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Halo 01-11-2011 11:31 AM

Jerry Romig: “The VOICE of the Hometown Saints!”
 
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By Bill Randall: In an exclusive interview with BlackAndGold.com, New Orleans Saints Public Announcer Jerry Romig provides a unique and historical perspective on the NFL Saints.

B&G.com: Mr. Romig (Jerry), I consider it a distinct pleasure and privilege to speak with you today.

Jerry Romig: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure as well.

B&G.com: Are you and your wife (Janice) native New Orleanians?

Jerry Romig: Yes. Janice graduated from Sacred Heart high school; I graduated from Holy Cross. We’ve been married for 57 years. After we were married, we lived in the Lakeview area. But our residence (of 42 years) was destroyed by Katrina. We didn’t rebuild, but instead relocated and now reside in River Ridge. It’s a beautiful community.

B&G.com: Your alma mater high school relocated away from the Lower Ninth Ward, is that right?

Jerry Romig: Yes. Holy Cross high school came back in a big way out in Gentilly. The school even replicated and incorporated most of the old architectural design in the new facility in Gentilly (on Paris Ave.).

B&G.com: How did you get the job as Public Address (PA) announcer for the Saints’ home games?

Jerry Romig: We’d have to go back to the Saints’ first PA announcer Jack Dolan, who covered play-by-play in the Saints’ inaugural ’67 season. Sadly, Jack passed away prior to the ’68 season, and they brought in Bernard “Buddy” Diliberto for that season (more on that later). After the ’68 season, Vic Schwenk contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to take the PA announcer job. Well, it took me about 5 seconds or less to say YES! Vic knew of my work in that capacity because I was doing play-by-play for the Tulane Green Wave football games at the time. I also consider myself very fortunate because I’m in the press box, assisted by my brother Francis (who is my "Chief Spotter" watching everything in the press box and on the field), my daughter Mary Beth (who helps me in calling the spots on the field), and my son Jay (who helps me in various technical matters during the game). I haven’t missed announcing a Saints’ home game since 1969. That includes those at San Antonio and Baton Rouge (after Katrina in 2005). The only one I missed was the so-called “HOME” game in New York after 9-11. The Saints tried to get me in the booth, but the Giants vetoed that because of security. They wanted their guy to do the play-by-play:
B&G.com: Let’s start with the owner (Tom Benson). Years ago I viewed the Saints’ 25th Anniversary video. In it, you spoke about Mr. Benson and his New Orleans roots. How long have you known Tom, and what things come to mind when I mention his name?

Jerry Romig: Yes, my earlier knowledge of Mr. Benson came because he owned the auto dealership (Mike Persia Chevrolet). He clearly remembers coming up in the business, and is proud of the fact that he helped to build a successful dealership. When I think about Tom Benson, I am reminded of a man to whom our city (and community) owes a great debt. When John Mecom Jr. (oil tycoon) decided to sell the team, a Chicago conglomerate (the A.N. Pritzger family) appeared to position itself to buy the Saints. But Tom Benson stepped up to keep the Saints in New Orleans. Yes, we indeed owe Mr. Benson a debt of gratitude.

[Here’s archive footage of Tom Benson’s interview with Brent Musburger]
B&G.com: Tom Benson’s granddaughter (Rita) is co-owner, and visible with the franchise.

Jerry Romig: Yes, Rita is having the time of her life; she’s enjoying it. Rita is a nice person.

B&G.com: There are local New Orleans sportswriters and sportscasters who are doing a good job today. But let’s reflect on some of the ones who have passed on before us, and never lived to see the Saints win the Super Bowl.

Jerry Romig: This should be interesting. OK, I’m ready.

B&G.com: Al Wester.

Jerry Romig: Yeah, he was known as “Big Al.” He was a great professional, and brought a commanding perspective. He did a great job at play-by-play with Saints’ football. As a matter of fact, Big Al was on the microphone for the historic 63-yd Dempsey Kick. Al was a great guy!
B&G.com: Bruce Miller.

Jerry Romig: His nickname was “Bronco.” He had a great voice on radio; he was smooth and steady. Bruce was an absolute fanatic over the Tulane Green Wave (he covered many of their games play-by-play). He too was a great professional.

B&G.com: Your son (Mark) and I were in Brother Martin’s Class of ’74. Mark and I were in the 8th Grade during Brother Martin’s first year of existence (when Cor Jesu and St. Aloysius, Tom Benson’s alma mater, were merged). That 1969-70 season saw the Crusaders cap a perfect 36-0 basketball season with a championship game. But those who followed New Orleans area school sports might not have been able to listen to live (basketball & football) state playoff and championship games had it not been for the actions of the late Peter “Champ” Clark. Most New Orleans’ radio stations didn’t travel away from the metro area to cover the games.

Jerry Romig: Yes, that’s true. As Sports Director for station WBOK, Champ Clark and his crew traveled to bring those live playoff and championship games over the airwaves. Champ was very knowledgeable in sports, and really knew New Orleans. Unfortunately (as a Black sportscaster), he was somewhat of a victim of segregation and discrimination that lingered in the 1960’s, and many don’t know how valuable he was to the community. I’d say that Champ Clark was about a decade AHEAD of his time. Had he been operating in the 70’s and beyond, he probably would have garnered the same notoriety as his contemporaries in the sports broadcasting arena in the New Orleans area.

B&G.com: Mel Leavitt.

Jerry Romig: Mel Leavitt came to New Orleans in the early 1950’s from the St. Louis area. He brought a high level of professionalism to the job and was known as “Mr. Sports.” He also did a daily show as well as play-by-play announcing at many ball games. Mel actually mentored another sports broadcast great, Wayne Mack.

B&G.com: Great Segway: tell us about Wayne.

Jerry Romig: Well, as I mentioned, Mel Leavitt mentored him. The thing we all admired about Wayne was his determination and attitude. He literally had to work his way up in the job. His passion was sports broadcasting, but there were no openings for him. But the station (WDSU-TV) asked him if he’d fill a kiddy entertainment role at the station, and Wayne agreed. That began the era of the “Great McNutt.” Wayne left a wonderful book for posterity: “The Saga of the Saints.” Many who have read it say it paints a very good picture of the historical legacy of the franchise. See here: WDSU On-camera Celebrities Page 4

B&G.com: Hap Glaudi.

Jerry Romig: Excellent sports writer. Hap knew New Orleans backwards & forward. He was a prolific sports writer. Although he did TV sports commentator, his real skill was in writing. He succeeded Fred Digby at the States Item newspaper. Without a doubt, Hap knew sports: B&G.com: Not a sportscaster, but important in the Saints’ history: Dave Dixon.

Jerry Romig: Yes, Dave Dixon played a major role in the Saints’ history, but will be best remembered for his hand in bringing a true architectural wonder to New Orleans: “The Superdome.” Read here: David F. Dixon, Force Behind Saints and Superdome, Dies at 87 - NYTimes.com

B&G.com: Buddy D.

Jerry Romig: (chuckle) Bernard “Buddy” Diliberto. What a character! Buddy had the courage and nerve to tell the truth. As I mentioned earlier, Buddy preceded me as PA announcer for the Saints (at home games). But because he was so outspoken, he began to tell the unvarnished truth about the team… right on the air. Well, that didn’t sit well with management, and he was fired after 1 season (in 1968). I was offered the job for the ’69 season, and I’ve been there ever since.

But that’s not the story about Buddy D. He wrote a sports column for the Catholic newspaper (Clarion Herald), and later landed a job for a local New Orleans TV station (WVUE) bringing the sports report. For those that don’t know it, after the Saints turned in another bad performance in a game, Buddy D. was the one who came on-camera with a paper bag over his head, thus launching the Aints. Buddy loved the Saints, but he was tired of the “Wait-till-next-year” mentality, poor management and lack of professionalism in the organization.

One thing many remember Buddy D. for was his absolute “butchering” of the English language. Actually, he used good English (for the most part), but he had trouble with certain consonants, especially R’s & W’s. One hilarious play occurred when Buddy D. (doing play-by-play) described a play involving: Billy Kilmer, Ernie Wheelwright and Danny Abramowitz. Kilmer threw a lateral to Wheelwright, who threw downfield to Abramowitz. Buddy D. got tremendously tongue-tied on that play (laughter).

Buddy D. didn’t live to see the Saints make the Super Bowl, but he vowed that if the Saints ever did, he’d wear a dress. Saints fans were all glad when Bobby Hebert, in honor of Buddy D’s pledge, wore a dress for Super Bowl XLIV. It was great! Most of us who know the Crescent City have a special place in their hearts for the memory of Buddy Diliberto: B&G.com: I’ll go over many (but not all) of the men who have been head coach for the Saints. Please give me what comes to mind with each.

Jerry Romig: OK; I’ll give it a shot.

B&G.com: J.D. Roberts.

Jerry Romig: Yes, J.D. was head coach when Tom Dempsey kicked that record-setting 63 yard field goal at old Tulane Stadium (vs. the Detroit Lions). I’m sorry, but I didn’t get to know him that well, and don’t have any meaningful impressions to give you.

B&G.com: Hank Stram.

Jerry Romig: I feel that Hank Stram deserves a high place in Saints’ history. He did a lot to build the team through the NFL draft, and wasn’t given enough time to rebuild the team (in my opinion). Hank was also a very good friend to the media. He was always accessible, was a great coach & great person. He’s still missed.

Note: Here’s footage from NFL.com that gives a great perspective on the type of coach
Hank Stram was:

B&G.com: Dick Nolan.

Jerry Romig: Dick was a good coach. He had some talent, but needed more personnel to support Archie Manning (especially on defense).

B&G.com: O.A. “Bum” Phillips.

Jerry Romig: Good coach; brought in good players through the draft. I regret that he traded Archie Manning.

B&G.com: Jim Mora.

Jerry Romig: Excellent coach. Jim was responsible for building a firm foundation. He was a man of good character and impeccable integrity. He was also well-liked. Jim was a tough coach and hand high standards, but he got results. The Saints’ first winning season (and first playoff appearances) came under his leadership. Don’t forget that he wasn’t one to make excuses. His “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” speech was unscripted, and direct. Again, he was a very good coach:

B&G.com: Not a former Head Coach, but what about Jim Finks?

Jerry Romig: Oh, man! Great professional. It was through Jim Finks that the Saints’ organization laid the firm foundation that built a winner in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I can’t say enough about that man; he was taken from us far too soon. Unfortunately, he was a chain smoker of “nicotine sticks” (cigarettes).

B&G.com: Mike Ditka.

Jerry Romig: He was a very “colorful” personality.

B&G.com: Jim Haslett.

Jerry Romig: He had some good years during a very tough and competitive situation in the NFL. The NFC South was formed during Haslett’s watch. And, at long last, the Saints won their first playoff game. Too bad the 2005 Katrina season ended his tenure the way it did (with that 3-13 season).

B&G.com: One more General Manager – Mickey Loomis.

Jerry Romig: Quiet, efficient and smart GM. He’s also a man of great integrity. He’s low-key, and doesn’t seek the limelight. He never looks to be the “media darling,” and prefers others in the spotlight. Can’t say enough for his great personnel decisions, especially bringing in Sean Payton and Drew Brees: Super Bowl XLIV: Oregon native Mickey Loomis revives the Saints franchise | OregonLive.com

B&G.com: Sean Payton.

Jerry Romig: Sean Payton is a very bright coach; he’s an offensive genius. He has made the team fun to watch. The only drawback is that he’s so dedicated, he may be burning the candle at both ends. He’s a tireless worker. I don’t want to see him burnout. But that said, it’s absolutely great having him as the Saints’ head coach. He’s among the best in the business:
B&G.com: After a long wait, the Saints finally saw one of its former players inducted in the NFL’s Hall of Fame (in Canton, OH). We were all glad to see Rickey Jackson inducted, but I was wondering if you have in mind a couple of Saints whose names should already be there?

Jerry Romig: Most definitely. Without a doubt, Morten Andersen and Sam Mills should already be in the NFL Hall of Fame. I could give you more suggestions, but those two are worthy beyond any shadow of a doubt.

B&G.com: Just curious, but would someone like Danny Abramowicz be worthy?

Jerry Romig: No; not in my opinion. Danny was a good player, but not HOF material.

B&G.com: Here’s a couple of quick-shots about present & past Saints’ players.

Jerry Romig: OK; go ahead.

B&G.com: Archie Manning.

Jerry Romig: Great NFL quarterback. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a shame that he didn’t have a complete team surrounding him. If Archie had a defense backing him up, the Saints would have long ago been known as a winning franchise. But even beyond his NFL talent, Archie was a great spokesperson, goodwill ambassador, and model citizen. He and his wife Olivia will always be held in high regard by this community.
[Here’s a fitting tribute video]

B&G.com: Aaron Brooks.

Jerry Romig: Talent that was eventually wasted. Aaron was an excellent athlete, and had all the talent necessary to be successful as an NFL quarterback.

B&G.com: Drew Brees.

Jerry Romig: Just say “Thank you” to the Chargers and Dolphins. Coach Payton & Mickey Loomis did the right thing by showing Brees that the Saints’ franchise believed in him. What a player! Not only that, but in the community he’s a great citizen and goodwill ambassador. Drew is a man of character, as well as coach on the field. He’s a DREAM player, and we are blessed!

B&G.com: Jerry, you’ve been very gracious to have allowed me to take an original 10 minute interview that has eclipsed a half-hour. I’d like to wrap this interview up with an incident you are remembered for with the WhoDat Nation.

Jerry Romig: OK.

B&G.com: If you can, give us a rundown on the atmosphere leading up to the Saints’ first playoff game (in 1987), the beatdown we were getting from the Vikings, then that moment when you got on the microphone near the end of that 44-10 loss in the Superdome.

Jerry Romig: Well, 1987 was a very special year for the Saints’ franchise. The team was in the playoffs for the VERY FIRST TIME. This was showcasing a system and a team that was built by professionalism, hard work, dedication, and players who earned the respect of the city and the rest of the NFL. The overall feeling was that the franchise was finally coming of age!

The climate was unbelievable just prior to kickoff. As you entered the Superdome, it was as though you were walking on “air of excitement.” Ahhhhhh… a Championship team, at long last. Then, the game gets underway and the Saints forced a fumble on the Vikings’ first possession. Then, after the turnover, Eric Martin catches a TD pass to put the Saints on top. When he scored the TD, it felt like the crowd was going to blow the roof off the Dome.

Unfortunately, that was the high point for the Saints. The Vikings methodically kept their cool, and pulled away as throughout the remainder of the first half. Then, just before the half ended, the Vikings scored on a “Hail Mary” pass to Anthony Carter. That took the wind out of the team’s sail. It also took the crowd out of the game.

In the second half it was all Vikings, and there were lots of long, sad faces in the Dome. Late in the 4th quarter with the Vikings ahead 44-10, as the clock was winding-down, there was a timeout on the field (or something stopping the action), and I said to myself “…we’ve got to thank these guys for getting us to the postseason. We absolutely MUST leave the team with a feeling of gratitude from the fan base.” My action became spontaneous, and I got on the PA mike and announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s thank the New Orleans Saint for bringing us to the playoffs.” With that, the crowd (once lethargic and depressed) came alive and enthused, and erupted in thunderous applause.

It was the right thing to do, and apparently the fans agreed.


Halo 01-11-2011 01:52 PM

Awesome read Bill

73Saint 01-11-2011 01:57 PM

Yes that was a great read!!

Ashley 01-11-2011 01:59 PM

Thanks so much, wow how i miss the home games.

Beastmode 01-11-2011 03:09 PM

Decades of despair to one definitive moment of greatness. I'm glad that man got to see it finally come full circle.

Crusader 01-18-2011 01:34 AM

Great article even for me who don't know a lot of the names!

Pete 01-18-2011 01:53 AM

Thx!

exiled 01-18-2011 01:58 AM

terrific. thanks.

skymike 01-18-2011 06:19 AM

Some of it I knew, some of it I just learned. All I know is my brain is AWOL from work right now, as I have been completely consumed with this fascinating story.

I dont know who you are, Bill, but please tell me more.

HouYat 01-18-2011 08:33 AM

Bill, Great article about a legend in N.O. (although he would never admit it) and a true gentleman. My family has known Jerry & his wife for many years going back to our days in Lakeview, and they are the most genuine and humble people you could ever know.


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