For Jerry Romig, kids were his miracles
In December 2009, with the New Orleans Saints headed to the playoffs – and, ultimately, to the Super Bowl – Jerry Romig (left) discussed his lifelong love affair with the New Orleans Saints as their PA voice and his dedication to his Catholic faith. Jerry, who passed away Dec. 23, and his wife Janice reared seven children and 21 foster children. Here's a reprint of Peter Finney Jr.'s Dec. 12, 2009, column, which foreshadowed the Saints' victory in Super Bowl XLIV.
* * *Jerry Romig, a lifelong Catholic, is the Wikipedia definition of the “long-suffering” Saints fan: equal parts amnesiac, masochist, wild-eyed optimist and illogical diehard whose Who-Dat heart is protected by an oversized Kevlar fleur-de-lis.
Romig and his long-suffering band of black-and-gold brothers have sustained so many flesh wounds over the last 43 years of mostly semi-pro football that the loss of blood should have led by now to death by a thousand cuts.
And yet, at 80, Romig is still here, filling the Superdome with his lyrical baritone voice as the Saints’ public address announcer. His unmistakable “First down …. SAAAINTS!” and “Touchdown … SAAAINTS!” are secular Sunday hymns to a flock seeking the ultimate balm in the greenest of pastures.
But, oh, those flesh wounds.
There was the 62-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Tulane Stadium in 1973; Chuck Muncie freebasing with an electric heating plate during training camp at Dodgertown (Archie Manning thought the running back was using the mini-stove to cook “soul food”); losing to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Tampa had failed to win its first 26 NFL games; creating the ultimate in losers’ apparel, the Aints’ bag, during a 1-15 season in 1980; and, of course, Ricky Williams in a wedding dress, locking arms with Mike Ditka in a shotgun marriage that ended with additional blood spilled.
And now, Drew Brees, Sean Payton and Gregg Williams are driving the bus to Miami – and, if you can believe it, all the way to Super Bowl XLIV.
As Romig drove home from the Superdome on a recent Monday night with Janice, his wife of 56 years, after the Saints improved to 11-0 by bludgeoning the Patriots 38-17, they talked about football heaven.
“We were hoping we would see this before we died,” Romig said. “Well, we’re seeing it.”
The rule in broadcasting a baseball game is that no one talks about a “no-hitter” while it’s happening. Romig says there is no superstition in Saints’ fans proclaiming the good news before it happens.
“‘Maybe next year’ was always the great theme,” Romig said. “Fans always put their hope in the draft. But this team is together and has everything imaginable. They’ve got the leadership of Drew Brees and a great coaching staff. Have you ever seen a good team give up like the Patriots did the other night?”
Like most New Orleanians, Romig and his extended family took it on the chin from Katrina. They lost the family home in Lakeview, as did son Jay and daughter Mary Beth. Most precious to Jerry and Janice were the memories that could not be replaced. On the first floor of their house were framed photos of the 21 foster babies they had cared for beginning in 1964.
The Romigs already had four children when they decided to become foster parents of newborns. They were motivated because Janice subsequently had lost two children shortly after birth. Most of the foster babies stayed in their home for a few weeks before adoptive parents were found, but one stayed a little longer.
“We kept this one particular baby for almost nine months, and they just about had to scrape him off of us,” Jerry said.
Janice had a routine in caring for her foster children. She would keep a meticulous diary and take plenty of pictures to have something of precious value to give to the adoptive family. “The day before the babies left, we’d go downtown to Tippery’s and get a big picture taken,” Janice said. “Those are the 8-by-10s that we had on the wall. The water washed all the pictures away.”
Twenty-one. Almost enough for a football team.
In those days, not a lot of information was exchanged between foster and adoptive families, but the Romigs still keep in touch with three of their foster babies. One went to Holy Cross, to the University of Notre Dame and to Tulane Law School and is now an attorney practicing law in New Orleans.
Another miracle: daughter Ellen, now a teacher, was born 14 years after the Romigs’ last biological baby died at birth. Janice was 43.
Do you believe in miracles?
“I think you have to put your faith in the Lord and accept what comes in life,” Janice said, reflecting on the two children who are no longer with her and the family’s losses since Katrina. “The pictures were great memories, but as a mother, you keep those memories in your heart. You have to remember the good things. That’s our Catholic faith.”
Do you believe in miracles? The Saints in Super Bowl XLIV? They are 12-0 and counting.
“I’m almost afraid to say it, but I think it is going to happen,” Janice said. “I think we’ll drive to Miami – make it a two-day trip – and then have a nice family vacation. We’ll go in a family caravan. But we’re not buying plane tickets. That’s a bad omen.”