Ron Brocato, Ed Daniels bid farewell to Peter Finney Sr.
Both Clarion Herald sports editor Ron Brocato and Clarion Herald sports columnist Ed Daniels offer their reflections on the death of long-time Times-Picayune sports editor Peter Finney Sr. Finney, 88, died on Aug. 13. He also wrote a sports column for the Clarion Herald in the 1960s. His funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday, Aug. 20, at 11 a.m. at St. Rita Church, 2729 Lowerline St., New Orleans, with visitation beginning at 9 a.m.
On Saturday I will have said goodbye to a dear friend and former colleague, Peter Finney.
It will be one of the most difficult moments in my life.
But my fond memories of Peter, who passed away on Aug. 13, will live in my mind and heart for the duration of my time on Earth. His writings will be part of New Orleans sports lore forever.
I first met the man whose articles I read faithfully as a teenager in early September 1966. As a fledgling writer who did my residency at a small newspaper in Anaheim, California, I returned home in August of that year, jobless.
I learned from my former high school football coach of an opening in the States-Item sports department. He told me to call Peter Finney.
I did, the next day, and began a career that has lasted most of the last 50 years.
Peter, then age 38, taught me, age 25, and the other young writers who became part of the S-I staff the protocols of being part of a legacy that included newsmen like Harry Martinez, Fred Digby, Bill Keefe, Bob Roesler and Hap Glaudi.
He introduced us to characters like “Black Cat” Lacombe, Anthony “Richidella the paper sella,” boxing promoter “Leapin’ Lou” Messina, Joe Gemelli and, of course, Buddy Diliberto. In those days, we didn’t refer to ourselves as “journalists.” We were newsmen. Printer’s ink ran through our veins.
Timely in every way
Peter’s only admonition was to be on time when our work day began at 4:30 a.m. He would already be there tearing down the Associated Press wire for potential news stories.
He’d breathe a sigh of relief when he saw one of us come in. That meant he wouldn’t have to diagram pages. He could concentrate on one of his brilliant columns while others performed the mathematics of page design.
Peter would drive us around in an old Volkswagon bus, a mode of transportation made necessary to transport Miss Deedy and their six children, who I watched grow into responsible and successful adults.
Today I’m proud to say that I work for his eldest, Peter Jr., and with his youngest daughter, Beth Donze.
That old bus took us to many sporting venues. But one of our favorites was his home in Gentilly, where most the S-I staff watched football games and championship fights on his TV, provided we brought the beer.
Those were happy times. We even partied at the 3800 Howard Avenue building during street flooding that left us stranded, and on the night of States-Item’s final issue. It was known as the “Bye, Bye, S-I” party.
Peter was my advisor when I was unsure how to handle a hot topic. During the years I was the beat writer covering the New Orleans Jazz, Peter sat next to me at the press table, pointing out things he saw that might be interesting points for the game story.
I was always worried that he’d cop them for his column instead.
Prior to the start of the 1976-77 season, Jazz General Manager Barry Mendelson signed an aging Gail Goodrich to share backcourt duties alongside of Pete Maravich.
A former client of Mendelson, Goodrich played just 27 games in his first of three years as a Jazz guard after suffering a strained Achilles, which required surgery.
During an NBA owners’ meeting in 1977, I learned from Jazz assistant coach Elgin Baylor that Mendelson had bartered away the team’s immediate future by trading two years of No. 1 draft choices to the Lakers for Goodrich. (The Lakers turned one of those picks into Magic Johnson!) That was not what Mendelson told the media at the time of the signing.
I phoned Mendelson from my hotel room to tell him of the revelation. He stuttered part of an explanation and asked me to wait a few days until he could explain his reasoning. I then phoned Peter to tell him the story. We knew that Mendelson was stalling for time to fashion a spin.
Peter told me if the facts were correct, “then write it. I’ll call Mendelson and tell him we’re not bailing him out of this mess.”
I did. We published the story before the Times-Pic got wind of it, and Mendelson was out of a job three days later.
The stories of that bygone era are endless, but my cherished memories of my friend and teacher will remain timeless.
Remembering Pete and Buddy as the 'Odd Couple'
By Ed Daniels
I first met Pete Finney when I was a sports intern at WVUE-TV.
Back then, Buddy Diliberto hosted a show 30 minutes before the kickoff of Monday Night Football.
Pete Finney was a frequent guest on “From the Press Box.”
It wasn’t long before we were swapping Buddy Diliberto stories. Like the time Buddy and Pete were covering a Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Buddy, a horse-racing enthusiast, was lost on the interstate looking for Santa Anita. So, he pulled over on the shoulder and decided to ask the nearest California Highway Patrolman for directions.
The policeman obliged, pinning the person he was arresting to his patrol car, as he shouted directions to Diliberto.
All Pete could do was laugh. When he had a good Buddy story, Pete would refer to Buddy as Bernard, his given first name.
Since his passing on Aug. 13, reporters have paid tribute to Pete. He was an incredible writer, great husband and father, and just a good egg, period.
But, when I think of Pete Finney, I can’t help but think of Buddy Diliberto. The two were intertwined. They were The Odd Couple: Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.
The two started out in newspapers together. One afternoon, they were on the way back from Baton Rouge, long before Interstate 10 was built.
As they drove south on Airline Highway, a car pulled alongside and a man in the back seat rolled down the window.
It was Louisiana Governor Earl Long, asking Finney and Diliberto if they had any “good horses.”
The Guv was headed to the Fair Grounds for some official business.
Years later, the Saints played the Cowboys in Dallas. Pete made the mistake of asking Buddy for a ride to the airport early the next morning. Buddy overslept. He hustled down to the front desk, hopped in the rental car and bolted for the airport.
As Buddy raced through rush-hour Dallas traffic to DFW Airport, he was, of course, talking about what they had seen the previous night. Buddy was still perplexed that, with a one-point lead, Saints head coach Bum Phillips had let quarterback Kenny Stabler throw out of the end zone.
Stabler was sacked with under two minutes to play, and the Saints lost 21-20. Buddy would look back and talk to Pete in the backseat. He frequently took his eye off the road.
Bad idea. He clipped the rental car on the back of a truck. Buddy kept driving. When he got to the gate, he tipped the skycap $50 to return the car.
When Buddy got back to New Orleans, he truly was incredulous that the rental car company had called, wanting to know what happened to their vehicle.
All Pete could do was laugh. “Bernard, Bernard.”
This week, a lot of people will remember Pete Finney. An iconic figure in our city’s history he will always be.
But, I can’t help but wondering what he and Buddy are talking about right now. Buddy has been watching all the preseason games on the heavenly version of NFL Sunday Ticket.
So, it wouldn’t surprise me if he asked Pete the following: “The total on the Saints is seven wins. Should I bet the over or the under?”