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Jimmy Buffett was always a fan of sports.
He loved the New Orleans Saints, first and always, but was also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Southern Miss and, of course, McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile. There were others, too.
Buffett died on Friday. He was 76 years old. There will be many tributes to his life and his music, but the love he had for sports deserves special attention, too. When it came to sports, Buffett lived by an honorable code. Support your teams through the good times and bad. Those are the rules, and Buffett believed in them.
For Buffett, who was primarily a fan of the Saints, Cubs and Heat, there were a lot of lean years of suffering, but any sports fan with even an ounce of honor and pride understands that it’s the tough times that define real fandom.
True beauty in sports is knowing the painful joy of loving a loser and being forever hopeful for a better day. Buffett was no frontrunner, and that’s what made the Super Bowl championship for the Saints in 2010 so special. Buffett was at the very first Saints game in 1967 at Tulane Stadium. He had gotten to know some of the original players on the team while playing locally in New Orleans.
All those years later, he was in the Saints’ celebratory locker room inside the Superdome after New Orleans won the 2010 NFC championship game in overtime against Minnesota and Brett Favre. As the story goes, Buffett flew from Bora Bora to New Orleans for the game, but not before his personal jet needed repairs for a flat tire.
Buffett later called Tracy Porter’s pick-six to seal the Super Bowl championship against the Colts the greatest sports moment of his lifetime.
Raised in the ways of the Gulf Coast, Buffett’s first love in sports was minor league baseball. He attended Mobile Bears games growing up and his fondness for the Minors stayed with him. He later co-owned the Fort Myers Miracle (now the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels) with friend and fellow Cubs fan Bill Murray.
As acting goes, Buffett even had a cameo in a 1994 baseball movie filmed at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field. The movie was “Cobb.” Buffett was a heckler without any arms who was punched in the face by Ty Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones). On a personal note, I was an extra in that movie, too. A sophomore at John Carroll Catholic at the time, I found an old suit at a thrift store and stood in the heat with thousands of others. Buffett played a free concert after the day of filming.
What makes his role in “Cobb” funny is that Buffett was known to get after refs and officials in real life. He might have had an easygoing vibe behind a microphone on stage, but Buffett celebrated sports with a different edge. In 2001, he was kicked out of a Heat-Knicks game for cursing at NBA official Joe Forte. Buffet was at the game with his son.
Forte was unfamiliar with Buffett. Heat coach Pat Riley tried to defuse the situation by asking Forte if he had ever been a Parrothead. Not knowing anything about Parrotheads (the given name for Buffett fans), Forte was not amused.
Buffett later recalled the story for Sports Illustrated.
“It was a bad call. It still is a rotten call!” Buffett said. “John Starks clobbered Tim Hardaway. It was a close game. I just said you stupid, mother——, that is the worst call I ever heard. People yell all the time, but he turned at me. Normally, referees do not make eye contact. So while he did not come over to me, he told the local security guard.
“By then the crowd was getting into it. Pat Riley was on the bench, asking ‘They are kicking you out of the game?’ Alonzo (Mourning) was like: ‘Sit down. You stay there.’ I told the security guard, ‘This is probably not a good idea.’ Then they came to me and said they would give the Heat a technical foul. So I said, okay, I’ll go.”
Buffett, who was friends with Heat owner Micky Arison, was a regular at Heat games during the Big Three era of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. When Shane Battier signed with the Heat, he quoted Buffett, saying, “I would like to quote the great poet Jimmy Buffett and take my chances ‘Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season.’”
Buffett was a tennis player throughout his adult life and enjoyed shooting hoops, too. He played baseball and football growing up. He was friends with Kenny Stabler, but that had nothing to do with the Crimson Tide. Buffett was not a fan of Alabama. Stabler was from Foley, which gave him a Gulf Coast connection with Buffett. Buffett and Stabler were together in Los Angeles while Buffett was rehabbing a broken leg. That’s also where Buffett got to know sports journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Something tells me those were interesting days.
As college sports goes, Buffett often said that his family was divided between a large number of teams, including Tulane, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. If Buffett had any fandom for a college football team in the state where he was raised, then it was either South Alabama or Auburn. Buffett attended Auburn for a year before transferring to Pearl River Community College.
Buffett’s connection to Auburn was brief, but important. It’s where he taught himself how to play guitar.