Pilgrimages: The Early Years

All of us, if we are fortunate enough, get to visit places that not only have significance but also affect us in a profound way. For me many of those places are sports venues. Now for some sports is trivial, but for me the arenas and stadiums are places that allow us to gather and bond. By supporting teams we shared in their struggle. We rejoiced in victory and mourned in loss. Many sports venues are rich in legacy but the following are those that have left a lasting impact on me.

Tad Gormley Stadium-New Orleans, LA:  Built in 1937 and originally known as City Park Stadium it was renamed  after Frank “Tad” Gormley in the 1960’s. Gormley was a Massachusetts native who moved to New Orleans in the early 20th century to run a gymnastics club. He was also a trainer and coach at Loyola, Tulane, and LSU. Since most of the New Orleans area Catholic schools lacked stadiums it served as a de facto home field for them and the stadium served as a host for many of the finest prep football match ups in the history of the city. It also hosted the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials. I was volunteering in the VIP section when number one world ranked decathlete Dave O’Brien failed on three straight pole vaults to miss the Olympics. Standing near me was Bruce Jenner, Bill Toomey, and Rafer Johnson. I also ran there as a middle school track athlete in New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) city championship meet. The Beatles played a concert at Tad Gormley. But for me the biggest event was going with my dad to watch an exhibition game in the late 1960’s between the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles. It was our first father-son sports outing and if I try real hard I can still smell the scent of fresh cut grass!

Tulane Stadium-New Orleans, LA: It was built in 1926 and torn down in 1980. It was the home of the Sugar Bowl, the Tulane Green Wave, and my beloved New Orleans Saints. It could hold 81,000 people and when it was filled to capacity no place was louder. The stadium had bones in the form of wooden bleachers that creaked with age as you trod them and screamed loudly when you stomped on them, adding to raucous cheers of the faithful that filled its bowl. As a young Cub Scout my love affair with the place began as I watched the Greenies beat Georgia Tech. I yelled the whole game through a cardboard megaphone my popcorn came in. I saw the Saints win their first game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967. In 1970 my dad was transferred to Germany with his employer. He said we could go watch the Saints play the Detroit Lions in an exhibition game or go to Chicago and watch the Cubs or White Sox play baseball. It was a no brainer. We watched the Saints. Four months later my father died. Returning home the stadium became a refuge. My friends and I ran its ramps going from level to level during Tulane games. I watched my hero, Archie Manning lead the Saints to victory against the then Los Angeles Rams in 1971. I went to my first Sugar Bowl and watched the Oklahoma Sooners beat Penn State. I remember sitting next to a young black boy during a Saints game when it began to rain. We shared an umbrella and we were the same..Saints fans enduring the same elements our team was. Later as a young teen I rode the streetcar to watch my first rock concert. ZZ Topp began to play and a guy offered me a funny smelling cigarette. I politely informed him that I didn’t smoke. I can still see the confused look on his face. I can also recall sneaking on the field with a football and a few friends after the new Polyturf was installed. We ran pass patterns and did play by play as we lead Tulane and the Saints on score after score. We then laid on our backs and let the sun warm our faces as we rested and felt the fresh turf beneath us! Heaven was close that day!

To be continued….



About Merrill Wautlet

I am a finance professional and volunteer coach. I have also served in a leadership role for numerous non-profit and civic organizations. For a complete profile feel free to check me out on Linkedin.
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