By Matt Vines
Written for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame
NATCHITOCHES – Wearing an NFL conference championship ring to a state sports hall of fame induction press conference would usually mean that athlete is the most accomplished in the room.
But not in a 2015 inductee class that kicked off the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame celebration Thursday with a media gathering at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum.
Former Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and Buffalo Bills defensive back Leonard Smith won a combined three conference championships in the NFL, but neither inductees’ hands bore a sign of their postseason success Thursday.
That’s because New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk – a three-time Super Bowl champion — is also part of this 11-member inductee class that features excellence achieved by athletes on the field and court, coaches on the sideline, trainers in the stable, sportswriters in the press box and administration in the bowels of a stadium.
“Unfortunately we went there too many times and didn’t win,” said Smith, who played on the first two (the 1990 and 1991 seasons) of Buffalo’s four straight Super Bowl losses. “I try not to wear my second-place rings around. Jake didn’t wear his either because we knew somebody would be here (with the rings).
“They’ve stayed in the box and aren’t being pulled out. But those times were great with the Bills and the (Phoenix Cardinals). I made some great friends and still have those guys today.”
Faulk did wear one of his rings Thursday, but he said he could count the number of times he’s worn each of his rings on one hand.
“Yes I do have one on today,” Faulk laughed. “But (wearing them) I think would take away from everything else that we had.
“Everybody that’s here, there is a reason why we’re here. Whether that’s statistically on the field or off the field in our respective sports … but the one thing I feel like this event is for is to recognize the people that nobody knows about in your life, people that have gotten you to where you were going. God brought a whole lot of people my way and they’ve directed me on the right paths.”
One of Faulk’s (Carencro High) Super Bowl wins came against his Acadiana counterpart Delhomme (Teurlings Catholic) as the Patriots edged the Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII following the 2003 season.
Delhomme quipped that he did have a World Bowl ring (1999 with NFL Europe’s Franfurt Galaxy), but he said he feels a “deep connection” to almost every 2015 inductee.
“It’s funny because when we get here, (Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame artist Chris Brown) asked me to sign a picture and said he could put whatever else you want underneath it,” Delhomme said. “I looked at Kevin Faulk’s, and he had Super Bowl champ with one of the three years that he won the Super Bowl. I couldn’t put that, but my wife said that I could put almost.”
“But I watched my brother Jeff play at McNeese State, so I got to watch Leonard Smith. I was actually in (then-Northeast Louisiana’s) stadium to watch my brother play (2015 inductee Pat Collins’) team that went on to win the 1987 (Division I-AA) championship. I was there for I don’t know how many games of (then-Southwest Louisiana’s) softball and (2015 inductee coach Yvette Girouard) because our football field butted up right against the softball field. This is a special class.”
Delhomme, whose family owns Set-Hut stables after the clan grew up in horse racing, asked fellow 2015 inductee and legendary trainer Frank Brothers about Triple-Crown winner American Pharoah compared to horses like Affirmed and Seattle Slew of Brothers’ era.
Brothers responded that all of those horses had great balance, and American Pharoah has “got it all” much like the previous two Triple Crown winners.
Brothers, whose horses won a whopping 22 percent of their races, trained Hansel, who won the 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
“Hansel was the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby (first leg of Triple Crown) and had won the two preps before the Derby,” Brothers said. “That goes to show you how hard it is to win the Derby.”
An underdog theme highlighted many of the inductees present Thursday, and that was the case for Girouard, Collins, St. Augustine football coach Otis Washington and Sugar Bowl Executive Director Paul Hoolahan (2015 Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award Recipient).
The aforementioned nominees will be officially inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday along with Avery Johnson (basketball star at Southern and in the NBA), Bobby Dower (longtime sportswriter and editor at the Lake Charles American Press) and Glenn Quebedeaux (longtime writer and editor at the New Iberia Daily Iberian).
Hoolahan credited the “leanest and meanest” bowl staff in helping him keep the AllState Sugar Bowl in a prominent position despite being in a relatively small New Orleans media market, particularly after Hurricane Katrina.
“This staff helped create a series of events that provided economic impact in a period of time when business was slow, “ said Hoolahan, who’s served the bowl for 19 years. “I’m proud to say that the Sugar Bowl continues to perform in a very admirable way.
“With a solid financial plan dating back to the beginning of the (Bowl Championship Series), we grew our own war chest and that’s what’s enabled us to stay in the game at the highest level.”
Girouard, who never played fast-pitch softball growing up in the pre-Title IX era but piled up the fourth-most wins in college softball history, built softball powerhouses at UL Lafayette and then at LSU.
“All I ever wanted to do was play, so to walk into this magnificent hall of fame, it’s beyond my expectations,” said Girouard, who began to choke up. “Why am I the only one crying … because I’m the only woman up here?
“But it looks like God wanted me to succeed in another avenue, and I became a coach … So for all of the female athletes to the coaches who had to beg, borrow, and yes, steal sometimes to get women’s sports off the ground, this is for all of us who had to fight so hard.”
Washington’s career almost never got off the ground at St. Augustine, where he won state championships 1975, 1978 and 1979.
“I didn’t know I was going to become a coach,“ said Washington, who led the Purple Knights for 10 seasons as head coach. “(After college), the first thing I wanted to do was travel and go to California. I had $16.82 in my pocket.
“So I took (junior varsity) job at St. Augustine and expected to stay there for one year.”
Collins’ father told him he wouldn’t have been able to go to college if not for an athletics scholarship, so the 135-pound high school sophomore started lifting weights. After playing football and coaching at Louisiana Tech, he led the then-NLU Indians to the 1987 championship in a decorated career.
“I was a 135-pound guard, and we’ve got football players now whose legs weigh 135 pounds,” Collins said. “Back in those days, we didn’t have any steroids, but if we would have had them, I’d of taken them.
“But coaches like (former Louisiana Tech coaches) Joe Aillet and Maxie Lambright, Natchitoches legend John Ropp along with John David Crow at NLU really influenced me. It’s a special honor.”
— Matt Vines, Written for Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame