When a Loss is a Gift

In the midst of such a winning season, I’m moved to reflect on one of the greatest lessons sports teaches: dealing with loss.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.

 

What a year it has been for football! I don’t know that I can recall another time when Louisiana has been at the apex of both professional and college football for the entirety of the regular season. The winning has been fantastic, but, personally, something has been sorely missing.

My earliest football memories are of my mom, grandmother and me huddled in front of the television watching Saints games in the early part of the afternoon and the national game of the week in the later part of the day. At this time of year, Mere, as we affectionately called my mom’s mom, always liked to watch teams play in the snow.

I remember her excitement when her teams did well and her vocal disappointment when they didn’t.

She was exuberant when the Saints finally became a winner under head coach Jim Mora. So much so, in fact, that she bought a pair of season tickets so that we could be in that number when Tom Benson would boogie after victories on the Superdome floor.

When I was in high school, she took a job at Archbishop Rummel, worked there until she was 90, and became a mainstay at Raider games for nearly a quarter century. When I left New Orleans to go to college, she made her way up to Oxford, Mississippi a few times a year to take in my adopted Ole Miss Rebels.

In recent years, as I entered adulthood and started a family of my own, we didn’t go to as many games together, but she stayed on top of things. She would call or text asking to help clarify a call or my opinion on a play or game-related issue. When the Saints signed Drew Brees, she cut out an advertisement he placed in The Times-Picayune and put it up on her refrigerator. When the Black & Gold made their Super Bowl run, she saved a month’s worth of newspapers so that I’d have them for posterity.

Looking back, I spent a lot of time in my youth watching sports with her. She always seemed willing to take me to a game. We had a unique relationship that sometimes resembled the connection a young man would have with his father or grandfather. Though I recognized it as a youngster, I really didn’t appreciate it until I was an adult.

On Mardi Gras night in February 1977, my mom and dad were getting ready to leave her parents’ home to watch the Mistick Krewe of Comus parade on the streets of Uptown New Orleans when they heard a gunshot in the backyard. They found my grandfather with a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest.

He didn’t know it, but my mom was pregnant with me.

I was born in the shadow of his death, and his absence cast a pall over everyone he left behind.

With his absence, my grandmother looked to fill a lonely void by enjoying sports and forging a tight bond with me.

She passed away this past July, days before training camp opened.

Mere would have loved the way this season has gone. The Saints found ways to win even though Brees was injured and missed five games. LSU developed an offense and has a quarterback in contention for the Heisman Trophy. And the Rummel Raiders are, again, atop the Catholic League.

There have been times this season — after a big win or controversial call — when I expected my phone to light up with a call or text from her, but none came.

Initially, that gave me a hollow feeling, but it was soon replaced by a wave of gratitude. One of the greatest lessons sports teaches is how to take a loss, move past it, and try to make yourself better. She did that in life.

These days, I share my sports knowledge with my wife and daughters — who watched their first sporting events with their great-grandmother. I see her mannerisms in them as they react to the action and that always brings a smile.

A few days after she passed, I won my third consecutive New Orleans Press Club award for best sports column or blog. She would have been thrilled. Maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but she’s a major reason why I am a fan and chose a career as a sports journalist.

I don’t know what she would have predicted for my future back in 1977, but I’m thankful for the time we had together, for the games we saw, and for all the dancing we did after the Saints marched in. Despite her pain, she had a solid hand in making me who I am today. She was my champion. For that I am eternally grateful.