With ties to Colts, Saints, Steve Walsh has dual rooting interests
Steve Walsh played for both Colts and Saints; his coach in both places: Jim Mora
Walsh compares both cities and gives the edge in food, fans, media, more
Walsh remembers Peyton Manning as kid throwing to Saints, and a starter in Indy
The retired football player is conflicted.
"I like the Saints," he says. Then, with a laugh. "I like the Colts."
With Super Bowl XLIV approaching, Steve Walsh is in an especially odd position. From 1990-93, he was a quarterback with the New Orleans Saints. His coach was Jim Mora. In 1999 he was a quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts. His coach was Jim Mora. Both franchises made the playoffs with Walsh on the roster. Both franchises played in domes, featured top-notch running backs (Dalton Hilliard with the Saints, Edgerrin James with the Colts) and owners who refused to let their egos get in the way of organization building (Tom Benson with the Saints, Jim Irsay with the Colts).
"You couldn't play for two better clubs," says Walsh, now the head football coach at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I enjoyed both experiences."
Because he is torn, I decided to help Steve Walsh compartmentalize his thoughts. I ask him to break down the important characteristics that determine whether a football team -- and its city -- is worthy of an NFL championship. He was more than happy to oblige.
Food: "No contest. In New Orleans, everything tastes good. You have to work to get a bad meal."
Support for professional athletes: "Probably Indy. I liked New Orleans, but some of the guys never felt safe going to Bourbon Street or the French Quarter. I loved it, but it wasn't for everyone. Indy, on the other hand, is easy."
Better city to drive through: "Oh, Indy. They have all those funky streets in the French Quarter. Some of the names are English, some are French. And they're really narrow. I always struggled."
Cooler uniforms: "Saints, without question. The emblem on the helmet is fantastic."
Better media town: "I'd say Indy. New Orleans has so much going on, it's hard for a team to get attention. But when you play in Indianapolis, you're the show."
You're a single 22-year-old football player and ...: "Ha. I wore a mask and rode in the Mardi Gras parade. Next day my arm was sore."
Walsh hasn't visited New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, but he hurts for his old home. He thinks the Saints are a wonderful story. An amazing story. "What that city has gone through ..." he says, never finishing a thought that needs no completion. "But," he says, "there's Peyton."
In his tenure with the Colts, the final season of a nomadic-yet-fruitful six-team, 11-year career, Walsh backed up Peyton Manning, who was then a second-year pro. He relishes the casual memories of the team's three quarterbacks -- Walsh, Manning and Kelly Holcomb -- spending Thursday afternoon practices playing a game called Knockout. "We'd start at the 5-yard line, and we'd have to hit the crossbar," he says. "Then we'd back up to the 10. Then the 15. Then the 20." Walsh won once or twice; Manning perhaps a half-dozen times. "But Kelly owned that game," he says. "You'd never guess that."
Walsh loves Manning. His work ethic. His decency. His natural gifts. "You'll be hard pressed to find a better teammate," he says. Then, a long pause. "You know, I just thought of something. When I was with the Saints, Peyton was a kid who'd come around sometimes. Obviously his dad Archie had strong connections to the team, and Coach Mora would let Peyton throw with us." So there was the gangly teenager, zit-faced and all elbow and knees, launching outs and curls and go-routes to Quinn Early and Eric Martin and Hoby Brenner. "He wasn't great yet," Walsh says, "but you could clearly see he would be."
With that flashback, Walsh is sold. He will root for the Indianapolis Colts on Super Bowl Sunday. They'll be his team -- the ex-signal caller pulling for one more big triumph ... one more giant win ... one more ...
"But if the Saints want to hook me up with tickets," he says with a laugh, "I can certainly be bought."
Jeff Pearlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.