In the graceful city of New Orleans, famous for its crayfish and catfish and oysters and Creole, Tulane football has long been synonymous with bicarbonate of soda. The seasick Green Wave has been burping along with petty success for almost two decades, with only a paltry pair of winning seasons since 1956 and a losing record, going into the 1972 season, that included victories in only 56 of the last 193 games. For those who have questioned why New Orleans stomached, in fact relished, the professional Saints, one of the more futile efforts in the National Football League, the answer always was easy as pie: Tulane.
But maybe that is all past now. Last Saturday night in the Sugar Bowl, Tulane offered robust evidence that its football can be not only palatable but downright savory, mainly because of The Family, which blocked, passed, caught, cheered, watered, ran and faked its way to a 38-6 win over Pittsburgh, whose confusion could be excused. Everywhere Pitt looked, there were Foleys: on the field, in the stands, on the sidelines. Three of The Family—Quarterback Steve, Split End Mike and Offensive Lineman Rob—prodded the offense to a spectacular performance, two other Foleys served as water boys, and mom and dad led a cheering brigade of relatives and friends in the stands.
With such aid from The Family, Tulane's record moved to 3-1, surely not in a class with Southern Cal or Oklahoma but a lot better than the town's pro attraction, and things should improve even more next year, when brother Al graduates from high school and The Family plans to make the school an offer it can't refuse.
It would seem that no team could have enough Foleys. Saturday night Steve, a sophomore, threw two touchdown passes and scrambled for some generous yardage in his first start. Mike, a junior, led the team in receptions with three and Rob, the center and sometimes guard, sprung Tulane backs free several times. Steve and Mike started at their positions and Rob played a goodly portion of the evening. In fact, except for one brief interlude, there always were at least two members of The Family in the game.
October 15, 1972
Back in the early days of the Old Testament the Foleys would have been an exalted tribe of procreators. There arc 16 members of The Family—eight boys, five girls, two parents and a mongrel dog—and large families run in The Family. The Foley children have 52 first cousins. Home for this prolific clan ironically was built for celibates. The Foleys live in a former convent near the Tulane campus. Once the house had a cross atop it. Said a cynical Tulane secretary, "They should have left it up in honor of their mother."
Perhaps so, but the old convent hardly seems like home anymore. Four of the children, including Rob, are married and departed. Mike and Steve are living at Tulane. For the first time in anyone's memory the grass is sprouting in the side yard.
Tulane Coach Bennie Ellender is the smug benefactor of the Foley sibling rivals, the most determined of whom may be Rob, who still has a year of eligibility remaining because of sophomore red-shirting. Rob is 5'11" and weighs 215 pounds, skeleton statistics for a college lineman, especially one with mediocre speed. But his resolution was never better displayed than against Notre Dame last year. "You could hear the chuckles throughout the stands when I went out there," remembers Rob. "I was opposite Fred Swendsen, and right away we had third and long—an obvious passing situation. I took my stance and Swendsen said, "O.K., you little s.o.b., here it comes.' I don't know what came over me. I lost my mind or something, 'cause I said, "O.K., you big s.o.b., come on.' And with that the ball was snapped and Swendsen dropped back, the only time they rushed three men. By halftime, with us leading 7-0, they were rushing four linemen and three linebackers. They finally beat us, but they got to our passer only a couple of times."
Mike and Steve are thinner than their somewhat squat brother, and taller and faster, but they are fierce in their compulsion to triumph, too. "We are all different though," says Rob. "When we're with each other we have almost a slapstick kind of humor. But otherwise, Michael seems to people to be quiet and reserved while Steve's all business, especially on the field."
The Foleys bore reasonable resemblance to the Marx Brothers while growing up. It was especially chaotic during the years all 13 children were shoehorned into the house. The boys did the usual things expected of youngsters—such as building fires against the side of the house or harvesting a neighbor's strawberry patch or plastering mud balls all over nearby homes or charting the local sewer system for hiding places or having nuclear pillow fights. "In a large family you appreciate a lot of things that some people don't," says Rob. "With so many people in the house, everybody has to help and pitch in. You learn patience. You learn the importance of sharing things with other people—and how to laugh."
The road to Tulane resembled the Stations of the Cross more than a boulevard for the Foleys. They were thin and athletically uninspired during their early years. Eventually ravenous eating and zealous weight lifting plus daily ritualistic practice transformed them. During one memorable smorgasbord restaurant session, the brothers claim, Mike gained 13 pounds, Steve added 11 and Rob put on nine as a group of transfixed waitresses sat watching. "When we finished," says Mike, "we could barely see over the bones piled on our plates."
Many children play football during the fall, but the Foleys played it year round, scrambling over a narrow median grassy strip that divided the street fronting their home. They played to improve, frequently seeking out older players to beg advice, and they played to win. "Nothing is as galling as defeat by your brother," says Rob, "and that center strip was probably one of the reasons for Steve's success and accuracy as a thrower. You can't lead a kid too much when you only have a five-yard-wide field—or you could have a fatality."
Steve particularly had to work diligently. For a while there was a question whether Tulane would offer him a scholarship at all. Eventually it did. "They say I don't have the experience to be a starting quarterback," says Steve, "but those summers made me mentally tough. Working out during the summer was like a full season."
The Family is not foolishly secure in its current success, for all its days have not been so fat. Steve and Mike remember what it was like the Sunday shortly after their father quit his job and the boys temporarily had to cut down on their enormous intake. That was despair, the kind that Tulane had known so long. Now they are all eating high on the hog. If only the Saints...oh, well, can't win 'em all.