Tony Williams, the longtime Saints season ticket holder who on Sunday caught what has become a controversial touchdown relic, said Monday morning he kept it for his eight-year-old grandson, who plays football.
If Cincinnati Bengals fan Christa Barrett was a child or if the ball was handed to her, Williams added, he would have relinquished it, which Bengals receiver Jermaine Gresham threw into the stands following his one-yard TD reception.
Neither was true, so Mardi Gras rules applied.
“He tossed the ball,” said Williams, a Saints season ticket holder in the end zone since 1968. “It’s fair game, to me. My whole mindset was my grandson.”
Barrett pleaded for the football in front of a nationally-televised audience - he politely declined - actions which were replayed in social media: the poor, blonde Bengals fan, missing an opportunity at a game ball and the Saints fan, poker-faced, unwilling to surrender his prize.
Later Sunday, the Saints gave Barrett a replacement football.
"The Saints fans that were around me, and know me... they were all saying, 'keep the ball.'" Williams said. "But the other people, where the lady was, was saying give her the ball. I caught it fair."
After watching video of the moment, Williams was relieved to realize he didn't push Barrett, as he had been accused. Instead, he caught the football and moved to his right, away from her.
Williams said he pays $1,800 a year for two end zone seats at Saints game. The incident marks the second time in as many weeks that a Saints fan has overshadowed his franchise, which limps into next Monday night's game against visiting Baltimore at 4-6.
On Nov. 9, Super fan Scott McGowan of Baton Rouge, who on gamedays dons a Joker costume, patted tight end Jimmy Graham too many times in the wrong place after his TD-celebration jump into the stands, drawing national headlines.
This throw is handed to parade-goers, although it often takes several attempts to place it in the desired hands.
The incident marks the latest challenge to the culture of fandom: Keep or not to keep?
The moment, captured on video, has spread nationally, from social media to news websites, even becoming fodder on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” It’s also bothered Williams’ grandson, whom he said cried because of the jeers from fans — many of them Saints fans.
Williams said he didn’t notice Barrett, who traveled from several rows above to move in position to catch the football. Williams’ seat was Row 1 of Section 130. His attention was on Gresham, whose TD gave the Bengals a 19-3 lead en route to a 27-10 road victory.
“This happens,” said his son, Jeff. “This scenario has played out probably a hundred times in the last 40 years. ... Quite frankly, he’s been on the opposite end of that.”