38 PM

Remembering a great Saints fan
Thanks 08 for finding this article. It sure is good to remember some things. Al was special.

cobra 08-29-2003 02:17 PM

Remembering a great Saints fan
that almost brings me too tears **** man that sucks i hope i live long enough too see us win a superbowl

FWtex 08-29-2003 06:34 PM

Remembering a great Saints fan
Cobra you better pray you live till at least through feb 2005. know what I mean?

saintz08 08-30-2003 11:57 AM

Remembering a great Saints fan
I think you guys have given me a new idea . I will post the idea under the post heading Petition and we can go from there .

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