Sunday, September 15, 2013

In that number

They used to call it "throwing a bone."

Back at the newspaper I used to work for, in the career I used to have. Back in the day when the Men in Ties had money and resources and didn't care how they used them. Back at the old Times-Picayune, when we had a whole lot of sports reporters and everybody had their beats --  Saints. LSU. Tulane. State colleges. Boxing. Baseball. Recreation. Fish. And Preps. (Pretty much in that order, too.)

After I wormed my way from agate clerk to day time clerk, I became the recreation writer. I was the Queen of New Orleans softball for a while. Then I moved to Preps, and to the Arctic Outpost known as the River Parishes Bureau, where I spent 21 years covering high school sports in St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes -- or, as I like to call them, The Other Saints.

And that's what you did and who you were. The Saints guys went to the Saints games on Sundays. The college guys traveled all over Tarnation covering LSU and Tulane. The Outdoors writer went duck hunting and fishing and got paid for it.

Me? I got to go to tiny burgs like Iota and Famerville and Vacherie, eat all the jambalaya I wanted, freeze my ass off with all species of spiders and bugs, get heckled by disgruntled grandmothers and cover high schools. I also got to interview the likes of Eli and Peyton Manning,  Mike Scifres, Laron and Dawan Landry and Ed Reed before they were millionaires.

But occasionally, one of the six sports editors we had over my 26 years there would "throw a bone" and ask one of the college guys to cover a Saints game, or ask one of us Preps guys to cover a college. Or, the rarity, ask one of the Preps guys to cover the Saints. But never me.

No. Not one of the six Men in Ties who led the Sports Department in my career ever looked past the room and to the Arctic Outpost and said, "Hey Lori! How 'bout you come cover a Saints game on Sunday?"

Super Bowls. New Orleans Bowls, LSU baseball games. Zephyrs baseball games (which I absolutely loved but everybody else kind of hated). Crescent City Classics. The Dick Vitale Sound-Alike Contest. Beach Volleyball. Soccer.  Yes. But never the Saints.

So last week when a sports editor buddy of mine in another city -- and I don't know if he wears a tie or not -- asked me to string for him and go cover last Sunday's season opener, I said --- "Are you kidding me?"

I didn't exactly jump at the chance. It's not that I was afraid of the work. I know I can write a story about anything. On deadline.  Hell, two weeks ago I wrote about wood pellets for the Louisiana Forestry Department. It's not that I've never been to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. I've been there plenty of times and I know my way to the press box.

It was just, well, intimidating. I haven't been to a Saints game since about 1992, back when they weren't very good and tickets were cheap and easy.

But after mulling it over for a few days, I decided -- Oh, why the hell not? I've never done it. I don't know how many chances I'll get. This was the Saints vs. the Falcons, the biggest rivalry in the NFL. The season-opener.

And, well, did I mention that I AM unemployed?

So after swallowing butterflies for days, I was up and early on Sunday morning to await the arrival of a fellow sports writer -- a veteran -- who was bringing me my press pass and agreed to let me ride with him to the Dome. Two hours after his announced arrival time, he did, giving us about an hour to fight New Orleans traffic and get to the Dome before kickoff.

Yeah. We kind of made it.

At one point along the way, my companion handed me my pass and I busied myself  attaching it to my self-made freelancer's ID lanyard and watching outside my window as the sea of black and gold Who Dats made their way to the Dome. And watched the clock.

At about 11:55, we finally got into the parking garage where my companion promptly didn't find his spot but one with some of the numbers on his parking pass. Close enough. So we got out and ran to the media gate, me in heels; him not.  I kept running, even after I hit a hole in the chipped concrete and rolled an ankle. The workers at the gate were very accomodating, recognizing that we were very late. So they wanded us quickly and checked our bags. (Yes, reporters are exempt from that stupid clear plastic baggie rule.)

Then we had to get past the press gate, where they checked our passes. My companion went ahead and breezed through. Me? Not so much. The security guard scanned my pass and said, "It's expired."

"Excuse me?"

Turns out, my companion had handed me a pass from an already-played pre-season game against the Kansas City Chiefs, not today's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Yeah.

My companion then busied himself taking the blame for the mistake and urging the security folks to replace the old pass with the right one which, he explained, was in his car. (He didn't tell them it was parked in the wrong spot, however.) They did.

Meanwhile, Saints Coach Sean Payton was leading the traditional Who Dat pre-game chant with beloved former Saint Steve Gleason, who is living his life with ALS and teaching us all how to stop bitching about ours. It was very, very loud.

The next few minutes were spent taking the sloooooooow elevator ride up the press box and finding out where I was supposed to sit -- Auxiliary Press Box. I was lucky to be seated next to my sports buddy Chris who works for my hometown paper and is my Facebook and Twitter friend.  Then I tried to catch my breath, stop sweating (I thought everybody said it was cold up there), rolled my ankle to make sure it wasn't broken and get my bearings. Whew. I was there. Here.

If you lean forward, it's just like being there. Really.


I looked around and saw a bunch of folks I knew --  the press box crew I know so well from my 22 years of covering high school championship games in the Dome, local media folks, former co-workers, the PA announcer who tells all the press what's going on because nobody's watching the game, fellow members of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and a few people that sports diehards would consider famous. I spent most of halftime hugging and kissing old friends, many of whom knew it was my first Saints game as a reporter thanks to a Facebook status that got 94 likes.

I watched the game, I took some notes, I watched the big screens as the Who Dats danced and acted silly,  I thanked the stats guys as they handed me updates after each quarter, I stood in line at the one ladies room, and I tried to get my stupid iPhone to work, but both my Twitter and Facebook apps were frozen. I did take a few photos and chat with Chris.  We talked about how, the Friday night before, I had covered one football game for three different outlets -- two newspapers and a web site. I do that just about every Friday night.

"You're a beast," he said. And it was a great compliment.

Everybody else had their laptops open. Some of them were working, but from my vantage point on the top row, it looked like most of them were watching their fantasy football teams. I texted my husband, who asked if I was having fun.

"It's just like high school but more of them and they're better dressed," I replied.

Then I realized that half of the people up there probably could not do what guys like Chris and I do on a Friday night -- carry our own equipment up to Row Z in the stadium, fight the spiders and the bugs and the TV and radio people who like to spread out, keep their own stats and play-by-play while live-tweeting, Facebooking and blogging, get their own post-game quotes, add it all up and knock out a story from inside their car on deadline with sweat dripping in your eyes. Some of them just have hair and makeup people.

(I know this is getting long, just bear with me. There's more!)


So, the game winds down and I figure out what my little sidebar story will be (Marques Colston) and I see folks rushing toward the elevator. Unlike on Friday nights, I don't really need to rush. But by the time I get to the elevator, there is a line. A long, long line, of men and women (mostly men), famous people and grunts like me, trying to get down to the bowels of the Dome. They let us in about eight at a time (depending on who's in there), but we do get bumped for the Falcons coaches (who do not look very happy), some NFL officials and other people much more important than us.

Eventually, I do make it down to the bottom, following my old editor Ted and my friend Chris to where, I presume, I'm supposed to go.  At one point, everybody takes a right so I do too -- right into the Saints locker room.

Now, I've been doing this 26 years. I've been in locker rooms, mostly empty ones. Interviews with high school kids are done on the field after the game and in the coach's office or the training room before. College players and coaches are brought to the interview room. The Zephyrs used to let me stand outside the locker room in a little cubbyhole we called my office. Everybody was happier.   I don't even go in my husband's locker room. They smell. Like locker rooms. And there are naked men in there. Yes, there were. I really didn't need to see that. I just wanted a few quotes.

So, I extricate myself as delicately as possible with help from the Saints PR guy, who says, "Since you're new, you might want to go to the interview room down the hall."

Yes. Yes I would, thank you. So I did.

An hour or so later, I head back up to the press box armed with a digital recorder full of quotes. An hour or so after that, I'm done with my little story on Marques Colston becoming the Saints all-time leading passer. An hour after that, I am so hungry I could eat a Superdome hotdog without regret as I wait for my companion to finish his second story of the day.

But I take a moment to appreciate the fact that I got to do this at least once, even if it did take 26 years.

It was worth the wait.



You can read my story here: Marques Colston's record breaking catch gets Saints back in the game
















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