Super Bowl 50 is now in the record books, and the Denver Broncos will forever celebrate their victory while the Carolina Panthers will lament their lost chances to enter the record books. In a few weeks, only the most ardent fans will even remember the score much less any details of the game. Cathy and I are not big fans of pro football, but we will never forget what happened 41 years ago at Super Bowl IX in New Orleans.
We spent the first 4 years of our life together in New Orleans while I was being trained as a general surgeon at Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue. We have some very special memories of life in New Orleans, including surviving Hurricane Betsy which struck New Orleans about 1 month after our marriage. I recorded a few of those experiences in the blog stories, ” A Wedding Gift We Didn’t Want” and “The Elevator Operator.” We also made some great friendships with people we met in New Orleans. One couple was Dr. and Mrs. Dick Faust. Dr. Faust was an Adjunct Professor of Surgery on the faculty of L.S.U. School of Medicine. As a surgical resident I wrote and published a scientific paper on “Tetanus” with Dr. Faust as co-author, and we became very good friends during that extended period. When we left New Orleans in 1969 to enter the U.S. Air Force, the Faust’s gave us a standing invitation to stay with them in their home whenever we visited New Orleans.
In late December 1974 Cathy and I had been living in El Dorado, Arkansas for 3+ years and had stayed in touch with several friends from our Air Force years. I got a call from Dr. Herb Sperling from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania asking if we would be interested in going with him and his wife Teresa to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, where his team the Steelers were to play the Minnesota Vikings. Herb had been an internist at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia where I was the base surgeon. We were best friends then. He was an avid Pittsburgh Steeler fan, and I was also a fan of his team because Terry Bradshaw, the starting quarterback had played college football at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. Herb said he had four “50 yard line tickets” if we could find a place for us to stay. He had tried to find a hotel in New Orleans, and the closest reservation he could find was in Biloxi, Mississippi about 90 miles away. I immediately called Dr. Faust and he said, “Your rooms are awaiting you!” Dick and Margaret Faust had a large, beautiful home in the elegant Garden District off St. Charles Avenue.
Cathy and I had made arrangements for our 3 small children to stay with my Mom for the 3 days we would be in New Orleans. We were driving down on Friday afternoon and would return late Sunday afternoon following the game. Despite our children’s young ages; (John-7; Mark K-4; Ginny-2), we were comfortable Mom could manage very well. Mom; however was a lot more nervous than we anticipated.
Cathy and I arrived late on Friday afternoon at the Faust’s home and were so glad to spend the evening with them. Herb and Teresa were not scheduled to arrive until Saturday afternoon, so we had that time alone with the Faust’s. Dick Faust had given me my first surgical job at his clinic, post-residency for 2 months prior to going into the Air Force. He also offered me a position in his clinic upon completion of my 2 year military obligation at twice the going salary rate for general surgeons at that time. I really enjoyed working with him, but Cathy and I just couldn’t consider raising our children in New Orleans.
When Herb and Teresa arrived the following day, we spent the evening with them, showing them a few of the sites and places special to us. One of those places I knew Herb would enjoy was The Oyster Bar in the French Quarters. As expected it was crowded with lots of people, including fans from both teams. Herb spotted the Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty having a dozen oysters and was able to sit beside him at the bar. We asked him among other things, if he knew Cathy’s Mom, Virginia Young who was at that time the Fort Lauderdale Mayor; and he knew her. It gave us something to talk about with him besides the Steeler game. It was a fun evening and everyone was excited about the game on Sunday.
Upon arrival back at the Faust’s, Cathy and I got a phone call from Mom who sounded very worried. There was threat of an impending ice storm the following day in El Dorado. We had endured such a storm a year before, and the ice paralyzed our city for 5 days with loss of electricity and inability to drive safely on the streets. Mom was afraid we would become stranded in New Orleans, and she would be left for days with the care of the children. We told her to call the next morning when the forecast would be more certain. When she called the next day she reported the weather forecaster said there was a “chance of ice in the Sunday evening hours.” As badly as we hated, we had to bid the Faust’s and Sperling’s farewell and begin our drive back to El Dorado hours before the kick-off of the game.
Super Bowl IX was originally scheduled to be played in the newly erected New Orleans Super Dome, but the stadium was not quite finished, so within weeks of the game the venue was changed to Tulane Stadium. The weather that afternoon was cold and damp, but for Steeler fans, it was picture perfect. The Steelers won their first ever Super Bowl against the Vikings 16-6, while Cathy and I were seated in our car instead of Tulane Stadium. I will say; however, our car was warm and dry except for the occasional tear I shed having missed my only chance to see a Super Bowl!
We made it home safely and much to everyone’s surprise, the ice completely bypassed South Arkansas. Mom was relieved we came home; the kids were glad to see us, but I wish we had stayed a few more hours in New Orleans and watched the game from the 50 yard line!