For his pre-game meal, his last after 44 years behind the microphone for the Saints, Jerry Romig went old school with a ham poboy and Zapp’s.
Then he settled into a puffy recliner, rested a metal cane beside it and winced — not for the pain that pulsates down his left leg after a pair of back procedures, but for the fact it has forced Romig and his unmistakable rolling cadences out of the announcer’s chair.
“Sometimes it hurts to give it up. And I gave it up in fairness to them,” Romig said of the team, adding that he only realized it last week after a painful first pre-season game. “It was so very obvious that I can’t sit there. I just can’t sit there.”
Holding his trusty black Vivitar binoculaurs, Romig, 83, then pondered his final Superdome fling.
“I feel relieved, and excited. I’m looking forward to doing the game knowing it’s going to be the end,” he said. “I’ll do the best, and maybe it’ll be the best job I’ve ever done.”
He would get plenty of help trying.
A sea of TV cameras, family members — his five children and 10 of 11 grandchildren— and more than a few well-wishers greeted Romig when he arrived with Janice, his wife of 60 years, to the newly dubbed “Jerry Romig House Controls Booth.”
Deuce McAllister dropped by for a hug — “I had to come and salute the legend” — to which Romig naturally responded, “Deeeeeeuuuuce! Mc-All-is-ter.”
Network TV sportscaster Tim Brando, who also does Saints preseason games, offered Romig some needling advice: “It’s pronounced Brees. Drew Brees,” Brando said flatly to the man who makes it sound more like a slide whistle.
“I came in here, it’s like, who is it, the Pope?” Brando said, later adding, “He’s synonymous with New Orleans, the New Orleans feel. Everything about New Orleans is what he represents.”
Closer to game time, Romig buried his head in a roster card for a last-minute check on names, at ease doing the kind of preparation he’s done for more than 400 Saints games since 1969 — nevermind the Sugar Bowls and Super Bowls.
“I’m ready. It’s exciting as you can imagine. It’s very emotional,” he said. “I’m gonna make it.”
Around him stood son Jay, a longtime Saints employee who runs the scoreboard; son Mark, who is set to succeed him at the microphone; and Mary Beth, the daughter who spots him, feeds him names, numbers and yards on offensive plays, and rubs his hurting back.
Romig stayed seated during the national anthem — “Dad, stay,” Mary Beth said, a hand on his shoulder, after saddling him into his chair in a tight space above the field.
“She’s actually singing it like it was written,” Romig said. “Let’s have a good one, gang.”
Then, a few minutes later, with the Saintsations off the field, the Who Dat chant in the books, and the kickoff in the end zone, Romig got busy rolling out the calls that became his signature — the ones that kids now ask him to boom into their cellphones, for their ringtones. The ones that Mark is now trying to decide which to keep and which to leave to Romig history.
“First Down Saints!” Romig-style, is staying, because “the fans are used to it,” Mark said. Probably the classic Romig touchdown call as well. And Romig’s toying call on opposing teams’ third downs may remain as well.
“The Raiders are going for it on fourth-down,” Romig intoned in the first quarter, before the Saints defense stuffed them. “Saints hold! First Doooowwwn. Saaaints!
“That was a Cape Cod brunchtime moment.”
There were more first downs calls to boot, and Romig slid into several of the cherished calls that many fans and his own children grew up with as their Saints soundtrack.
In the fourth quarter, when the Saints tackled a Raider for a safety, Romig pumped his fist in the air before howling, “Saaaaafety!” In the suite next door, with the glass window facing the booth, his daughters and grandkids smiled.
Toward the end of the game, Romig was growing weary as he took a celebratory sip of champagne. There were a few slow calls when the ball bounced wrong and Romig wanted to get it right. Also some wrong players’ names and yardages, one wrong score. With a bad read on an announcement near the two-minute warning, frustration was setting in for the man who has called well over 400 games in a storied career.
“Need some editing, guys,” Romig said. “Poorly, poorly, poorly.”
Mary Beth backed away to the corner and wept. And the clock seemed to tick more slowly.
“It’s torture,” Romig howled. “Come on defense! End this foolishness!”
The Saints did, for the man who helped lend generations of fans a singular narrative voice through the deepest lows and richest highs of the team he adores, the team he once feared would forever leave the city.
“That’s it, that’s it,” he said as the clock wound to zero and he pressed down on the mike. “Final score: The Saints 28, Raiders 20.”
Romig folded up his glasses and slid them in his pocket, then leaned into the mike one last time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been fun. Good night. Love ya.”
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