Formed in 1967, the Touchdown Club of New Orleans has weathered the storm of changing owners, executives, coaches and players with the New Orleans Saints, the organization which it was created to support.
Half a century later, the Touchdown Club continues to operate as an excellent support group for the franchise while honoring a host of deserving persons annually.
The year 2017 will be no exception as the club announced Tuesday that former Washington Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard, former Tulane head football coach Tommy Bowden, long-time high school football coach Hank Tierney, Doug and Denise Thornton and Larry Holder of The Times Picayune and NOLA.com will be recipients of its yearly awards at a banquet March 11 at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans.
Beathard will receive the prestigious Pete Rozelle Award, presented annually to the person who has made outstanding contributions to professional football and the NFL.
Beathard’s NFL career spanned 38 years, beginning with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1963-67 as a part-time scout. The Chiefs went to Super Bowl I while Beathard was part of the organization.
He went on to scout for the Atlanta Falcons from 1968-1971 before becoming the director of pro personnel for the Miami Dolphins from 1972-1977, during which time the Dolphins won a pair of Super Bowls.
Beathard is best remembered for his work as general manager of the Washington Redskins, where he served from 1978-1989 and presided over three Super Bowl appearances and two championships. He closed his career as General Manager of the San Diego Chargers, where they also appeared in a Super Bowl.
Beathard was inducted into the Redskins Ring of Fame last Nov. 13.
“It is a real honor,”Beathard said. “I knew Pete (Rozelle) real well. He was one of the best commissioners of any professional sports. He was such a nice guy who was a pleasure to work with.”
A little known fact is that Beathard has ties to Louisiana.
“I think the heart of football in the country is the south,” Beathard. “When I got out of high school, I received a football scholarship to LSU from my hometown in California. One of my high school coaches played for LSU and for the Steelers. He told me to go to LSU. I went down about three years after I graduated from high school. Gaynell Tinsley was the head coach and Pop Strange was the freshman coach.”
Soon after, Beathard met an imposing fellow recruit who would go on to big things at LSU and in the NFL.
“I worked for a construction company, helping to tear out the old wooden seats at Tiger Stadium,” Beathard said. I had never been in hot weather like that. I was trying to gain weight, not lose weight. I was going down to nothing. After a couple of days there, Coach Strange took me downtown to meet Jimmy Taylor. He looked like a grizzly bear even then.”
Beathard’s time in Baton Rouge proved to short term.
“After a while, they (LSU coaches) decided to send a bunch of kids to Hinds Junior College (MS) with the idea of bringing us back. They never brought me back so I went back to California to El Camino Junior College,” Beathard said. “Ironically, we played Hinds in the Junior Rose Bowl. I knew a bunch of the guys there. Earl Leggett was on that team and they beat us 13-7 in the game.”
Beathard is thrilled to becoming back to Louisiana to receive the award and remains fond of the Tigers.
“I always liked Baton Rouge and took many guys back to see LSU,” Beathard said. “It will be great returning to south Louisiana.”
Bowden will receive the Collegiate Award for excellence in coaching. He spent 32 years coaching at the college level, serving as an assistant from 1977-1997 at West Virginia, Florida State, Auburn, Duke, Alabama and Kentucky.
In 1997, he took over at Tulane and guided the Green Wave to a 7-4 record. In 1998, Bowden presided over the best season in school history as the Green Wave went 12-0, winning the Liberty Bowl and finishing seventh in the nation.
Bowden left Tulane for Clemson, where he served as the head coach for ten years, going to eight bowl games, posting a 72-45 record. He was the ACC Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003.
Returning to New Orleans will be special for Bowden.
“Believe it or not, it is the first time since I left Tulane,” Bowden said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I have always wanted to come back to one of their games.
It is an honor to be recognized. The two years I was in New Orleans were perhaps the most enjoyable years I ever had. It’s a great sports town. My wife and children really enjoyed it there and it was very hard leaving.”
When Bowden took the job at Tulane, succeeding Buddy Teevens, he did not envision winning quickly and dramatically.
“I surely didn’t anticipate going unbeaten that second year,” Bowden said. “Timing is so important, being at the right place at the right time.”
Having Rich Rodriguez and Shaun King certainly helped.
“My ambition was to have a winning season,” Bowden said. “We were running something offensively that was ahead of the curve and had a great quarterback to run it,” Bowden said. “We played in perfect conditions indoors on a fast track which was conducive to that type of offense. We played hard on defense and scored a lot of points. It was a lot of fun. We had good players. We hit it at the right time.”
Of all of the wins, Bowden remembers one vividly.
“We had just beaten Navy and had a hurricane approaching and had to move our players,” Bowden said. “The hurricane went east but we did not get Shaun and others back until Tuesday. Shaun had broken his thumb. We still beat a very good Southern Miss team when played with a broken thumb and could only do limited things. He did and Jeff Curtis stepped in and did a great job.”
Bowden felt the Clemson job was too good to pass up.
“I would have only left Tulane for certain, few jobs,” Bowden said. “Clemson was one of those jobs. It is hard to win as much as Clemson is winning now,” There are still six guys on that sports staff that were with me, including Dabo (Swinney). It is great to see the success they are having. Clemson had won it all in 1981. There is not a school that could have won a national championship whose fans deserved it more.”
Tierney is one of the most accomplished head football coaches in Louisiana prep football history. He led Archbishop Shaw to a state championship in 1987, as well as three other state title game appearances. At West Jefferson, he guided the Buccaneers to an unbeaten season. At Ponchatoula, he has his Green Wave in the playoffs annually.
Tierney has amassed a record of 271-96 at the three schools combined.
“It tells me that I am in with some of the best ever and that is a tremendous honor,” Tierney said. “The Touchdown Club is recognized nationally, I’m very, very honored. It is for the great players and coaches I have worked with over the years. Joe Zimmerman taught me the game of football and how to coach.”
Tierney points to one moment in his coaching career that stands out.
“It will always be when you won the state championship,” Tierney said. “We were the district runner-up. We had a young coaching staff. We went to practice in the Superdome and it was special and then to actually win the game was amazing. The heartbreak of losing three times was tough, especially to West Monroe in 1997 when we led the whole game and lost it late.”
While his best moments were at Shaw, Tierney has created memories at West Jefferson and Ponchatoula.
“West Jefferson was 0-10 the year before we got there and two years later, we went 10-0 with a tremendous bunch of kids. It generated a lot of excitement at school. Going unbeaten at Ponchatoula in 2014 was incredible. It got the whole town behind us. I had not experienced that with metro schools at Shaw and West Jeff. It was a total community involvement that made a lot of people happy.”
Thornton and his wife, Denise, will receive the Touchdown Club Board of Directors award which recognizes community minded individuals that have made a positive difference in the New Orleans area.
Thornton has been an executive for SMG, which oversees the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center and he was instrumental in helping being the facility back after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. His hard work helped save the New Orleans Saints as they were able to return to play in the stadium in 2006.
The Shreveport native has presided over many improvements to the ‘Dome and has served as the lead negotiator with the New Orleans Saints and their lease with the state of Louisiana.
Thornton was honored in 2015 with the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis award for his contributions to the New Orleans Saints by the Saints Hall of Fame and received a major honor from St. Jude Hospital in Memphis at a Legends for Charity event the same year for his work in rebuilding the Superdome.
Denise Thornton is the founder and president of Beacon of Hope Resource Center in New Orleans, which helps those who have had homes damaged or flooded out to recover through assistance. The Thornton’s started the non-profit organization after they lost their own home in Hurricane Katrina.
Holder will receive the Bob Roesler award for his outstanding work in journalism.
A River Ridge native, Holder graduated from Archbishop Rummel and LSU and has been covering the New Orleans Saints since 2006. He joined the Times-Picayune staff as a beat writer in 2012 and remains on the Saints beat today. Holder is also a member of the Saints Hall of Fame media selection committee.
“You just look at the list of award winners, I grew up watching, listening to and reading them. I’m just kind of amazed that I am even on that list. I am humbled and never thought I would be mentioned with the names associated with the award. It’s truly an honor, humbling. How am I on this list of honorees? I’m looking forward to it.”
Holder is particularly fond of the award’s namesake.
“Just go in the Superdome press box and you see Bob Roesler’s picture and you see Peter Finney, who is someone I really idolized growing up here. Bob is a legend. To even be mentioned with those two, I would never dream of that. They helped mold me as a journalist.”