Danny Abramowicz enjoying Saints success

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In the annals of the history of the New Orleans Saints, the landscape is littered with excellent players who deserved better fates.

With poor management, based on decisions made by the ownership of John Mecom, the franchise did not experience a winning season until its 21st year and that came under the ownership of Tom Benson, in just his third season as owner of the team.

There were excellent players, including Archie Manning, Tommy Myers, Wes Chandler, Henry Childs, Tony Galbreath, Chuck Muncie and Derland Moore.

Going back to the start of the franchise, the first star was Dave Whitsell, who led the NFL in interceptions with 10 in 1967, the inaugural season of the Saints. Whitsell returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns. He became the first Saint ever elected to the Pro Bowl.

Doug Atkins, who became a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, was still a mountain of a man and a very good player here.

Offensively, Jake Kupp was a good guard.

While Billy Kilmer eventually beat out Gary Cuozzo for the starting quarterback job, the first real star of the New Orleans Saints on offense was an improbable one.

He was deemed to be too slow and an afterthought.

After all, Danny Abramowicz was a 17th-round draft pick out of Xavier. That’s Xavier of Ohio, not to be confused with Xavier of New Orleans, where no football is played.

Abramowicz was a fingernail away from not playing football in New Orleans.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Dan AbramowiczThe Saints tried to cut him and he refused to leave. He did everything he could do to refuse to lose but the circumstances were beyond his control. He demanded that coach Tom Fears give him a chance.

Apparently, Fears, a Hall of Fame receiver in his playing days with the Rams, sympathized with the plight of Abramowicz. He put him on the field, giving the long-shot one shot. Abramowicz surprised everyone. He was tough, fearless and caught everything thrown his way. He became a starter and a star.

Danny Abramowicz not only stuck around but he would lead the team in receiving yards in his first five seasons and in receptions in his first four seasons.

In 1969, the unlikely star led the NFL in receptions with 73 and he was third in the league in receiving yards with 1,015. He was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Abramowicz was third in the league in receptions and seventh in the league in receiving yards in both 1968 and 1970. He ranked seventh in the NFL in touchdown catches in 1968 and sixth in that department in 1972.

In six seasons with the Saints, Abramowicz amassed 369 catches for 5,686 yards and 39 touchdowns. He caught passes in 105 consecutive games, the most in the league at that time.

By 1973, frustrated with the poor direction of the franchise, Abramowicz had a burning desire to play for a winner. He was traded to San Francisco and played two more seasons, where he was not able to play for a winner in either season.

“It was still an incredible experience as a player in New Orleans,” Abramowicz said. “The first game had 85,000 people. We ran the kickoff back for a touchdown with John Gilliam. I was a blocker on that return team and was fortunate to get a block on the return. The noise was deafening when he scored. When we were losing, it was very difficult to build a franchise back then. We built a team with older guys and rookies. It did not work. We were all frustrated. The fans hung in there for all these years.”

After his eight-year career ended, Abramowicz tried his hand in broadcasting, working the New Orleans Saints radio network broadcasts with Wayne Mack from 1975-1980. He became part of a popular Metairie restaurant with Manning.

Archie and Danny’s was a go-to spot for a while on North Turnbull Ave between 1971-74, when it shut down.

“I am glad you remember that,” Danny said. “We really didn’t know what we were doing but we took a shot at it.”

After wandering through the desert of losing on the field and trying to find his way, Abramowicz found faith and his life changed dramatically.

“It took faith to be a Saints fan for so many years,” Abramowicz said. “These fans are incredible. They always have been. It was such a joy to play for them. They stuck with us and were great to us in the community. I wish we could have brought them a winner. The fans had faith in us. Ultimately, it was my faith in the Lord that changed my life.”

Abramowicz became involved in ministry. He ultimately felt a calling back to football, drawing closer to his Catholic faith by accepting the job as the head football coach at Jesuit High School, spending three seasons (1989-91) at the storied institution. The opportunity came as a leap of faith, since Danny had never coached before. He did a fine job, leading Jesuit to a state semifinal appearance in 1990, falling one step short of a state championship game appearance in the Superdome with a loss to Warrick Dunn and Catholic High in the round of four.

“That was a great experience at an outstanding school,” Abramowicz said. “We were able to put together a really good coaching staff who did a great job and we were fortunate to experience success.”

Then, Mike Ditka took a leap of faith, hiring Abramowicz to be his special teams coach with the Chicago Bears in 1992. Ditka had led the Bears to a Super Bowl championship in the 1985 season. Though Ditka’s star was beginning to fade, it was a great opportunity for Abramowicz. He took it and ran with it, doing a solid job, proving that he belonged despite the quantum leap from prep football to pro football.

“I knew I was capable of handling the responsibility and enjoyed being back in the NFL,” Abramowicz said. “The goal was to be the best special teams units in the league and to win another championship, though it never happened.”

Then, Ditka took another leap of faith, hiring Abramowicz to be his offensive coordinator with the Saints. Danny had never been an offensive assistant, much less an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Ditka believed in him, had faith in him. By this time in his life, Ditka had turned to faith as well. He was a different man than the intimidating, offensive, sometimes vulgar, even threatening mountain of a man that he was in Chicago. Frankly, Ditka was a pleasure to be around and work with. You wanted to see him succeed.

Abramowicz had faith that he could succeed with Ditka.

Unfortunately, terrible personnel decisions and a lack of talent did the Saints, Ditka and Abramowicz in.

“We had seven or eight different starting quarterbacks in three seasons,” Abramowicz said. “There were some good guys, some really good guys but none were good players and that is the most important position on the team. It’s hard to win with one in this league. That was what it was. What are you going to say? You just had to coach the best you could with what you had. They did me a favor by firing us because I had to get out of coaching. I could have stayed in coaching but I had four grandsons and I wanted to be a big part of their lives.”

Indeed, it was hard to win with quarterbacks named Heath Shuler, Danny Wuerffel, Billy Joe Hobert, Billy Joe Tolliver and Doug Nussmeier. Kerry Collins was talented enough but had issues off the field while Jake Delhomme would blossom in Carolina. All started games for the Saints under Ditka and Abramowicz.

As it was as a player, Abramowicz saw his coaching career with the Saints end in frustration, without a winning season.

“That is so disappointing but some things are beyond your control,” Abramowicz said. “We worked very, very hard to win as a player and as a coach. I always knew what it would be like in this city and with these fans if we won. All you have to do is look at what is happening now.”

Despite being turned away by the Saints, Abramowicz continued to live in the area.

“This place is special,” Abramowicz. “It was still our desire for my wife and I to stay here for the rest of our lives.”

That was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the family home on the north shore.

Danny and Claudia moved back to his native Steubenville, OH, to be with the ailing parents of both. Then, they moved to Chicago to be near their daughter.

The odyssey led to a homecoming with a move back to Mandeville, where they reside now.

A month ago, Abramowicz called me to ask if he could bring his family and extended family members to see the Saints Hall of Fame Museum, where several artifacts and pictures from Danny’s career reside. They admired the bust of Abramowicz in the front of the museum. Abramowicz was an inaugural inductee into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1988, along with Manning.

I was glad to accommodate them, give them a tour, and take them into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a few pictures. The family then made it a day in New Orleans, making their way to the street car line to a ride down historic St. Charles Avenue.

“That was a great day of many memories for us,” Abramowicz said.

Back on July 16, 1988, Abramowicz was present for the grand opening of the Saints Hall of Fame Museum in Rivertown, Kenner.

We still have a picture of the ribbon cutting ceremony with Abramowicz and original Saints Hall of Fame President Joe Gemelli. Danny was all smiles. So were we.

Over 30 years later, Abramowicz found himself, along with his beloved wife Claudia, at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum at the game Sunday.

He graciously signed autographs and took pictures with adoring fans for well over an hour, enjoying every minute, sharing stories and greeting everyone warmly. He encountered friends, a former player at Jesuit and original Saints season ticket holders who waited patiently to see him.

“It is certainly nice to know that people still remember you,” Abramowicz said. “All of us like to be appreciated but the glory belongs to the Lord, not to me.”

Then, it was down to the field for a pre-game introduction and interview with Mike Hoss.

DANNY ABRAMOWICZBeing on the field again at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome had to bring back memories for Abramowicz.

“Just coming down to the ‘Dome today, on the way here, brought back a lot of good memories,” Abramowicz said. “It just reminded me of how faithful these fans are. There is a tremendous throng outside, everywhere. This is what we dreamed of as a player and a coach, having one Super Bowl under our belt and a real shot at another title. There is no more deserving place than New Orleans to have this happen to them.”

Abramowicz is a huge fan of the current Saints.

“Sean Payton and Drew Brees have an incredible relationship being on the same page with one another,” Abramowicz said. “As a former coach, player and fan, it is easy to see the chemistry, the communication, the respect they have for one another. I think they are the best of all-time.”

Watching with great admiration for what Payton has accomplished with Brees gets the mind of Abramowicz working overtime about what could have been.

“I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like had we produced a winner as a player or as a coach,” Abramowicz said. “It was pretty good losing here. The fans were great. It would have been amazing. I wish it would have happen but I am so happy that we have a winner now. It would have been nice to have Drew Brees as a quarterback when I was coaching. Of course, I had Archie throwing to me when I was a player, along with Billy. They were good. Archie could have been great. We just didn’t have enough around us.”

As a wide receiver, Abramowicz is pleased with the many rule changes benefiting offenses and receivers, in general.

“When I was playing, they could clothes-line you, cut you, maul you,” Abramowicz said. “That’s why I have these new teeth. They could knock your rear-end off. Now, they don’t let defenders put their hands on you. I used to be six-foot-five but they knocked me down to this size.”

The excellence of Abramowicz in football has not escaped observers. He was inducted into the Xavier Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, the Saints Hall of Fame in 1988, the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, also in 1992.

While he never experienced a winning season in any of his 10 seasons as a player and coach with the Saints, it is clear that Abramowicz is a winner. His ministry work with Catholic Charities, his creating the Monday Night Disciples Bible study, working on the EWTN Catholic television station with his “Crossing the Goal” non-profit organization and authoring “Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint have been living examples of his faith. He regularly shares his faith in local circles and even nationally. He will do so at our Life Resources Bottom Line Luncheon in Metairie next month.

“Number one is God, next is family and the rest falls after that,” Abramowicz said. “It is nice to have your priorities in order. It makes your life experience more rewarding. Now, let’s enjoy watching the Saints provide another reward for this great city and its fans.”

The excellence of Abramowicz in life is not escaping the many lives he is touching.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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