Many New Orleanians know Chris Champagne as a stand-up comedian and political satirist who’s been skewering public figures since the late 1990s.
However, there is a serious side to Champagne that is most evident when the subject matter centers around his father, the late Edward Joseph “Ed” Champagne, a football star in high school, college and the National Football League during the 1940s and early ‘50s.
Ed Champagne (1922-2003) is the focus of his son’s upcoming show, “Tiger Tales,” at Mid-City Theatre on Friday evening.
Aided by visuals, audio recordings and his own memories, Chris Champagne relates the story of his father’s football career from the sandlots of New Orleans to an All-American ranking at LSU to a starting position with one of the greatest NFL teams of all time — the Los Angeles Rams at mid-20th century.
Playing during an era when football players worked on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Ed Champagne was an offensive and defensive tackle. He appeared in 39 games between 1947 and 1950, during which time his team played twice in the NFL championship game.
“My dad played alongside some of the greatest football players of all time, in both college and the pros,” Chris Champagne said. “At LSU he was on the same teams as (quarterback) Y.A. Tittle and (running back) Steve Van Buren, two of the most famous LSU players even to this day.”
With the Rams he lined up alongside wide receiver Tom Fears, later to become the first head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Also on that team were quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin and wide receiver Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.
“All of these guys are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Champagne said.
In the 1949 NFL title game, a 14-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Ed Champagne played 59 minutes of the 60-minute game, his son pointed out. “Nobody does that anymore. The game has gotten a lot more specialized since then,” Chris Champagne said.
The following year, in the closing minutes of the NFL title game against the Cleveland Browns, the Rams’ head coach was sending pass receivers onto the field with his team precariously clinging to a 28-27 lead. “Dad was begging Waterfield not to throw the ball but to run it and run out the clock,” Champagne said.
“They didn’t listen to him and they ended up losing on that last-second field goal by (the Browns’) Lou Groza. That’s just one of the stories I talk about during this show,” Champagne added.
Following the 1950 season, the elder Champagne accepted an offer to play for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League for $1,000 more than he was making with the Rams. However, after only one season in Canada, during which he made All-Pro, a neck injury ended his career and the family returned to New Orleans.
Recovering from his injury, Ed Champagne went on to a 50-year career as a thoroughbred racing official at the Fair Grounds and elsewhere. He often traveled to officiate at race tracks around the country and, during the summers between school sessions, his family traveled with him. “That’s how I spent my summers back then,” Champagne said.
In the family’s home life, “My father was not a strict disciplinarian in the Vince Lombardi mold,” his son recalled. “Just the opposite, in fact. He was always nice to me. And that’s another one of the things I talk about during the show,” he added.
Now employed at the Fair Grounds himself during the six-month racing season, Champagne fills his off months with standup routines at local venues, occasionally performing as a duo with pianist and fellow humorist Philip Melancon.
Recently the two of them performed “The Ray Nagin Going-Away Party” and he divulged that the two of them are working on another political satire to be called “Muck Dynasty.”
“I knew was that my dad loved me more than anything in the world,” Champagne recounted.
“The last time I saw him, I was telling him how much I loved him and thanking him for all the things he had done for me. And he told me, ‘Chris, I loved you the first minute you were born, and I’ve loved you every minute since.’ That’s what I really want to get across.”