By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary
My dad started his New Year’s Eve prediction column in the 1960s for the States-Item. He borrowed the idea from Pete Baird, dean of the city’s horse-racing writers, who each year would compile a complete Kentucky Derby “order-of-finish” chart before the race was even run. Baird suggested my dad make predictions for the entire year in sports.
People actually took my dad’s predictions seriously, clipping out his column and then mailing it back to him the following December – with Xs for the misses and checkmarks for the hits.
“I never knew so many grown people had crayons,” my dad once told me.
So, in his memory, here’s a free Clarion Herald tour of the world of sports in 2019. You have my email. No crayons needed.
JANUARY: In the Fiesta Bowl, LSU struggles early against Central Florida but comes alive with a strip-sack by Devin White, which Grant Delpit returns for a go-ahead touchdown. That TD and three field goals by Cole Tracy snap the Knights’ 25-game winning streak, 23-20. … Ed Orgeron says the Tiger Athletic Foundation has agreed to fund a $700 million wall on the east side of the Pearl and Mississippi rivers to deny asylum to Nick Saban. He forgets Saban has a Gulfstream G550 jet. … Behind Jalen Hurts, Alabama beats Clemson 31-28 for Saban’s seventh, sickening national championship, one more than Bear Bryant. … Saban dumps his Coke and Dasani endorsements for a pair of $75 million deals with Pepsi and Aquafina. … Three hours after Saban hoists the championship trophy, a Gulfstream G550 with a crimson tail logo is reported circling the Damascus, Maryland, home of defensive end Bryan Bresee, a 6-5, 290-pound defensive end, the nation’s top 2020 schoolboy. The skies rain leaflets from the Tuscaloosa Chamber of Commerce, among other things. … After clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, the Saints dispatch the Cowboys in the divisional playoffs, 27-20. Jerry Jones is gracious in defeat, waiting until the Cowboys’ charter touches down at DFW to fire Jason Garrett. … In a rematch of their 45-35 shootout in November, the Saints crush the Rams 38-14 to advance to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. … In the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs smoke the Patriots, 35-10, even though they kindly allow Tom Brady to use a Nerf football in the second half.
FEBRUARY: At Gayle Benson’s request, Archbishop Aymond changes his Super Bowl Sunday Mass schedule to 9 a.m. in the team’s Atlanta hotel. … In the city of peaches and “Forever 28-3,” the Saints capture their second Super Bowl title, 38-31, over the Chiefs, getting three interceptions from Patrick Mahomes – the quarterback Sean Payton wanted to draft in 2017. … Drew Brees props children Baylen and Bowen on his shoulders and holds Callen, Rylen and the Lombardi Trophy in his arms, kisses wife Brittany and announces his retirement after 18 seasons. … Hearing Brees’ tearful farewell, thousands of catatonic Saints fans swan-dive into the nippy 17th Street Canal. … Falcons fans enter “denial” rehab in clinics set up by Arthur Blank on Aisle 85, near the nuts, bolts and screws, at every Home Depot in Georgia. … In a nod to going green, the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans announces it is changing to steam-generated power for its 1895-era turbines. “We still have four months to work out the kinks before June 1,” a S&WB press release assures. … In the NBA All-Star Game, LeBron James scores 35 points and dishes out 10 assists and one “AAA Malibu Real Estate or Bust” business card to Anthony Davis. … Mel Kiper says Alabama’s recruiting class projects to 25 NFL first-round picks in 2022. … Satellite imagery reveals pallets of cinderblocks being staged near Pearl River and Vicksburg.
MARCH: The S&WB touts its progress: Crews have sucked four pounds of Mardi Gras beads from 17 of the city’s 68,000 catch basins, leaving only 67,983 to get to before June 1. “We have a plan,” S&WB flack announces. … With point guard Tremont Waters taking better care of the basketball, Will Wade’s rising LSU basketball team finishes fourth in the SEC West and secures a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers lose in the second round to Creighton.
APRIL: Justin Rose overtakes Tiger Woods with a final-round 68 to win the Masters and deny Tiger his 15th major championship. … Duke freshman Zion Williamson averages 25 points and 12 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament to lead Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils to the title over Michigan. In a biblical reference to Psalm 137, Williamson announces he will take his talents to the NBA after just one college season. Blue Devils’ faithful take out their lyres and harps: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat weeping when we remembered Zion.”… Without a first-round pick, the Saints select San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver in the second round. … LSU cornerback Greedy Williams goes No. 5 to the Jets, joining former teammate Jamal Adams. … In sudden death, the team of Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy wins the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana. … With Elfrid Payton running the point and allowing Jrue Holiday to work off the ball, the Pelicans rally to finish 49-33 and earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference. … In the first round, they defeat the LA Clippers, but they lose again in the second round to the Warriors, 4-1, adding fuel to the “AD to Malibu” rumors.
MAY: In a Kentucky Derby thriller, Improbable, trained by Bob Baffert, runs down Maximus Mischief in the stretch to win by a half-length. … Flying his Gulfstream at 3,000 feet, Saban pulls a “NO-GEAUX TO THE WALL!” sign and announces he will fund seven months of S&WB catch-basin cleaning if Orgeron agrees to halt construction. … Baffert moves a step closer to his second consecutive Triple Crown when Improbable captures the Preakness by five lengths. … Ricky Fowler finally breaks through with a major victory in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island. … Brazil’s Hélio Castroneves wins the Indy 500.
JUNE: Gayle Benson’s hard-charging filly Drinking Dixie thwarts Improbable’s quest for Baffert’s second straight Triple Crown with a strong stretch run to capture the Belmont. … Tiger Woods returns to Pebble Beach, the scene of his most lopsided PGA Tour victory – a 15-shot win in 2000 – and captures his first major title in 11 years. It still does not rank as the greatest comeback in golf history: Ben Hogan was hit by a Greyhound bus; Tiger was hit by a pitching wedge. … In the NBA championship round, it’s the Warriors, with Boogie Cousins serving as a 6-foot-11 cheerleader, in six games over the Celtics. Klay Thompson is named Finals MVP. … S&WB’s steam-power initiative is ditched after a Lee Zurik investigation blows the lid on the scheme: It would have required 2,000 employees in white shrimp boots to operate pumps inside of “safe houses” that won’t be “safe” until 2035, when the new airport in Kenner is ready.
JULY: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club honors Kansas coach Les Miles as its first Wimbledon Horticultural Fellow. … Novak Djokovic bests Roger Federer in four sets to take Wimbledon. … After nearly 70 years, the British Open returns to Northern Ireland, and native-son Rory McIlroy holds on to win by a stroke over Francesco Molinari. … After re-reading LeBron James’ birth certificate, Anthony Davis agrees to a super-max deal of $235 million over five years to remain with the Pelicans. The negotiating breakthrough comes when the Pelicans cave over the amount of AD’s gas allowance.
AUGUST: Saints enter a new era with Teddy Bridgewater under center. … Orgeron says he’s wowed by the performance of true freshman running back John Emery of Destrehan. … With steam power rejected as a way to fuel its turbines, S&WB issues an RFP on the prospect of using flint and steel.
SEPTEMBER: After opening with a win over Georgia Southern, LSU beats Texas, Northwestern State and Vanderbilt. … Tulane’s new-look offense is more explosive, opening with a 35-14 win over Florida International, but it takes its lumps in a 40-14 loss at Auburn, only the second meeting with the Tigers since 1955. Greenies go 2-1 by beating Missouri State. … The Saints get off to a 3-1 start, beating the Falcons, Cardinals and Jaguars before losing to the Rams. … Federal judge throws out city’s hurricane contraflow routing, saying it fails to account for cyclists going the wrong way.
OCTOBER: LSU defeats Utah State, Florida and Mississippi State to go 7-0 before getting nipped by Auburn, 24-21. … For Tulane, it’s a winless month, losing to Army, Memphis, Navy and SMU. … The Saints put together another 3-1 stretch to get to 6-2. … With a rooting assist from retired Archbishop Alfred Hughes, the Boston Red Sox repeat as World Series champs in six games over the Chicago Cubs. … “Seafood City” king Al Scramuzza, 92, finally patents his groundbreaking crawfish stethoscope, which he made famous in the 1960s for its ability to discern small blockages of the heart. S&WB expresses interest.
NOVEMBER: Tigers lose for the ninth straight time to Alabama but bounce back with wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M to go 10-2. LSU finishes No. 6 and barely misses the Final Four. … Tulane rallies to beat Temple, Houston and Tulsa but splits its last two against Central Florida and UConn, finishing 6-6. … The Saints defeat the Panthers, Bucs and Colts but lose to the Seahawks to enter December 9-3. … S&WB responds to billing complaints – $135 in October, $975 in November – by attributing the fluctuating totals to a rounding problem. “It all evens out in the end,” press release says.
DECEMBER: The Saints split their final four games to finish 11-5 but still manage to win their third consecutive NFC South title. … U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sells its headquarters on Leake Avenue to Julian Assange. … HAPPY NEW YEAR!