Monday, January 16, 2017

Remembering Peter Finney.

Note: This post was written last fall but for some reason, it was not published.  Apologies.

A great sportswriter died last year.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Peter Finney passed away in August at the age of 88 years old.  He defined sportswriting for the entire South for several generations. The newspaper's Les East paid homage to the scribe when he passed away:

Let’s face it, folks.

No matter how much those of us in this profession try to pretend otherwise, sports journalists just aren’t that important.

Except for Peter Finney. He was different.

Finney, who died at his New Orleans home at age 88 on Saturday morning, was the authoritative voice of sports journalism in Louisiana for nearly 70 years.

But Finney’s accomplishments and lifetime of achievement transcend the mere duration of his career and even the countless awards and other accolades he earned.

First and foremost he and his beloved wife, Deedy, who preceded him to the Pearly Gates by three years, raised a remarkable family comprised of six children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who will continue to bless this and other communities for generations to come.

As for the professional side, Peter had a world view that was more sophisticated than that of any other sports journalist I have come across in my 30-plus years in this business. He was as knowledgeable and insightful discussing the Page 1 stories in the New York Times — which he read faithfully — as he was dissecting the latest success or failure of the Saints or LSU or anyone else.

Peter was an indispensable resource for Saints fans through the good, the bad and the ugly. Generations of Saints fans would trek to Tulane Stadium or the Superdome, listen on the radio or watch on TV to see how the team did. Then they’d talk among themselves, listen to post-game talk radio, watch the highlights on the late-night news and more recently get online reaction.

But after all that bluster and over-analyzing, when the newspaper arrived the next morning the entire city turned to the sports section with the collective thought, “Yeah, but what does Peter think?”

There was always something in that column that cut through all the other noise and provided lasting insight that might have made you feel a little better about a loss — or a little less giddy about a victory — but it stuck with you because no one else had come up with it.

Those about whom Finney wrote often had the same experience, though maybe they were a little slower and reluctant to recognize the truth in what he had to say.

When Jim Mora joined the Saints after an outstanding career as a head coach in the United States Football League, his team’s first performance in its first game under him belied the success he would go on to have.

The Saints played Atlanta and were embarrassed by the hated Falcons. Finney’s column began, “Welcome to the USFL.” Sixty minutes of terrible football perfectly contextualized in four words.

For years after that Mora regularly would remind Finney of that lead. It probably still stung the prideful Mora but he knew it was fair. And whether he gave credit or criticism, Peter was fair in doing so and was without fail gentlemanly about it.

We sometimes hear people say “no one ever said an unkind word about” so and so. But in Peter’s case that must be taken to the extreme. I have never encountered a person who spoke about Peter Finney that wasn’t downright effusive in their praise of him as a person and a professional.

When I started as a grunt at the Times-Picayune, having followed Finney’s footsteps through Jesuit High School and Loyola University, he treated me from the moment I was introduced to him with the same degree of kindness, warmth and respect that he showed the biggest newsmakers he covered.

Early in my career a coach I was covering got fired and he refused to talk to me for my story because he didn’t like things I had written about him in the days leading up to his dismissal. Finney, the most important columnist at the paper, called the coach and got quotes for me to use in my story.

When I started covering Super Bowls and Final Fours it was a bit intimidating being surrounded by the biggest names in the business. But Peter Finney was one of those “biggest names”, having covered every Super Bowl as well as the World Series every October and countless historic boxing matches when historic boxing matches were as big as it got in this business.

When I saw the respect and fondness with which nationally renown writers from New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and Philadelphia and Miami interacted with Peter, I no longer felt like I was from a “small market.”

Peter elevated New Orleans to big-league status.

Sitting next to Peter in a press box or on press row was priceless as both a joy and a learning experience.

He would throw out observations during the game and listen attentively to your reaction. Peter always listened more than he opined — an invaluable trait that’s nearly extinct in all facets of the media these days.

In post-game interviews while the rest of us bounced between a dozen or more subjects taping every word they said — later meticulously transcribing a mess with maybe a handful of worthwhile quotes — Peter had a pen and a notebook — or sometimes just a scrap of paper — and he’d corner a couple of people most relevant do what he was going to say.

Periodically he’d jot down a few words worth remembering and you always wondered how he could write so much worthwhile stuff with so few notes to refer to.

Then he’d listen, ask a couple of questions and then listen some more.

And the next morning you’d pick up his column, read it — often times more than once — and say to yourself, “Damn, I wish I could do that.”

Mr. Finney was a class act who will be missed.  More than a few sportswriters could improve their craft by simply reading his works.  LSU Press published a collection of his best columns that can be ordered online.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed Mr. Finney's columns in the Times-Picayune. As you say, he was a class act.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS