© 2010 JW Miller All Rights Reserved.

Jim Finks and his Pals watched the Saints win the Super Bowl

NFC Championship Game, January 18, 2009

Seconds were ticking away at the end of regulation, and Brett Favre went to the sideline to ask Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress, “What shall we do?” Childress says “I don’t know. Let’s ask God.” 
So they quickly pray and a voice comes back: “Put twelve men in the huddle.” Favre runs back on the field with 12 men and gets penalized for illegal substitution. 
Favre again runs over to the sideline and says, “So what do we do now?” Again Childress looks to the heavens and asks, “God, what shall I do?”  The voice comes back, “Tell Brett to throw that little pass across his body back to the wide side of the field right before he goes out of bounds.” 
So he does and the ball is intercepted. Now it is overtime, and right before the coin toss, Favre asks Childress, “Should I call Heads or Tails?” Childress again asks for divine help and again the voice comes back, “Call Heads.” They lose the toss the Saints score and win a trip to the Super Bowl.As Favre and Childress are walking to the bus, they decide to ask God about his ill-fated recommendations. God tells them, “Hold on.  Hey, Finks, why did we tell them to put 12 in the huddle, throw the pass and call heads?”

While Who Dat Nation is relishing its current willing suspension of disbelief, that story has as much substance 
as any of the other miracles we’ve experienced during this most wonderful of all Saints’ seasons. 
But some of us who were fortunate enough to have worked with him know that the most believable notion is 
the conviction that Jim Finks, the man who brought respectability to the New Orleans Saints franchise, is still up 
there pulling strings.
In fact, it is easy to believe that the most significant Super Bowl party held on Sunday was not in Washington, 
D.C., or New Orleans or Miami but on a far higher plane.  
While watching the game with my family, I imagined Finks, holding his trademark vodka on the rocks, a 
“see through” in Finkspeak, welcoming a host of old friends to his own special Super Bowl party, held in a very 
exclusive box suite somewhere far north of Sun Life Stadium.
The first guests to arrive were Pete Rozelle and his long-time broadcast coordinator, Val Pinchbeck.  Steve 
Stonebreaker showed up with Dave Whitsell, and Joe Wendryhoski came in carrying a case of beer and a bag of 
Polish sausages and buns. Former Coaches Tom Fears and Dick Nolan arrived next, followed by Frank Warren, 
Sam Mills and Dave Waymer of another era.  
Another couple arrived and all heads turned, but Finks recognized them immediately. 
“You know, Hap, although it doesn’t exactly fit him, that black and gold beaded evening gown certainly befits 
Buddy D, don’t you think?” Finks said of Hap Glaudi’s resplendent date.  
“I t’ink da fleur-de-lis ear rings wuz a little over da top,” Hap said, as Buddy D posed for pictures. 
Almost all the invited guests had arrived when a gleaming white limousine pulled up out front, its angelic trumpets heralding the arrival of its passenger, former coach Hank Stram. 
“Hey, somebody tip the driver, will you?” Stram said as he smoothed his saintly new hairpiece into place.  “God wants this buggy back by midnight!”
Finks greeted each one warmly and directed them to their reserved seats in this most exclusive of plush box suites.  The conversation was warm and the divine libation generated blissful stories of days gone by as each drew on their own experiences.  
Rozelle was pleased at the pre-game ceremony, especially the precision arrival of the four Florida Air National Guard F-15 Eagle fighter jets.  Pinchbeck was more impressed by the fact that 50 Sony high-definition cameras would cover every angle of the National Football League’s championship game.  
“How many cameras did we have at the Colts and Jets game in Super Bowl III, Pete?” Pinchbeck asked.  “Probably three?”
“I don’t remember how many cameras we had, but I remember a 30-second commercial cost $55,000,” Rozelle responded, taking another sip of his Rusty Nail.  “At today’s rate, that would get you six and a half seconds!”
The game began, and it became apparent that both quarterbacks would enjoy maximum protection from their offensive lines. 
“Somebody’s got to bust through there,” former rush end Frank Warren pleaded, but former offensive guard Wendryhoski was defensive about his old position: “Hey, a good offensive line will always stop a good pass rush.  There might not be a sack all day!”
The Colts went up 10-0, but nobody at the party seemed discouraged, especially the host. 
“Just keep sawing wood, boys,” Finks said. “Just keep sawing wood.”
The Saints trailed at the half, and the former coaches and players debated what the Saints could do in the second half to take the lead and hold it. Rozelle and Pinchbeck  remained in their seats to watch the halftime show.
“The Who is a nice touch,” Rozelle said, “although I wish they’d still use the kids from ‘Up With People’.”
“Most of them have retired,” Pinchbeck said. “Or are in the choir up here!”
Sean Payton’s decision to open the second half with an onside kick surprised two coaches in the group. Dick Nolan shouted to Tom Fears: “Did you ever have the rocks to do that, Tom?” 
“I had the rocks, but not the jocks,” Fears shot back.
“Exactly what I would have done,” Stram said confidently. 
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma made a play, which prompted Warren to give Mills a shot. 
“Vilma almost looks like you out there, Mouse,” Warren said to Mills. “Same number, but two feet taller!”
Mills smiled broadly, accustomed even now to remarks about his size.  
“Jonathan’s a player,” Mills said, “but he knows what you do off the field is more important than what you do on it.  He’s getting involved with the Haitian relief effort, which makes me proud he is a credit to number 51.”
The Saints offense picked up as they began to move the ball, almost at will, prompting Stram to chide his host. 
“This is just like stealing! Just what we did to your Vikes in Superior Bowl Four, right Finksie?” 
Finks took another sip of his see-through, and picked up the red phone on the cocktail table. He spoke a few words and then put down the receiver. 
“Hey, Finks, while you’re on the line order more kielbasa and beer,” said Wendryhoski.  “We’re running low here.”
The Saints took a 24-17 lead, but nobody was comfortable.  All realized that the guy on the other side of the field, Peyton Manning, had played some heavenly football during the season himself, including a handful of come-from-behind victories.  
“Wished I’d played with his old man,” Whitsell said. “He’s a real credit to his family.”
The Colts were driving deep into Saints’ territory with three and a half minutes remaining.  The ball was snapped to Manning and Dave Waymer jumped up and shouted: “Jump the route, Tracey, jump the route.”
Sure enough, Porter jumped in front of Reggie Wayne to turn the only interception of the game into a game-clinching touchdown, and the party erupted.  All except Jim Finks, who sat there calmly with a knowing smile on his face. 
“You look like the cat that ate the canary, Finks,” Stram said. “You want to share something with us?”
“I knew somebody on the Colts side would probably ask God what he should do, so I made another suggestion.”
“Finks, does God really listen to you?” Stonebreaker asked.
“Who do you think got Stram the limo?” Finks said as the clock ticked down, and the participants slapped each other’s backs, knowing that they all had contributed to that moment.  Their New Orleans Saints were the world champions.  
Jim Finks held up his hand and got everyone’s attention for one final comment.
“Piss on the fire and call the dogs, boys.  Our job is done!” 

Jim Finks as Saints' president
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Kentucky's Casey was one for the ages

(Excerpted from "Where the Water Kept Rising" by J.W. Miller)

Over the difficult years, one voice of comfort was my longtime friend, Mike Casey.  We met at age 8 when Mike’s family moved into the neighborhood, and we remained fast friends through grade school, high school and college.  
The public Mike Casey was special to many who did not know him as I did.  He was leading scorer of a Shelby County High School team that was ranked No. 1 in a basketball-mad state two years in a row and were state champions in 1966.  The same year, Casey was named Kentucky’s prestigious Mr. Basketball and signed with the University of Kentucky.  Casey was the heart of Adolph Rupp’s last great team and had been pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  He is still ranked as the 13th top scorer in school history. 
We had gone our separate ways out of college.  Mike played basketball overseas for a few years before returning to Kentucky to go into business.  We talked frequently on the phone, and when I would return to Kentucky to visit family, we always found time for a round of golf or a beer.  After Katrina, Mike was one of the first who tracked me down to make sure we were safe. 
I learned the severity of Mike’s illness in early January.  He had suffered a viral infection of his heart a decade earlier, and over the years the conditioned worsened.   He was undergoing extensive treatment at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville while he waited for a heart transplant.  
I wanted to see him, and conveniently our men’s and women’s basketball teams were to play a double-header at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green on January 17.  I took the opportunity to visit my old friend and support my teams on the same trip.  I would drive up to the games on Saturday, and then drive to Nashville and spend some time with Mike on Sunday. 
Mike Casey joined Charlie Scott of North Carolina and Mike Maloy of Davidson on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1968.
On the drive up, I thought a lot about our boyhood adventures.  I remember the day my father told me that another boy had moved into our Clark Station neighborhood, so I took my Hutch glove and ball and asked the new kid if he wanted to play catch.  I distinctly recall that the first ball I threw at Mike went over his head, but he stretched and reached back and retrieved it with such grace that I said to myself “we’re going to have some fun.” For the next three or four years we were inseparable.  
We went to church camp together, and  I wrote home that our team won a basketball game 72 to 6 and Mike and I combined for 64 of the points.  Since it was a church camp, honesty compelled me to admit that Mike had scored 51 of those points.  
As we grew out of our childhood and his basketball skills developed, Mike belonged more to the public.  We saw each other frequently at UK, moreso because I was a freshman sportswriter for the Kentucky Kernel student newspaper than because I was his friend.   When I applied for the Kernel job, I told the sports editor that I attended Shelby County High with Mike Casey and Bill Busey, another Wildcat recruit.  It was natural that my first assignment as a freshman sportswriter was to interview Rupp about his fabulous freshman team that also include Dan Issel and Mike Pratt. 
I was terrified that I was going to interview the legendary Rupp. I had grown up listening to Cawood Ledford’s calls of the great Kentucky teams of the Fifties and early Sixties on WHAS in Louisville.  I would keep score of every game and then listen to Rupp’s postgame radio show in which he told Cawood how his coaching genius usually saved the day, despite his players who seldom listened to his wisdom.  If Rupp claimed he never used a zone defense, you could bet that the “transitional stratified hyperbolic paraboloid” he employed to beat an unsuspecting opponent looked very similar and achieved the same purpose.   In an era before the saturation of sports through ESPN, Foxsports and the internet, sports celebrities came through the radio, and Rupp was the biggest of them all to a young Kentucky listener. 
I was admitted to his office, and I first noticed a picture of a polled Hereford, a breed of beef cattle which Rupp raised.  I tried to start the conversation by complimenting him on what a fine animal that was, but he got right to the point and asked me what was on my mind.  I stammered that I was doing a story on the freshman team and that I had gone to Shelby County, and … “I don’t want any stories written about those Shelby County boys,” he interrupted. “Their heads are big enough as it is.”
I don’t know whether it was the puddle under my chair or the tears welling up in my eyes that made Rupp smile, but he knew he’d gone a bit too far and said, “I’m just kidding. You write whatever you want about them.”  Rupp proved a willing source for me that year and the next, probably because he loved to tweak the full-time beat writers of the Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader by giving scoops to the school paper.
The years went by, and Mike and I talked less frequently, but I saw him at our 25th year high school reunion in 1991, and the time apart disappeared.  I called a year later to tell him I was going to take a marriage mulligan and would he come down to New Orleans and stand in my wedding, which he did. 
I was happy that the best part of my future would get to meet and spend time with one of the best parts of my past. 
Mike was lying in bed, his 6-foot-4 frame drawn and withered, and his face looking gray and tired.  His right leg was black from a staph infection that he had contracted.  He said that he had been taken off the heart transplant list, at least until the infection healed.  
My visit seemed to comfort him as our conversation took us away from our miseries and back to the past that binds old friends. We laughed about our “bike hikes” through the hayfields of Shelby County and about the time I bet Mike a nickel he wouldn’t kneel down and lick an almost-dried cow pie, which he did.  He reminded me of a basketball game when he had a raging case of diarrhea, and a trainer went into the stands asking if anybody had a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and my mother miraculously produced a bottle from her purse.  
The hour or so passed quickly, and Mike was getting tired, so I hugged him and told him I loved him.  
I remember driving back to New Orleans, thanking God for my health and praying that Mike would survive.  But the infection would not go away, and Mike’s heart gave out a few weeks later.  
I have many wonderful memories of my best friend.  But none were better than those final moments in the hospital. Two 60-year-old men embracing, one facing death and the other one thinking he had problems.