New Orleans lost a great friend when Jerry Romig, the iconic "voice of the Saints" for 44 seasons, died at his home on Dec. 23 surrounded by his family. He was 86. Generations knew Jerry for his "First down ... SAAAAAAINTS!" cry that was more a cheer than a play-by-play call. I had the privilege of knowing Jerry as a mentor and friend.
What I remember most about Jerry are his terrific sense of humor, his consummate professionalism and his love of family and sports. He was one of the few people on earth who had both a Super Bowl ring (a gift from the New Orleans Saints upon his retirement) and a genuine sense of humility.
I first met Jerry in the 1970s when his son Mark and I became fraternity brothers at the University of New Orleans. Jerry and his wife Janice were everybody's favorite parents; they tolerated more than a few of our raucous parties in their Lakeview backyard.
A few years later I got to know him better when I got involved in the Press Club of New Orleans' Gridiron Show. The show had fallen on hard times and needed a reboot. Jerry took the lead and was perfect for the job. He not only got the show running again, but he also brought a new level of professionalism to it. For years he opened the show with a Johnny Carson-like monologue that was consistently a hit. He also wrote many of the funniest scripts of that era.
Over the years, I came to know Jerry professionally, first while he was a news exec at WDSU-TV and later during his stints as a PR man for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the LSU Health Sciences Center. Here's the amazing thing about Jerry: He always knew the right thing to say. Whether he was scolding a politician as an editorialist for WDSU, advising the archbishop or a doctor as a PR counselor or helping a friend out of a tough situation, Jerry always found exactly the right words for the moment, and he always delivered them with just the right touch. He was truly one of the wise men of our town — a New Orleanian for all seasons.
My favorite stories about Jerry come from his family. His sons remember that he introduced them to The Three Stooges — in person. His daughters will always remember the night of Jerry and Janice's 50th wedding anniversary. He danced with his bride to the strains of "My Girl," then danced with each daughter and granddaughter to the same tune. That dance and tune became a family tradition. When Jerry died, his daughters and granddaughters did "My Girl" one more time.
Jerry's extended family included 25 foster children. I learned about that one day at the family home when I asked Jerry about a wall covered with infants' photos. He told me about the foster children and was close to tears when he said, "They're all our babies, forever."
So long, old friend. Heaven just got one helluva booth announcer.