Super Bowl stirring up Roesler memories

By TED LEWIS

Advocate sportswriter

The Super Bowl is coming to town for the 10th time next week. And for the first time Bob Roesler won’t be taking part.

Not that he wouldn’t love to be. Unfortunately, the former longtime Times-Picayune sports editor, now 84, is confined to Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center in Algiers, suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Although he enjoys having visitors, actual conversations are becoming rarer.

“He’s just not with us much anymore,” Chloe Roesler, Bob’s wife of 58 years recently said, tearing up in the process. “I miss him so much.”

That’s hard to take in itself.

But for those of us who have known, worked with and been friends with Bob, it’s especially hitting home right now.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say Bob Roesler was solely, or even primarily, responsible for securing the first Super Bowl for New Orleans in 1970. He’d tell you it was a group effort, headed by people like Dave Dixon, Moon Landrieu, Jimmy Fitzmorris, Al Hirt and Times-Picayune editor George Healy, who was chairman of the local Super Bowl task force formed two years earlier.

But it was Bob who did a lot of the heavy lifting, using his connections with league old timers such as Art Rooney and Wellington Mara who were among Bob’s racetrack pals.

Art Modell, onetime owner of the Browns/Ravens whose former team will play the 49ers in SB XLVII, was another good friend.

He’d refer to them as “moguls” and a song sung around the newsroom when Bob attended NFL meetings, as much as a representative of the city’s subsequent Super Bowl efforts as a journalist, was “Let’s go moguling.”

But Bob knew how to separate the two responsibilities.

“Bob possessed a combination of recruiting tools that no one else had,” said Joe Browne, the onetime NFL publicity chief who remains the senior advisor to the commissioner. “He used the clout of his column when he did not agree with NFL decisions, but he also had a great power of personal persuasion to twist arms of the key owners who decided where the Super Bowls would be played.

“Bob probably was the most effective lobbyist the city had because Commissioner (Pete) Rozelle and our owners respected him so much.”

Browne added Rozelle often checked with Bob before making key logistical decisions about games in New Orleans.

“When it came to those early Super Bowls in New Orleans Bob was part recruiter, part critic, part hospitality advisor,” Browne said. “But overall, he was a class professional who worked tireless for his beloved New Orleans.”

Obviously, it’s not for nothing that since Bob retired from the Times-Picayune in 1995, a plaque sporting his smiling visage has been on display in the Superdome press box.

“Bob was humbly proud,” Chloe said. “He’d always include the names of those whom he said were at the forefront of the effort.

“I think he just saw it as doing what he could for the city rather than getting any kind of personal gain out of it.”

Indeed. After Katrina wrecked their home, Bob and Chloe relocated to Eugene, Ore., where daughter Kim was residing at the time, for several months.

Before the storm Bob was suffering from nerve problems in his neck and spine. Chloe said the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s started while they were in Oregon. But even from a distance, Bob longed to be part of the recovery.

“Maybe I could do something to help,” he said.

No need, Bob. Long ago, you more than did your part.