Tag Archives: New Orleans

A Journey to the Land of Dreams…

IMG_1214NOLA1NOLA3nolabanner5Won’t you come with me?
Down the Mississippi?
We’ll take a trip to the land of dreams
Going down the river, down to New OrleansIMG_1106

From the time that I was old enough to understand it was my father’s birthplace, New Orleans has always held a special place in my heart and my imagination.

IMG_1097Before I ever set foot in the Crescent City – or even knew it was called “the Crescent City” — my grandmother’s annual Mardi Gras packages aroused a fascination with my dad’s exotic hometown. Grandma’s annual package included three essential items: her homemade fudge (maple and chocolate), Mardi Gras beads and doubloons, and a couple weeks worth of Times Picayune front pages.

Incredibly, I still haven’t been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

I was somewhere around 6 or 8-years old when we made our first family pilgrimage from Cleveland to New Orleans to visit Grandma Barrosse and the rest of my dad’s family. We went by train. It was the biggest adventure of my young life – and the moist summer evening heat, the scent of magnolia and honeysuckle, the little Confederate flag some relative gave me, and my terror of voodoo queen Marie Laveau are still among my most cherished childhood memories.

Cannons-MB-House-447-wideI was around 12-years old when we returned to New Orleans – this time by car. I remember that trip in sharper focus because I was old enough to appreciate taking in the wonders of the French Quarter, City Park and the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.

That second trip was also memorable because of my determination to capture green anole lizards (the dime store chameleons of my youth) in my Grandma’s backyard. I captured more than a dozen of them among the honeysuckle vines before my grasping hand, plunging into the vines after my prey — got stung by three wasps at once. Though they laid me low for a full day, I survived those stings – and most of my lizards survived the drive home to Cleveland.

Ross Salinger, the author, and John Goodrich at the Renn Faire in Metairie (1984)

Ross Salinger, the author, and John Goodrich at the Renn Faire in Metairie (1984)

A couple decades later, I returned to New Orleans for two years in a row to perform at a Renaissance faire in the suburb of Metairie.

Those two working trips to the Big Easy were a chance to reconnect with my nonagenarian grandmother, my aunts and uncles, and my father’s amazing hometown with its unique history, music, food and culture.

(Right) Doing the Sturdy Beggars Mud Show. (Center) The author and Ross Salinger in the French Quarter. (Right) John Goodrich relaxes in the courtyard of Napoleon House.

(Left) Doing the Sturdy Beggars Mud Show. (Center) The author and Ross Salinger in the French Quarter. (Right) John Goodrich relaxes in the courtyard of Napoleon House. (1984)

With Victoria at Napoleon House waiting for a Pimms Cup. (1985)

With Victoria at Napoleon House waiting for a Pimms Cup.

On the second trip, in 1985, Victoria (now my wife) joined me to work at the Renaissance Faire, meet the Barrosse clan, and enjoy the pleasures of the French Quarter.

But, until this year, I’d never taken any of my three daughters to New Orleans.photo 2

Well, I wish I was in New Orleans,
I can see it in my dreams
Arm-in-arm down Burgundy,
a bottle and my friends and me
                                                   Tom Waits

My youngest daughter, Evangeline (a good Louisiana name)  applied to Tulane University in New Orleans – and this spring, we were delighted when she was accepted with an academic scholarship. So, a 3-day father-daughter trip to my dad’s hometown was in order. The choice was between UCLA and Tulane – and this trip would help her decide.

IMG_1081Eva is a songwriter – and New Orleans is a musical melting pot unlike any other, where jazz, blues, big band, marching band, rock and roll, Zydeco, and all the rhythms of the Caribbean and Mississippi Delta come together in the streets, restaurants and bars.

On the day we arrived in town, we were delighted to discover that the last day of the French Quarter Festival was still underway and the Quarter was jammed with musicians and bands on nearly every corner — including this dynamic face-off between brass bands on Decatur Street.

IMG_1180We also went to Preservation Hall. My daughters had seen the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in concert at The Gainey Vineyard in Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley – but to see these wonderful musicians playing their hearts out as we sat on the worn wooden floor of that modest, intimate musical temple in the French Quarter is a whole different experience.

There's music on just about every block of the Vieux Carre.

There’s music on just about every block of the Vieux Carre.

IMG_1115And then there’s the food. Nobody should visit New Orleans on a diet. Our first restaurant experience called out to us from its sign: Evangeline.

The food at Evangeline was superb.

Here’s just a sample of the many spicy and tasty delights we consumed at Evangeline and at other French Quarter eateries, including The Gumbo Shop, during our visit…

Jambalaya at Evangeline. Perfectly wonderful.

Jambalaya at Evangeline. Perfectly wonderful.

Gumbo at -- where else? -- The Gumbo Shop.

Gumbo at — where else? — The Gumbo Shop.

Eva enjoyed her muffaletta on Decatur Street.

Eva enjoyed her muffaletta on Decatur Street.

And, of course, we had to have our beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

And, of course, we had to have our beignets at Cafe Du Monde.


So long mom.
So long pop.
I’m goin’ to New Orleans or else
I’ll drop dead
Down in New Orleans
You know I love it there
And I ain’t been there yet.
                          The Rockme FoundationIMG_1136

The second day of our trip was the reason we were in New Orleans in the first place: my daughter’s visit to Tulane University.tulane

IMG_1132Tulane is a beautiful place.

I could imagine Eva attending class among the spreading trees, draped with Mardi Gras beads.

Perhaps she could even take James Carville’s political science class someday.

On weekends, she could take the St. Charles street car to the French Quarter and soak in music and culture that would inform her songs.streetcar

IMG_1135After our visit to Tulane we hopped that street car and returned to the French Quarter. The streets weren’t as crowded as they’d been the day before for the French Quarter Festival — but the the mood was still celebratory and the music was still playing.

Here, Eva is caught up in the New Orleans blues and the fancy steps of a veteran swing dancing devotee.

Dad and daughter at UCLA.

Dad and daughter at UCLA.

Ultimately, my daughter Eva chose to attend UCLA instead of Tulane. (Go, Bruins!) She’s a California girl — and we’re perfectly happy with her choice.

But on our father-daughter trip she fell in love with New Orleans.

And my love affair with my dad’s city was renewed.

We’ll be back in the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the Land of Dreams.

And New Orleans – as it has for centuries – will be waiting to fascinate and delight.

What follows is a photo essay to further celebrate the wonders of my father’s wondrous, historic, culturally resplendent hometown…

Dad poses across the street from our temporary home, The St. James Hotel on Magazine Street.

Dad poses across the street from our temporary home, The St. James Hotel on Magazine Street.

Dad gazes upward toward Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

Dad gazes upward toward Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

Magnificent trees rise above the artwork hanging on the Jackson Square fence.

Magnificent trees rise above the artwork hanging on the Jackson Square fence.

The street scene on the east side of Jackson Square.

The street scene on the east side of Jackson Square.

Local legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte's

Local legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte’s friends provided this house for his exile.

Eva in the courtyard of Napoleon House. Her dad's Pimm's Cup is on the way.

Eva in the courtyard of Napoleon House. Her dad’s Pimm’s Cup is on the way.

The aforementioned Pimm's Cup.

The aforementioned Pimm’s Cup. I already ate the traditional cucumber slice.

Classic, lovely New Orleans decay in the Napoleon House  courtyard.

Classic, lovely New Orleans decay in the Napoleon House courtyard.

Eva in front of the house where William Faulkner lived and wrote while in New  Orleans.

Eva in front of the house where William Faulkner lived and wrote while in New Orleans.


You're not allowed to take photos at Preservation Hall. So, I don't know what this is...

You’re not allowed to take photos at Preservation Hall. So, I don’t know what this is…




Eva poses in the gaudy costume of a Mardi Gras Indian.

Eva poses in the gaudy costume of a Mardi Gras Indian.

The French Quarter House with the famous cornstalk gate.

The French Quarter House with the famous cornstalk gate.

The cornstalk gate.

The cornstalk gate.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel -- where Victoria and I stayed in 1985.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel — where Victoria and I stayed in 1985.


A French Quarter door.

A French Quarter door.

Typical French Quarter architecture and porch gardening.

Typical French Quarter architecture and porch gardening.


Evangeline looks at home in the Vieux Carre.

Evangeline looks at home in the Vieux Carre.

One gorgeous building after another...

One gorgeous building after another…

That's all, folks! New Orleans is waiting for YOU!

New Orleans is a taste of Old Europe in the New World.


Filed under Adventure, Art, Beauty, History

Why I’m Cheering for the San Francisco 49ers Today!

Ray 2011313-5-NFL-Ravens-Ray-Lewis-OB-PI_20130113211537682_660_320As a Cleveland boy, I already have a very good reason to root against the Baltimore Ravens in today’s Super Bowl. Hell, The Ravens used to be the legendary Cleveland Browns until owner Art Modell screwed The Best Location in the Nation and, in the dark of night, ran off to Baltimore with our storied NFL franchise in 1996.

So, I already have one very, very good reason to bet against, cheer against, and plead to the Good Lord against the Baltimore Ravens.

But the biggest reason I’m rooting against the Ravens is Ray Lewis.

-be9303484bf781dbI’m old enough to remember Ray Lewis as the guy who got in a fight in January 2000 that resulted in his indictment on murder and aggravated assault charges. Of course, rich, resourceful, pampered athlete Ray was able to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against the two other defendants: his buddies.

Let’s remember Ray’s murderous misadventure – just a lucky 13 years ago…

Following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, Ray and his pals got into a fight that resulted in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.

ray_lewis_51965686_620x350Lewis and his buddies, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges. Lewis testified that his pals Oakley and Sweeting bought knives earlier that week from a sporting goods store where Lewis had been signing autographs. The blood of one of the victims was found inside of Lewis’s limo.

The suit Lewis was wearing the night of the killings has never been found.

Lewis’ attorneys negotiated a plea agreement. The murder charges against Lewis were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting — and his plea of guilty to obstruction of justice.

nfl_a_lewisr_600Lewis was sentenced to 12 months of probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL — the highest fine levied against an NFL player for an infraction that was not drug related.

The following year, Lewis was named Super Bowl XXXV MVP.

raylewisSIRay Lewis is no MVP as far as I’m concerned. And I’m tired of his whole, pious, proselytizing “God is amazing” act.

I know Christians love a redemption story ever since they forgave Saul for assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen and allowed him to become St. Paul.

But Ray Lewis is no saint. He’s no hero. He’s not a redemption story.

He’s a charlatan and a scoundrel who can hit like a ton of bricks.

I hope the San Francisco 49ers run him over and drive his reputation into the ground.

And I hope Art Modell is watching the Raven’s loss – whether in heaven above or hell below.


Filed under Sports, Truth

Rockmes @ Mayne Stage

On December 30, 2011, The Practical Theatre Company’s semi-legendary house band Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation closed the triumphant two-week engagement of “The Vic & Paul Show” at Mayne Stage in Chicago with a raucous night of traditional American garage rock & roll. Here’s a brief glimpse of that gig: two original Rockme songs, performed with the band’s characteristic playful passion. (Dig the groovy rock & roll fans dancing in the foreground!)

The songs?

“Gallery Girl” by Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner (sung by Paul Barrosse & Brad Hall) and “New Orleans” by Paul B. & Rush Pearson (sung by Paul and Rush).

Audio and video recording by Robert Mendel. Thanks, Robbie!


Filed under Art, Music

A New Day of Glory for the Great (you heard me right) Cleveland Browns!

On Sunday, October 24, 2010, the Cleveland Browns went to New Orleans and stunned the Saints with a 30-17 upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.

The Browns aggressive defense sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times and pressured him into tossing four interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns by the Browns’ 33-year old veteran linebacker, David Bowens.

Bowens celebrated his second touchdown with perhaps the worst somersault into the end zone in NFL history. But Browns fans, starved for gridiron glory, nonetheless flipped for Bowens’ endearingly enthusiastic but awkward flop. We’ll take it.

And we’ll take the win.

That the downtrodden 2-5 Browns should knock off the celebrated New Orleans Saints was a shocking turn of events — but few NFL fans realize that Cleveland has now defeated the defending Super Bowl champs for the third straight season. That’s right, buddy. The Browns beat the NY Giants in 2008, our rival Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, and now the Saints in 2010. Only seven NFL teams have scored that unlikely trifecta.

Once again, we’ll take it.

Browns fans have had precious few accomplishments to cherish since 1964 when Cleveland won its last NFL championship – back in the Mud and Ice Age before indoor stadiums and Super Bowls.

Full disclosure: I have a soft spot in my heart for the Saints because my father was born and raised in New Orleans. (Click here for that story.) Until recently, it has been my misfortune to suffer perennial heartbreak in both the AFC and NFC – and I’ve never had to worry about my two favorite teams meeting in a Super Bowl.

While living in Chicago in the mid-1980’s, I gleefully jumped aboard the Bears bruising bandwagon just in time to experience Sweetness, Iron Mike, the Punky QB, Refrigerator Perry and the Super Bowl Shuffle in 1985.

But that was borrowed glory.

So was the Saints Super Bowl championship last year.

Cleveland is my hometown — so I am first and foremost a Cleveland Browns fan.

To be a Browns fan (much like being a Cleveland Indians fan) is to swell with pride, imbued with memories of the club’s storied history.

The Browns dominated professional football in the postwar period, from the mid 1940’s to the early 60’s like no other team before or since. And while much of these laurels were earned before my birth in 1958, the Browns — led by the Greatest Football Player of All Time, Jim Brown — were still an NFL powerhouse in my youth.

I was six and a half years old on December 27, 1964 when Gary Collins caught three touchdown passes from Frank Ryan to defeat Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts 27-0 and win the Browns’ fourth NFL championship in front 79,544 freezing but frenzied fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It was the first NFL title game to be televised by CBS. That legendary victory was also the Browns high water mark.

My connection to that hallowed 1964 team was made even more personal by the fact that my varsity football coach at Cleveland Central Catholic High School, Stan Sczurek, appeared in 14 games for that ’64 Browns title team. I still remember seeing Coach Sczurek wearing his NFL championship ring. A two-way star at Purdue, Stan Sczurek was taken by the Browns in the 4th round of the 1962 draft and played in 34 games for Cleveland between ‘63 and ‘65 before being sent to the NY Giants in ’66. We didn’t win many football games at CCC, but I can always say that I played football for a guy who wore Browns jersey #38 in 1964.

The '64 Browns. That's Stan Sczurek 3rd from right, #38. (Behind #36)

For the next 46 years, golden memories of Otto Graham, Mac Speedie, Jim Brown, Ernie Green, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield have faded as the Browns have been buffeted by infamous moments of near greatness in the 1980’s, shamed by The Pass, The Drive, The Fumble, and the ignominious loss of the franchise when traitorous owner Art Modell announced that he was relocating the Browns to Baltimore for 1996 season. Modell literally absconded with the team in the middle of the night, bound ironically for the city we’d bested on that glorious December day in 1964.

Three seasons later, Cleveland got the Browns back. The team’s name, its colors, and its glorious stats and history were restored. But another decade of football frustration followed.

All you really need to know is that Cleveland is the only current NFL city whose franchise has neither played in, nor hosted, a Super Bowl.

Alas, it was not always so.

As Cleveland Browns supporters celebrate our team’s recent moment of upset glory in the Big Easy, it’s time to remind NFL fans of the hallowed history of the great Cleveland Browns, whose history makes lesser franchises like the Cowboys and Patriots look like Johnny-come-lately flashes-in-the-pan.

The great Paul Brown.

Founded in 1944 by owner Arthur ‘Mickey’ McBride and head coach Paul Brown (whom the fans voted to name the team after), the Browns began playing in 1946. At the time, Cleveland was also home to the 1945 NFL champion Cleveland Rams, whose star quarterback Bob Waterfield was married to movie star Jane Russell. The Rams left for Los Angeles before the Browns ever played a game. (I hate to brag again, but my high school athletic director, Len Janiak, played for the Cleveland Rams from 1940 to ‘42. It wasn’t until I got to high school and learned Len Janiak’s story that I knew why the football team at Rhodes High School in my neighborhood was called the Rams – and why their helmets looked just like the ones worn by Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones and the rest of LA’s Fearsome Foursome.)

Otto Graham & Coach Brown

From the start, the Browns dominated the new All-America Football Conference, winning all four league titles. In 1948 the Browns became the first pro football team to finish the season and playoffs unbeaten and untied: 24 years before the NFL’s first “perfect team”, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

How good was that Browns team? They were so good the league had to break them up.

A young Y.A. Tittle

When The Browns’ ran up their undefeated streak to 29 games — including 18 straight victories – they were forced to give up the rights to some of their younger players, including the future Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who was sent to the Baltimore Colts in ‘48. (Why is it always Baltimore?) Can you imagine such a scenario today?

Before the decade was out, the Browns’ dominance led to the AAFC’s merger with the NFL. At the end of the 1949 season, the Browns, the 49ers and the Colts joined the NFL. The 1950 Browns wasted no time showing they were still the best – winning the NFL championship in their first year in the league.

Throughout this heady period, the Browns were led on the field by quarterback Otto Graham – who (I must brag again) played for my alma mater Northwestern University as a tailback, graduating with the school record of 2,938 total offensive yards, a record which stood until 1964. Head coach Paul Brown turned Graham into a quarterback in 1946 – and the rest became NFL Hall of Fame history.

Cleveland was the center of the football universe. In fact, in the 1950 championship game the Browns faced none other than the former Cleveland Rams, now located in Los Angeles. The Browns won 30-28 on a last-second field goal by Lou Groza. Lou “The Toe” Groza was still kicking game-winning field goals when I was a kid. Incredibly, Lou didn’t hang up his spikes until 1967. To young Browns fans like me, Lou was a living legend.

Lou’s teammates on those great Browns teams of the 1950’s crowd the Hall of Fame today: Otto Graham, Marion Motley (#76 at left), Dante Lavelli and Len Ford, among others. In 1951 and ’52, they reached the championship game and lost – and in ’53, after winning 11 straight games, they lost again in the NFL title game.

Willie Mays makes "The Catch" in '54 Series

Then in 1954, not long after the mighty Cleveland Indians (with their lofty 111-43 regular season record) suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of The World Series at the hands of Willie Mays and the NY Giants – the Browns reasserted their NFL dominance, crushing the Detroit Lions 56-10 in the NFL title game.

The Browns intercepted Lions quarterback Bobby Layne six times and forced three fumbles. Otto Graham tossed three touchdowns and ran for three more. The next year, the Browns won their third NFL championship, beating the former Cleveland Rams 38-14 in Los Angeles.

But it was the end of an era.

Suffering from injuries, the truly legendary Otto Graham retired after the ‘55 season. Thus ended the greatest run of success in the history of professional sports.

In their first decade as a franchise, the Cleveland Browns reached the championship game all ten years – and won the league title seven times. Even the vaunted New York Yankees have never done that. It’s safe to say no sports franchise will ever equal the record of the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1955.

That all happened before I was born. But something else happened the year before I was born.

Jim Brown.

In 1956 the post-Otto Graham Browns recorded the only losing season they would suffer in their first 28 seasons as a franchise. However, further football glory in Cleveland was assured in the ’57 NFL draft when the Browns took fullback Jim Brown out of Syracuse.

Jim Brown was the NFL’s leading rusher – and its Rookie of the Year — in ’57, grinding out 942 yards in a 12-game regular season. (NFL teams now play 16 regular season games, so 1,000-yard rushing seasons are common.) Brown led his team back to the NFL championship game for the 11th time in 12 seasons, but they lost to Detroit.

Jim Brown ran for 1,527 yards in ’58 — nearly twice as much as any other NFL running back. In ’59, he led the league again with 1,329 yards. And in 1960, Brown’s 1,257 yards were once again tops in the NFL — but the team still finished in second place at 8-3-1. With the greatest running back in the history of the game setting records that would never be broken, the Browns has still managed to miss the NFL championship three years in a row. It was unheard of. Something had to give. Enter Art Modell.

Art Modell & quarterback Frank Ryan

Modell bought the team in 1961, and that year Jim Brown led the league for a fifth consecutive season while the Browns finished two games out of a spot in the championship game. Relations between Modell and Coach Paul Brown deteriorated quickly.

Before the ’62 season started, without telling Modell, Paul Brown made a secret trade for the rights to another Syracuse running back, Ernie Davis — the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.

Tragically, Davis was stricken by a fatal form of leukemia and never played a down for the Browns. (Ernie Davis died in early ‘63.)

The ’62 Browns finished 7-6-1, and Jim Brown failed to lead the NFL in rushing yards for the only time in his career. Modell capped that dismal season by firing Paul Brown and replacing him with Brown’s assistant, Blanton Collier.

Jim Brown had his best season in 1963 with an NFL record 1,863 yards. Imagine that. That’s an average of 155 yards a game! But it wasn’t until ’64 that the Browns returned to their rightful place at the top of the NFL heap.

In the ’64 college draft, the Browns chose Ohio State receiver Paul Warfield in the first round, who immediately became their leading receiver, and the team used it 8th round pick to land Morgan State’s Leroy Kelly, a kick returner and running back who would eventually succeed Jim Brown. (Two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. Not bad, huh?)

Frank Ryan delivers the ball to Gary Collins during the glorious '64 season.

After the 1965 season in which Jim Brown was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for the third time with 1,544 yards, the Browns lost the NFL Championship game 23-12 to Coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr’s Green Bay Packers in frozen Lambeau Field.

Then, suddenly and shockingly…

…the Browns lost Jim Brown.

In the summer of ‘66, the incomparable Jim Brown stunned the sports world by announcing his retirement from football.

Brown had been filming the now-classic World War II movie The Dirty Dozen in London – and, in an unprecedented move for an athlete of his caliber in the prime of his career — Jim Brown, the greatest player to ever step between the lines on a football field —  decided to “go out on top”.

There would be more thrills and glory to come, but the Cleveland Browns two incredible decades of pro football supremacy were over.

Two years later, led by Jim Brown’s stellar backfield successor, Leroy Kelly and the great Paul Warfield catching passes from quarterback Bill Nelsen, the Browns reached the 1968 NFL championship game against the Baltimore Colts. The Colts shut out the Browns 34-0 to go to Super Bowl III.

In 1969, the Browns offense was as potent as ever, as Nelsen threw for 2700 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead his team to a 10-3-1 record. Alas, the Browns lost the NFL championship game 27-7 to Joe Kapp and the Minnesota Vikings.  11 years old at the time, I was starting to feel the pain of playoff disappointment.

Warfield would go on to become a key weapon for the unbeaten '72 Dolphins.

After the gridiron heroics of the 1940’s and 1950’s — and the glory and near-glory of the 1960’s – the next four decades of Cleveland Browns football were more about frustration that exultation.

In 1970, the AFL-NFL merger put the Browns, Steelers and Colts in the new American Football Conference – and the trade of Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for a draft choice to get Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps – were dual body blows to the once-proud franchise. After beating the New York Jets in the first Monday Night Football broadcast, the Browns stumbled through the season finishing 7–7. In fact, they would stumble through much of the next 40 years.

In the 1980, “The Kardiac Kids” wrote their fond footnote in Browns history.

Led by League MVP quarterback Brian Sipe, who passed for 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns, the resurgent Browns faced the Oakland Raiders in their first playoff game in eight years. Known for their late-game heroics, it was sadly ironic that The Kardiac Kids’ season ended in heartbreak on a play in the last minute of the game.

A play forever after infamous as “The Pass”.

On that fateful play, with the Browns trailing 14-12 on the Raiders’ 13 yard line — easily in range of a game-winning field goal — Coach Sam Rutigliano inexplicably called for a pass play “Red Right 88“. Sipe’s unnecessary pass into the end zone was intercepted. The Raiders won the game – and went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 1985, University of Miami quarterback and hometown boy, Bernie Kosar, was the Browns #1 draft pick and took over the starting job midway through the season. With Kosar under center, the Browns would reach the playoffs each of the next five seasons, getting to the AFC Championship game in three of those years. For the Browns, the Kosar years would be their last grasp at NFL glory. And they would be remembered for a bittersweet a series of stunning, heartrending defeats.

In 1986, with Kosar slinging the ball for 3,854 yards and a dominant defense manned by five Pro Bowlers (Chip Banks, Hanford Dixon, Bob Golic , Clay Matthews and Frank Minnifield), the Browns ran up the best record in the AFC, and advanced to the AFC Championship against the Denver Broncos in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Browns were defending a 7-point lead, and the Broncos were pinned on their own 2-yard line with 5:11 left to play.

Then, John Elway led his team on “The Drive“.

After taking the Broncos down the field, there were just 37 seconds on the clock when Elway threw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 20-20. Minutes later in overtime, 79,973 stupefied Browns fans watched in insufferable silence as the Broncos kicked a field goal to win the game.

The following year, the Browns looked like they were rolling to a championship again, led by eight Pro Bowlers: Kosar, Mack, Dixon, Golic, Minnifield, Clay Matthews, wide receiver Gerald McNeil and offensive lineman Cody Risien. The season culminated in Denver with a rematch against the Broncos for the AFC Championship.

This time, down by 3 points with 1:12 to go in the game, the Browns were on the Broncos’ 8-yard line, when Kosar handed off to his dependable warhorse, running back Earnest Byner — who rumbled toward the end zone.

It looked like game-winning touchdown for sure. Instead, Byner coughed up “The Fumble” – and the Broncos crushed the Browns title dreams again.

In the 22 years since “The Fumble”, Browns fans have had little to cheer about. In the years since  the Kardiac Kids and Kosar and company rattled our collective nerves, we’ve come to almost cherish the kind of late-game championship heartbreak we suffered in the 1980’s.

And then came last Sunday’s beat-down of the New Orleans Saints.

Damn, that felt good.

Could it be that the Cleveland Browns — one of the NFL’s greatest franchises — is poised for a return to glory?

After “The Pass”, “The Drive” and “The Fumble” – why not…

“The Comeback”?


Filed under Sports

The Saints Come Marching In…

You don’t need to read this blog to know that the long-suffering New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl this weekend. Their emphatic 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts touched off a party in the French Quarter that will ramble into the Mardi Gras festivities next week. Oh, how I long to be in that number, marching with the jazz bands stepping out down Bourbon Street, celebrating the Saints’ deliverance of the Crescent City from five years of neglect and misery after Hurricane Katrina nearly washed my father’s fabled hometown away.

For centuries, New Orleans has been the cradle of the Barrosse clan. It’s the only town in the United States where you can pick up a phonebook and find lots of people named Barrosse – and they’re all my kin. My father, Peter Adelmard Barrosse, was born there in 1927 (in the 9th Ward, near Jackson Barracks), and though he never again lived in the Big Easy after the Korean War, New Orleans loomed large in our family. We made a couple memorable visits to see my Grandma Barrosse and our many aunts, uncles and cousins – and I returned there several times in the 1980’s to work the Renaissance Faire in nearby Metairie. My grandmother, who lived to be 96, was still alive then – and the New Orleans Saints were still losers.

As if I didn’t suffer enough sports misery as a Cleveland Indians and Browns fan (and later a Cubs fan) – it was also my lot, through my father, to follow the Saints. The team was born at an NFL league meeting on November 1, 1966, which fell on All Saints Day. As New Orleans is just about the only Roman Catholic town in the south, the team’s ownership named them the Saints for the holiday on which they were born. For the next four decades, their heavenly name would be one of the few blessings this star-crossed franchise would receive.

The Saints played their first regular season game on September 17, 1967, in front of 80,879 fans at Tulane Stadium. The Saints returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown – and for 43 seasons, it was mostly downhill from there. Naturally, they lost that first game to the Los Angeles Rams — and ended their first season with a 3-11 record.

The only truly bright moment in Saints history, prior to their recent success, was the day in 1970 that their place-kicker, Tom Dempsey booted the longest field goal in NFL history.

On November 8, 1970, the Saints were, of course, trailing by one point in the final seconds of a game against the Detroit Lions. At that point, the only thing remarkable about the game was that the Saints actually had a chance to win it. However, it would take a miracle: a 63-yard field goal. Up to that point, nobody had kicked one longer than 56 yards. And that record was 17 years old.

Adding to the unlikely drama was the fact that the Saints kicker, Tom Dempsey, was born with no right hand and no toes on his right foot. Nonetheless, Dempsey electrified Saints fans – and stunned the football world – by drilling the ball 63 yards through the uprights and into the NFL history books. I was 12 years old at the time – and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. There was finally something about the Saints I could brag about. But that was just a fleeting, fantastical moment. Grim reality soon returned.

Dempsey lives in Metairie now, and because it seems divinely ordained that Saints should suffer — his house was flooded in the Hurricane Katrina deluge.

The year after Dempsey’s epic kick, the Saints drafted the Great Franchise Hope, Archie Manning. With the good-looking and talented Ole Miss star at quarterback, the Saints won the first game of the 1971 season, upsetting the Los Angeles Rams 24-20 at Tulane Stadium. But the Saints finished that year with a 4-8-2 record.

Despite Manning’s talent, and the adoration of his fans throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, Archie could not transform the Saints into a winner. The Manning family would have to wait another generation to put NFL championships in the family trophy case.

For too many years, too many seasons, too many games, and too many crushed hopes, New Orleans beloved Saints would become the ‘Aints. Fans wore bags over their heads, but they still came out to chant, “Who ‘dat? Who ‘dat? Who ‘dat say ‘dey gonna beat ‘dem Saints?”

Ironically, the Saints first Super Bowl victory, nearly 40 years after Archie Manning’s first season in New Orleans, came against Archie’s son, Peyton. Fate is always messing with ‘dem Saints.

Now, perhaps, the Saints curse has been lifted and a new period of hope, optimism and good luck will shine down from the heavens on the city of New Orleans. I sure hope so. My dad did not live to see what Katrina did to his city. It would have broken his heart. And he did not live to see this Super Bowl triumph, which would have thrilled him. But, if there was ever a football team being followed in heaven – wouldn’t it have to be the Saints?

So, Dad, how did you feel when Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning late in the fourth quarter and took the rock to the house, giving the Saints’ the Lombardi Trophy?

I think I heard you celebrating with the joyous throng in the Quarter last night. “Who ‘dat? Who ‘dat? Who ‘dat say ‘dey gonna beat ‘dem Saints?”


Filed under History, Sports