Saturday, February 4, 2012

(70-C) Article/Interview of Danny Abramowicz a Few Days Before the 2010 Super Bowl

        A few days before New Orleans beat Indianapolis in the 2010 Super Bowl, the Cleveland Plain Dealer interviewed a New Orleans legend born and raised in nearby Steubenville, Ohio.  He was among the first to be inducted into the Halls of Fame of Xavier University and the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.  He was an All-Pro wide receiver in 1969 and Offensive Coordinator of Mike Ditka from 1990-93.  He hosts the television program Crossing the Goal on EWTN.  

       Danny fell into the high life of pro football and became an alcoholic.  After undergoing a conversion, he is devoting his life to helping men get into spiritual shape.  In his very dynamic talks around the country, he draws upon his experiences in pro football and applies them to the very serious game of life, where the trophy is Heaven as the Lord congratulates the new saint with the words:  Well done good and faithful servant.  Among his books are "Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint".

       Danny Abramowicz will be the featured speaker in both the morning and afternoon sessions at the Steubenville Diocesan Men's Day of Renewal on Saturday March 10 from 9 am to 3pm at St. John's Church in Bellaire, Ohio just south of I-470 across the river from Wheeling off of Route 7.  All men are invited to attend.  One does not have to be Catholic.  There is a discount of $5 from the original $20 if a person registers before February 15.

 Who dat? Danny Abramowicz was the New Orleans Saints' first star, and will root for his old team from his Steubenville home

Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010, 7:00 PM     Updated: Monday, February 01, 2010, 9:46 AM

Bill Lubinger, The Plain Dealer

In 1967, Danny Abramowicz emerged out of Steubenville, Ohio and Xavier University to become one of the most unlikely receiving stars in the NFL for the expansion New Orleans Saints. Today, Abramowicz still lives in Steubenville and is rooting for his old team in the Super Bowl. “The Saints winning the Super Bowl would put the finishing touches on it for the fans,” he said. “The people have been through thick and thin, and with [Hurricane] Katrina and all that on top of this ..." 

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- He was the football player nobody really wanted, not even the expansion team that chose him in the 17th and final round of the 1967 NFL draft.

        The kid was too slow. Didn't play at one of those big-time football schools. Didn't have a name that echoed easily across the stadium air on a fall Sunday afternoon. But he overcame his own physical shortcomings and season after season of losing football to be remembered as one of the best to ever play for the New Orleans Saints.

         When the Saints take the field Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts in their first Super Bowl ever, it will be for guys like Danny Abramowicz.

Times Picayune
In the creative style of the day, a newspaper photographer cropped Abramowicz in this photo to generate a sensation of speed. But that was never Abramowicz's strength during his NFL career.

       Far from the sun and spotlight of South Beach, one of the original New Orleans Saints will be at home on a quiet cul-de-sac in the shrinking Ohio steel town where he grew up, watching with his 90-year-old father and the high school sweetheart he married 43 years ago.

       "They'll probably get more exposure in these two weeks than in the whole history of the franchise," said Abramowicz, now 64 and deeply involved in his Catholic ministry through speaking engagements and "Crossing the Goal," which airs on cable's Catholic network, EWTN.

        Super Bowl? Abramowicz never even played on a winning team in six frustrating seasons in New Orleans, a city whose grit and resilience he shared to battle his way from afterthought to All-Pro. He endured more losing as a Saints radio analyst and as offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Ditka.
So, sure, the 44th Super Bowl is special because his old team finally made it.

         What a release! "The Saints winning the Super Bowl would put the finishing touches on it for the fans," he said. "The fans have been loyal through all these years. They went through the bag-heads and the 'Ain'ts' and all that stuff. ... The people have been through thick and thin, and with [Hurricane] Katrina and all that on top of this ..."  And so has he.

         Abramowicz -- pronounced Abram-OH-vich in his native Polish -- excelled in three sports at Steubenville Catholic Central, at a time when it seemed the Ohio River rolled past little more than billowing steel mills, churches and football fields. But quick moves and sure hands don't overcome covering 40 yards in a sluggish 4.8 seconds. Only Xavier offered him a football scholarship, so he accepted and headed to Cincinnati when racial strife and the Vietnam War had the country in tatters.

          He set records at Xavier, which later dropped football, and is in the school's sports Hall of Fame. But his football-playing days probably would have ended right there if not for the NFL looking to grow.
New Orleans was granted the league's 16th franchise and scheduled to begin play in 1967. The Saints had to sew a roster together from scraps and draft choices, setting their fate for years to come.

          "Most of their players were coming in as castoffs from other teams, so it was a slow go," said Joe Horrigan, spokesman for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, about 90 minutes northwest of here.

Danny Abramowicz talks Saints
Danny Abramowicz talks Saints Former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Danny Abramowicz talks about his time with the Saints from his Stuebenville, Ohio home. Watch video

          In the 17th and final round of the college draft, New Orleans picked a wide receiver with name that was hard to pronounce. Abramowicz, a fireman's son who grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and had only been to one NFL game in his life to that point, said the Saints never even called to tell him. He found out from another team's scout. He wasn't even invited to mini-camp.

          "It made me work harder," he said. "I learned from my father and from the people here that you never give up, fight like hell, and that's what happened."

          An eyelash from being cut that first NFL summer, he demanded head coach Tom Fears give him a fair shot, as he was promised at the start of summer camp. "I'm not leaving," he told Fears after being instructed to turn in his playbook. "You haven't even given me a chance."

          "You're serious, aren't you?" the coach said. Fears agreed to give him more time, although it was little more than lip service. Billy Kilmer, the Saints' first quarterback, said he was told before the team headed to Portland, Ore., for a preseason game against San Francisco that Abramowicz was going to be cut after the game. Kilmer relayed the bad news to Abramowicz and then promised to throw him as many passes as he could that night.

Times Picayune
Danny Abramowicz couldn't hold onto this pass against the Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans' old Tulane Stadium. But he averaged 51 receptions in his six full seasons with the Saints, who never won more than five games in any of those campaigns.

          "He caught every ball -- on the ground, out of reach, everything," recalled Kilmer, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale. "That's how he made the team, on pure guts. He played so good they couldn't cut him."
The Saints lost their first seven games before finally beating Philadelphia, 31-24, as former Browns kick returner Walter "The Flea" Roberts caught three touchdowns.

           As for Abramowicz, he didn't crack the lineup until the seventh game of the season, when a starter got hurt. He caught 12 passes that day and stuck with the first team.

           Abramowicz, who signed for $17,000 and earned no more than $64,000 in a season when he played, wound up leading the team in catches in 1967, led the league in catches two years later and set an NFL record for most consecutive games with a reception, long since broken.

           He retired 35 years ago after two seasons with San Francisco and a brief stop in Buffalo, but still stands third on the Saints' all-time list in receptions, touchdown catches and yards. The accomplishments are more significant given that he played in an era when quarterbacks didn't throw as much and defensive backs could all but maul a receiver.

           When the Saints launched a Hall of Fame, he was at the head of the first class in 1988 -- inducted with Archie Manning, father of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. He still remembers holding little Peyton and his baby brother Eli on his lap, back when he and their Dad were teammates.

           Abramowicz is lifelong friends with the Mannings. He made Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore one of his first hires when he ran the Saints offense for Ditka from 1997 to 2000. But come Super Bowl Sunday, his loyalty is without question.

           "I'd like to see Peyton have a good game and the Saints win with a field goal at the end. [Then] the monkey's off everyone's back down there," said Abramowicz, who would often troll the backwaters of the bayou for redfish with jazz trumpeter Al Hirt, a Saints minority owner at the time.

          Abramowicz, who has three grown children and four grandsons, got caught up in the New Orleans nightlife and developed an alcohol problem that almost wrecked his life. When he finally got help in 1981, recovery locked him into his family and his faith.

           Abramowicz and his wife, Claudia, lived on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain until Katrina chased them out to Memphis and, almost three years ago, back to Steubenville -- birthplace of Dean Martin -- to care for their elderly fathers.

           The sunroom off the back of their house on a hill is where they'll be glued to their television Sunday, watching the Saints make new history while remembering the old.

           The Saints were 3-11 that inaugural year, ending on a high note by crushing the Redskins, 30-14, as Abramowicz caught seven passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns.  When the team returned from Washington, they were greeted at the airport by about 3,000 cheering fans. Hirt threw a big party on the French Quarter that night, blowing his horn well into the next morning. All for a 3-11 team.

           "I always said that if we ever won the Super Bowl," Kilmer said, "they'd have Mardi Gras here the rest of our lives."

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