Southern Miss Alums to be Prominent on the Field, in Media at NFC Championship
Friday, January 22, 2010
Contact David Tisdale, 601.266.4499
Professional sports and mass media go hand in hand, and University of Southern Mississippi alums will figure prominently in both this Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 when the National Football Conference championship pits the Minnesota Vikings against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome.
They include Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, a record-setting quarterback at Southern Miss from 1987-1990; New Orleans Saints Assistant Athletic Trainer Ken Mangum; award-winning photographers Tim Isbell of the Biloxi Sun Herald, Ted Jackson of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Jerry Holt of the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and WDSU News Anchor Scott Walker.
Billed by some as the “Super Bowl before the Super Bowl,” this weekend’s game in New Orleans has drawn widespread attention because of Favre’s status as one of the best quaretbacks ever in pro football and the Saints’ record-breaking season and pursuit of their first Super Bowl berth.
“This weekend is going to be absolutely nuts, as crazy at it has ever been for a Saints game,” said Walker. “It’s a moment that so many fans of the team have waited for, and some have died waiting for. The Saints mean a lot to this city, and to have them make it this far is really special.”
A Metairie, La. native who graduated from Southern Miss in 1997 and received the Outstanding Senior in Broadcast Journalism award, Walker will work the pre-game show for WDSU on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Another New Orleans television icon, Sally-Ann Roberts of WWL-TV, is a Southern Miss alumna and a member of the university’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
Walker recently moved back to the Crescent City after working in Orlando, Fla. and said the Saints’ success has meant a lot to a city that has needed some good news in the nearly five years since Hurricane Katrina caused massive flooding and destruction.
He’s also proud to share the same alma mater with Favre, and marvels at the Kiln, Miss. native’s storied career. “He goes down in my mind as the greatest to ever play the position,” Walker said.
“It’s amazing to think of how many years he’s played at such a high level, how many games he has gone without missing a start, and during that time so many quarterbacks have come and gone in the NFL. It’s mind-boggling. His longevity and athleticism is a real testament to his commitment.”
Favre led the Golden Eagles to three winning seasons and two bowls during his years as a Southern Miss gridiron star, including upset victories over nationally ranked Florida State University, University of Alabama and Auburn University. He has played 19 seasons in the National Football League, mostly with the Green Bay Packers and also with the Atlanta Falcons and New York and Jets.
He will be in familiar territory at the Superdome, where he led the Golden Eagles to victories over Tulane University, and the Green Bay Packers to a win over the New England Patriots in the 1997 Super Bowl. His record against the Saints is 3-2, all while he was with the Packers.
“Obviously having Brett Favre as perhaps the most successful quarterback in the history of the National Football League as a Southern Miss alumnus is quite significant,” said the university’s Interim Vice President for Advancement Bob Pierce. ”Having him compete for the NFC championship a fourth time roughly 100 miles from the hometown of his alma mater raises the level of excitement even further.
“And what's good for Brett Favre is good for Southern Miss.”
Isbell and Jackson, both members of the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame, were part of their newspapers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning news teams that covered the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf South. Both understand how big the game is and how many local fans are frustrated at having to choose between the Saints and Favre’s Vikings.
Jackson described New Orleans as “giddy” with excitement about Sunday’s game, but notes that there are a lot of Saints fans who also love Brett. Friday, as he was getting photos of the pre-game preparation at Super Dome, he overhead a member of the crew painting the NFC Championship logo at midfield say “I just can’t help it, I’m a Brett Favre fan and I want him to win,” which Jackson said earned him immediate derision from his co-workers.
A big Favre fan himself, Jackson said he’s still going to pull for the Saints because they’ve never been to the Super Bowl and No.4 already has a championship ring. Plus, he wants to go to Miami.
“I get to go as far as the Saints go, so I’ve already got my ticket and my hotel room booked and, doggone it, I want to go to the Super Bowl,” he said.
“But win or lose, Sunday night is going to be fun.”
Isbell said the game is the matchup he was hoping for, and he’ll be at the Superdome covering the game along with Jackson and Holt. He said many fans along the coast are split in their support for the two teams, with some saying they are pulling for Favre to have a good game but for the Saints to emerge the victors.
“It’s funny how some say they’re for Favre, but don’t mention the Vikings,” he said.
If Favre is superstitious, he may want to make certain Isbell gets limousine service to the game. “Every time I’ve shot Brett since he’s turned pro, he‘s gone undefeated, so we’ll see if that holds up.”
Lovable losers flirting with greatness
Mangum, who worked as a student athletic trainer at Southern Miss, joined the Saints staff in 1981. He said Sunday’s game is probably the biggest in the organization’s history, and like Walker understands what the team means to the city and its long-suffering fans, especially with the kind of success it has enjoyed this year after many losing seasons.
“Everyone wants to see an underdog do something special, and I think we’ve picked up a lot more fans along the way because of that,” he said.
In 2006, the Saints fell to the Chicago Bears 39-14 in the NFC Championship at Soldier Field in Chicago. With this year’s championship at the Superdome, Mangum said hopes abound that the home field advantage will make a difference.
“It’s going to be electrifying, maybe even more exciting than that first game back in the Superdome in 2006 against the (Atlanta) Falcons.”
Mangum is also a fan of Favre, whom he met in the 1997 when the Packers used the Saints facilities to prepare for the Super Bowl against the Patriots. “He’s incredible, that’s the best word to use. He’s a great person and one of the most competitive athletes I’ve ever seen. I’ve followed him his whole career, and if we don’t make it I’ll cheer him on in the Super Bowl.”
Tim Finnigan of Satsuma, Ala., a Southern Miss senior broadcast journalism major, spent the summer of his sophomore year with the Saints as a media intern when the team held training camp in Jackson, Miss. There he got to know many of the players and came away impressed by their commitment to bring a winner to New Orleans.
“It’s really great to see them succeed, especially when you consider there are a lot of undrafted free agents and lower-round draft picks on that team, guys who really didn’t get a close look from a lot of teams who have since proven they belong. I feel really blessed to have had a chance to interact with them.”
Adored in Minneapolis, Mississippi
Jerry Holt, a native of Cleveland, Miss. graduated from Southern Miss in 1984 after a stint in the Marine Corp. He has worked for the Star-Tribune for 19 years, and on Friday he was in Kiln, Miss. working on a multi-media piece on Favre’s hometown. He reflected on the impact the former Golden Eagle has made in Minnesota as he watched a new sign erected with the caption “Kiln, Miss. Home of Brett Favre.”
“It’s just all Brett Favre, all the time,” Holt said. “He’s electrified the fan base of the Vikings. If they win Sunday, it will be off the hook.”
Favre has been what Holt jokingly calls a “one-man stimulus package” for the press in the Twin Cities area, helping increase sales of newspapers and advertising for local media, thanks to the rabid Vikings fans who want to know the latest about their team and its superstar quarterback.
The day Favre signed with the Vikings, the Star Tribune received more than two million hits on its Web site. “People can’t get enough of him,” Holt said.
He has a strong sense of pride in his fellow Southern Miss alum, but understands how many in the area are torn in their allegiance between the “Kiln Cannon” and their beloved Saints, who have suffered through so many losing seasons and are now on the precipice of greatness.
“The attitude down here among a lot of people on the Gulf Coast is that regardless of who comes out on top, it’s a win-win situation for the area,” he said. “Whoever wins, they’ll cheer them on in the Super Bowl.”
PHOTO: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, a former gridiron star at The University of Southern Mississippi, will lead his team against the New Orleans Saints Sunday in the NFC Championship at the Louisiana Superdome. (Photo by Southern Miss alumnus Jerry Holt of the Minneapolis Star Tribune)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.