NEW ORLEANS — There was a Super Bowl party, with a Georgia flavor, which took place on Audubon Boulevard here last Sunday. It began with the host, Vernon Brinson, whose ancestors settled in Decatur County, Ga., and established a settlement which became known as Brinson — population today, 210.
Later, his family migrated to Macclenny, Florida, 30 miles west of Jacksonville. Early on, Vernon became an aficionado of all sports, but since he was a few inches under six feet and modestly blessed with talent, he had no future with the games he played — only deep and abiding passion. He loved baseball most of all but the big league scouts would not be knocking on his door.
He enrolled at South Georgia Junior College in 1955, which would come to be a life-changing decision. He would arrive in Douglas the same fall that Robert Clecker Bowden showed up to coach the local junior college football team. A lasting friendship began. When Bowden was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006, Vernon bought banquet tickets and underwrote the cost of airfares for his old teammates to travel to New York in honor of Bowden’s induction.
When Vernon finished South Georgia, where he got to know many Georgia boys who would be moving on to Athens to further their education, he joined them. He played baseball for the colorful Jim Whatley and became the most loyal of Bulldogs, supporting scholarship funds, building campaigns and multiple projects.
While in Athens in the late 1950s, he had his heart set on coaching and earned a B.S. degree in education. He started his career coaching at a high school in Jacksonville, but with the summers free, he supplemented his income by selling cars. That, with his effervescent personality and keen conversational skills, led to him becoming a successful salesman which led to him taking over Royal Oldsmobile in nearby Metairie. He expanded his car business career to include real estate and banking, becoming one of New Orleans most successful businessmen.
A highlight for him came when he arranged for Oldsmobile to supply cars for the Sugar Bowl. He later became President of the Sugar Bowl and was the genial host when Herschel Walker and the Bulldogs came to town in the early 80s.
Archie Manning became a friend and spokesman for his dealership. Vernon’s wife, Patricia, and Archie’s wife, Olivia, are the closest of friends. Last Sunday night, the Brinsons’ party was set up with television in every room. At one point in one room there was the Mannings’ youngest son, Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, being honored with the Walter Payton Award on network TV with his mother watching in the adjoining room.
Most of those who came to the party were Saints fans, but were Falcon fans for the evening. All, however, were taken by Malcolm Mitchell’s reading story by CBS’ Steve Hartman. Malcom was in Houston, 347 miles from New Orleans getting his game face on while those gathered on Audubon Boulevard were signing his praises. It was a signature moment — Eli Manning honored by the National Football League for his good works off the field and Malcolm Mitchell reminding kids how important it is to read. All guests felt good.
Then there was Luke Bryan of Leesburg, which is 74 miles from Brinson, singing the national anthem with those gathered enjoying good food and wine. The most popular drink was the “Old fashioned,” a traditional Southern drink which has stood the test of time. There to serve an “Old Fashioned” with a signature recipe was James Kelly Jr., a close friend of Archie’s and Vernon’s.
James and his friend, Pheris, are happy to share their “Old Fashioned” recipe with you, up to a point. Full disclosure is not an option, however. This part is transparent: 2 jiggers of bourbon over ice; Add 2-4 teaspoons of Pheris & James Old Fashioned Drink Mix; rim glass with orange slice and garnish with orange & cherry. What about the 2-4 teaspoons of Pheris & James Old Fashioned Drink Mix? “You can’t have that,” James smiled. “That is like the Coca-Cola formula. It’s top secret.”
The “Old Fashioned” party gained momentum like the Patriots in the second half. There was disappointment with the Falcon stumble. Then there was that final scene of the ultimate hugging routine and you saw David Andrews, the bearded, undersized former Bulldog center embracing quarterback Tom Brady. This will be an unforgettable moment for David, the nephew of Dan Reeves who knows what it is like to come so far and leave empty-handed.
Perhaps there will be an “Old Fashioned” moment for the Falcons in the seasons to follow. They are young, and they are good. There are no guarantees. The consensus of many who follow the game, getting there the first time is a lot easier than making it back.