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A READER'S JOURNAL
The Best of Peter Finney
Legendary New Orleans Sports Writer
Introduction by Peter Finney, Jr
ARJ2 Chapter: Reading for Enjoyment
Published by Louisiana State University Press in 2016
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2016
The Best of Peter Finney
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Peter Finney predicted that LSU would meet Syracuse in the 1965 Sugar Bowl in his 1964 predictions of winners and losers in all the major sporting contests that year. When he made that prediction, he had no idea Louisiana had a law on the books which prohibited a game with whites and blacks playing against each other, but during that year the law was overturned, making Pete's amazing prediction doubly unbelievable! I heard from a member of the LSU team that year about an interaction in the locker room when Coach MacClendon announced that LSU was to play Syracuse, a team with a black running back. A player in the back of the room piped up, "But Coach are we going to have to tackle that guy?" Charlie Mac answered, "If you don't, son, that guy's going to run over your butt!"
Peter Finney was awarded the Dick McCann Memorial Award at the Annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Dinner in Canton, Ohio in the year after the Saints won their first Super Bowl. In his short three minutes speech, he said two things about our Saints that are topical as I write these words during the Saints runup to another Super Bowl.
[page 23] "You've got this coach [Sean Payton] who won the Super Bowl — he's the first coach to win the Super Bowl and go to sleep with the Lombardi Trophy. . . .
"I still can't believe the Saints won the Super Bowl," he added, drawing more laughter. "But if No. 9 [Drew Brees] stays healthy, they've got a chance to win it again."
And Drew Brees is still healthy nine years later and they've got a chance to win it again.
Yogi Berra was not a writer, but he said many things that others have written down, including Peter Finney. People laugh at Yogi's words, but he never said anything funny on purpose, he was just talking the way he talked. If you read Peter Finney every day, you may have caught this one.
[page 47] "The Phillies and Yankees were playing exhibition games and, the day before, Yogi had gone 3-for-4," said Caballero. "Yogi reads the box and it says he went 2-for-4. He's mad as hell. He goes up to a New York writer and asks him for an explanation. The writer tells him it was a typographical error. Berra screams: "That was no error. It was a clean hit."
Press Maravich is known around Louisiana as pushing his son to become the great Pistol Pete Maravich, but read this story in which Peter Finney sheds light on the motivational skills of the Pistol's dad.
[page 50] While attending high school, Press worked in the steel mills from midnight until eight in the morning, not unusual in the 1930s. Because of his ability, he had his pick of several colleges but chose Davis-Elkins because a friend was going to the West Virginia school.
After scoring more than 1,600 points in four seasons, he returned as head coach in 1950. "When I got there," he says, "they had no gym. So I went to the president, and he told me they had only $35 in the athletic kitty. So I got some of the boys together and we went out and got a tractor and sawed down some trees. We got the local paper to take a picture — 'Ground Cleared For Gymnasium,' the headline said. The publicity was a start.
"I went out and hustled retired carpenters. I promised one I'd build him a monument if he'd get volunteer help. With the students pitching in and some more scrounging, we had a gym with a tin roof within a year. It's still standing today — with 5,000 seats."
When I worked in software in the 1970s my supervisor was Dick Weinberger and he had come up the ranks as a software programmer and knew what a quirky lot we were. His favorite saying was, "You don't have to be crazy to be a programmer and it doesn't help." If you have trouble figuring out what that means, you got the gist of what my boss was saying. The New Orleans Jazz hired quirky Bill Van Breda Koff to coach the team and here's how the Dutchman described being a coach.
[page 55] "You know you have to be crazy to be a coach," he says. "If you weren't a little crazy, you'd be doing something else. It's like hearing someone say, 'You have to have good judgment to be an official.' Hell, if a guy had good judgment, he wouldn't be an official."
Peter had a sense of the funny line and this next interaction between basketball announcers Al McGuire and Billy Pacer is a great example.
[page 63] McGuire once famously remarked to Billy Packer, his TV sidekick during March Madness, that he had just seen the first sign of spring in Milwaukee.
"Oh yeah, what was that?" Packer asked.
Everyone's heard about Dale Brown meeting Shaquille O'Neal standing 6'8" tall at an army base and asking him if he were in the Army. "No, I am only 13 years old." In that case, Dale said, "I need to meet yourfather." Shaq went on to become an NBA great, but never forgot his promise to his mother to finish his college. He now has a Ph.D from LSU, and this next response he gave to Peter Finney about Dale Brown indicates that Shaq is also a master of metaphor.
[page 70] I remember asking Shaq how it was playing for Dale during those three seasons in Tigertown. The memory was pure Shaq.
"I loved being around the preacher," he said. "It was like being in church. You could hear the choir singing and see the stained-glass windows. It was so much more than basketball. It was about life."
In the latter years of the 1950s, LSU and Ole Miss perennially sat atop the AP poll, ranked as No 1 and No 2. I was in the stadium that Halloween night and vividly recall Billy Cannon's touchdown run after receiving a punt. My girl friend and I were seated in the Northwest Section of the Stadium where students with guest tickets sat. The punt sailed towards the South end of the stadium and I had an unobstructed view of the entire run. In my enthusiasm I pushed my girl friend down back into her seat as Billy cleared mid-field. Thanks to Pete, I can share a couple of things which led to the punt and its aftermath. Billy had fumbled earlier in the game to give Ole Miss a 3-0 lead, and, late in the third quarter, it was looking as if neither team would score again. Coach Johnny Vaught had Ole Miss punt on third down to minimize the chances of his team fumbling. With thirty-three seconds left in the game, Billy was called on for one more major play to save the game. Billy Cannon set NCAA record in the 100-yard dash, competed equally in the shot put, and in football he played both defense and offense. One could argue that he was the fastest man and strongest on the field that night. And he and his quarterback Warren Rabb played both offense and defense together.
[page 85] After Cannon's touchdown and Wendell Harris' extra point, Johnny Vaught called sophomore quarterback Doug Elmore from the bullpen, and starting on the Reb 32, he began making like an accomplished field general.
When Ole Miss pushed to the 23, Dietzel removed the Bandits and sent in the White team, which had a five-minute rest.
But the Rebs made them retreat to the 7, where they played a first-and-goal— a carbon copy of last year's situation in the second quarter.
Three plays carried Vaught's red-shirted marauders to the 2, but on fourth down, Elmore tried left end, where he was greeted first by Warren Rabb and then by Cannon.
The run died a yard short of immortality.
All of the great sports figures that visited New Orleans during his 60-year career, Peter Finney covered. But he reserved for the end of his book a story about a journalist, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times. I remember Dizzy Dean when I was 12-years-old. We didn't have TV at that time, but I rode a bus to pay my newspaper route bill each Saturday and next door was a bar where I could watch some of the baseball game of the week starring Peewee Reese and Dizzy Dean. They bounced off each other like Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson and were a delight to watch and listen. I know what Murray was talking about when he wrote this piece on the death of Dizzy Dean, "Dizzy Dean died the other day at the age of 11 or 12. The little boy in all of us died with him."
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