Count ’em! Hundreds and hundreds of people turned out on the same day, but at different times and locations, for the annual Meet the Saints Luncheon given by The Touchdown Club of New Orleans Inc. and hours later, for Culture Collision. The receptive venues for the masses were the Hyatt Regency Hotel and The National WWII Museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. In each case, a winning season for the Saints, and success on the cultural compass were the come-on and the challenge. Everyone seemed eager to make it happen.
A Score of 47
“Open to all Saints fans 14 yrs. and older” was scripted on the flier-invitation for the annual Meet the Saints Luncheon that began 47 years ago and is going strong. To curb certain supportive dress, the attire was “business casual/coats preferred and absolutely no jeans, T-shirts, jerseys or shorts.” But black and gold was readily sported.
Highlights, and there were many, started with the arrival of the Saints in the hotel’s Celestin Ballroom. Phone cameras snapped away as the coat-and-tie roster moved forward within a cordoned-off area. They were led off by the N.O. Saintsations and the President Dennis Lauscha and manager Mickey Loomis among other brass. On target, “When the Saints Come Marching In” played.
The players, at that point uncut, took their assigned seats on the first, super long row in the ballroom, where they were placed by their numbers. Behind, forming the head table, were the coaches, other dignitaries and Saints owner Tom Benson and spouse Gayle, an executive with the company. Masterful always, “Voice of the Saints” Jim Henderson introduced both rows, starting with the back one, which included Archbishop Gregory Aymond, chaplain to the Saints. In his minutes-earlier invocation, Archbishop Aymond started with “As we begin a new season and the Saints come marching in….” He then continued prayerfully with references to each team the Saints would play. Some quite witty.
Additional introductory features were the Presentation of Colors by the Jesuit High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Color Guard, the singing of the national anthem by full-voiced Amanda Shaw and the official welcome by Touchdown Club President Theresa Lowe.
Then Jim launched into his always-anticipated introductions. Among his acknowledgements, quips, jests and praise were “His parents have attended all the games”; “I’ve been introducing this man every year for 10 years,” about Drew Brees, adding that Brees was the guy who owned the part of Poydras (Street) that Tom Benson didn’t; a reference to players’ tattoos and hair, “Before he gets his hair cut, he gets an estimate”; No. 28 C.J. Spiller as “Spiller the Thriller”; and to two other players, “To go to school, he had to ask his dad for the keys to the tractor” and “Several species of birds call his beard home.” The hirsute jokes touched still more, “He wanted to stay home, but his hair looked too good” and “He’s more powerful than Donald Trump’s hairspray.”
Then there was “He’d rather be fishing and hunting than making the New Orleans restaurant scene. In fact, he thought Taco Bell was a Mexican phone company”; “He visited our troops in the Middle East off season;” “He seems to have discovered the Fountain of Youth”; and “This year’s winner of the Ugly Shirt Award.” The crowd of 750 never stopped laughing and applauding.
Head Coach Sean Payton next addressed the gathering, saying “Every time this year, we get excited about the start of the season.” He then presented the 2014 Coaches Awards to players Mark Ingram, Cameron Jordan, Josh Hill and Patrick Robinson (who’s now with the San Diego Chargers). Coach Payton concluded with “We’re hoping to get back to the mojo we had in the Super Bowl.” More applause.
The raffle winner was announced by Theresa Lowe and then the Touchdown throng made beelines to the players for autographs on programs, books and footballs. One of the first to get a signature, that of Sean Payton, was Grace Hubble, who was beaming.
Moments later, the occupants of both rows on the stage were gone. The players and others were off to Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Prior to the start of the noon-scheduled luncheon, Touchdown notables assembled in the Hyatt Regency’s Elite Ballroom, where Steve Gleason greeted friends through his voice mechanism and was, in turn, greeted. “You’re looking good, Steve” was heard a lot. An honored invitee, Steve represented The Team Gleason Foundation and its check presentation.
Noted, too, was Paula Touchstone Szubinski and husband Roland. From 1992-95, she dated the late Steve Stonebreaker. History recalls that during a donnybrook following a Saints versus New York Giants game in Yankee Stadium in 1967, Saints player Stonebreaker became known as “The Enforcer” and was fined “a reputed $5,000.” Saints fans rallied to help pay the fine and the Enforcer’s Club was formed, becoming known as The Touchdown Club of New Orleans. Among club activities, along with the annual huge luncheon, is the “Super Boil” in May to welcome new Saints.
In addition to Theresa Lowe, the club officers are Vice Presidents Roslyn Duplessie (first) and Lynne Lewis (second), Secretary Shereen LeCron and Treasurer Mary Ann Caruso. John Kohl chairs the board that includes M.J. Axinn, Delinda Duncan, Delton Graves, John Murphy, Wayne Ory, Jo Ann Senko, Korey Songe, the above Paula, and Joanne Witcher. Beverly Bellows, Charles Breaux, James Hand and Charles Heim act as advisers.
Thanks to the luncheon committee were numerous. The above Roslyn and Korey were respective chairwoman and “co,” and committee members included Mandy Caruso, Carol Conran, Cat Fleuriet, Shannon Ockman, Rhonda Rodrigue, Amanda Songe and the aforementioned M.J., Mary Ann, Jo Ann and Joanne.
Each year, the luncheon gathers Saints stalwarts. Noted were regulars Sam Abate Jr., Daniel Rodrigue, Karen Abate, Rosalie Hoban, Doris Rappold, Dianne Cook, Barbara LaRock and Rosalie Edwards. About 740 more, as well.
Major sponsorship for the luncheon came from Bud Light, Mass Mutual Financial Group Louisiana, and Geaux for the Gold, which had Saints merchandise for sale. Food fare was a summer salad with beets, braised beef with artisan mashed potatoes, and strawberries with a sweet scone for dessert. The tables were covered with black linen, centered with bottles of evamor water, and decorated, in some cases, with thematic centerpieces, such as footballs.
An extensive auction was set up by American Pastime, which included sports regalia, vintage framed photographs (with such subjects as Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, and Elvis Presley – he was snapped getting a parking ticket for his Cadillac in Memphis), trips and Tory Burch purses.
Super Saints fans had their day. The crowd loved the thematically costumed Donald Silcio, who answers to “Gametime” and Ben Collier, “Cyborg Saint.”
Cheers for Culture
Artistic celebration and schmoozing are just two of the attractions of Culture Collison, a one-night-only event that offers live performances, happy hour specials and free giveaways. All to showcase the Crescent City’s rich and ever-growing culture scene.
As it has in the past, the free-to-the-public event unfolded at the National WWII Museum, specifically in the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. Sixty-eight local, nonprofit visual and performing arts organizations, “all with diverse missions, sizes and passions,” were represented and people strolled about the capacious premises, stopping at various stations to learn more about each noted group and to pick up promotion material. Candy, too. A few of the groups had such goodies as mints, lollipops, mini Mounds bars and Hersheys. Food for sale was available through the American Sector restaurant, but sausage jambalaya pasta was gratis, thanks to a generation from New Orleans & Me. A cash bar had happy hour specials. And happy folks.
For the first time, CC, which is now in its seventh year, partnered with Uber New Orleans to offer attendees a first free ride.
The mastheaders of the exciting “Collision” are Jess Brown and Janet Wilson (executive director of Funny Bones Improv), like-minded arts lovers, who, in 2008, wanted to provide the Crescent City’s “arts and culture organizations with a collective voice, as well as a platform for collaboration and promotion.” And “voila!” Culture Collision.
Last week’s cultural fest was hosted by WWNO and sponsored by DEVENEY, Dirty Coast, New Orleans & Me, and The National WWII Museum. It is organized by a planning committee representing the Arts Council of New Orleans, DEVENEY, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, New Orleans Ballet Association, New Orleans Opera Association, the Ogden Museum of Southern Arts, Southern Rep, and WWNO.
The entertainers were Bayou Bacchanal/Friends of Culture presenting students from Eisenhower Charter School; New Orleans Ballet Association; Loyola University New Orleans’ Opera Program; the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra; and from the host museum, the Victory Belles to ring in lovely notes.
Making their CC7 presence known were planning committee members Rachel Ford (Ogden Museum), Hallie Sheck (WWNO), Ryan Krieser (LPO), Nancy Watts (NOOA), Lindsay Glatz (ACNO), Jasmine Forest (NOBA), Jenny Windstrup (Southern Rep), Alan Raphael (National WWII Museum), Erica Normand (DEVENEY), Jay Valentino (New Orleans & Me) and the above Jess Brown and Janet Wilson.
More within the CC-scape were Phil and Eleanor Straub, James Bartelle, Whitney Guarisco, Ian Hoch (as Anton Chekhov), Jonathan McCall, Frank Stansbury, Randy Feldman and Madelaine Hedgpeth, Cecile Fallon, Renee and Stewart Peck, David Villarrubia, Jacqueline Simon, Chuck Taylor, Mike Turner, Tim and Nora Huete, Marigny Ernst, Sherry Kohlert, Jamie Charbonnet, Richard Read, Vernon Palmer, Linda Barbalich, Beth and Austin Lavin, Tracey W. Sherry and Melissa Campbell, who appeared to be en route to the altar. “It’s for the Bridal Crawl,” she said with a smile about the altruistically-oriented Sept. 19 event. It’s a pub crawl through the Vieux Carre. In wedding dresses.