The First Family of Football
Mary Beth Romig was sitting across the table from her brother Mark in a recent meeting when an extraordinary thought struck her: There’s always been a member of the Romig family working inside the Superdome — which is quickly approaching its 50th anniversary — in some capacity or other since it was constructed. The very first NFL game was played in the Superdome on August 6, 1975. The Houston Oilers defeated the New Orleans Saints, 13-7, in a preseason game.
The siblings — who both work high-profile “day jobs” as senior vice president of communications and public relations (Mary Beth) and senior vice president and chief marketing officer (Mark) for New Orleans & Company, the city’s destination marketing organization — are carrying on a long-standing family legacy of working for the New Orleans Saints started by their father, legendary stadium public address announcer Jerry Romig; their family tree reads like a who’s who of integral pieces of the Saints’ organization.
For starters, the senior Romig, who retired in 2013 before passing away in 2015 at the age of 86, never missed a game throughout his 44-year and 446-consecutive-game career as the voice of the Saints. Since 2013, Mark has assumed the same chair at the Superdome as his dad (metaphorically) by following in his father’s footsteps as the booming voice of the Saints for what will be his 11th season. (“If I can come close to matching Dad’s tenure of 43 regular seasons plus one preseason, I will be 110 years old when I am done,” he jokes.) Not to be outdone, Mary Beth has worked as a spotter with the team for over 30 — yes, 30 — seasons.
Oh, and did I mention their other brother Jay Romig is currently the longest tenured employee for the New Orleans Saints in his role as administrative director? “We call him the ‘vice president of doing things nobody else is willing to do’ because Jay just does anything you ask him,” laughs Mary Beth. “He is the go-to guy for the team. He’s like his own department. When you look at a roster, I swear, under his department, it’s him.” All combined, the family has tallied that at least one member of the family has worked with the New Orleans Saints for over 50 years, with no signs of slowing down the family tradition.
“Dad started out as a sportswriter. So, in our family, when you came to the dinner table, even as a kid, you had to know current events and you had to know sports,” says Mary Beth. “That was just what we talked about at the dinner table because we were raised by a sports guy and a news hound.”
“Mom and Dad always made sure that we had an evening meal together. We would sit around the table, and since Dad was doing [announcing for] Tulane football and basketball before he did the Saints, there was always a discussion about sports,” says Mark. “Then, of course, when he started working with the Saints in 1968, there was always the anticipation for the season, or during the season we would be chatting about what happened at Tulane Stadium — and then the Superdome. It was always terrific, and we were all so close in age that, for the most part, we all were always together.”
The groundwork for the closeness of the Romig siblings’ working relationship and passion for the Saints within such a tight-knit, familial fan base was laid by their father, who was deeply committed to providing a sense of community and ease for Saints fans, no matter the obstacles or where their seats might be in the stadium. Even when the Saints played in San Antonio, Texas after Hurricane Katrina, Mary Beth recalls how her mom and dad would drive to the city for Jerry to announce because the Saints were considered the “home field” at the San Antonio stadium. “The players even commented that it made them feel like they had a touch of home, even though they weren’t in New Orleans, to hear his voice,” says Mary Beth.
When the senior Romig fell ill and began having back issues that made it too painful to sit through the games as stadium announcer, the Saints broadcast his decision to retire while softening the loss with a relief-filled notice that his son, Mark, would be stepping in. “I’m blessed to have a similar-sounding voice to his, a same tone,” says Mark, while Mary Beth points out that there are some subtle differences. “Dad was a little bit more emotional in general than Mark. Sometimes, Dad would be too exuberant and there were strict rules about exuberance. For a while there, you couldn’t even be partial at all. We’d have to say, ‘Dad, calm down, calm down!’ And then they loosened the rules again.”
“I think speaking for the Saints, if I may, I think they saw that the sound that would come out of my mouth and my throat was similar to what my dad had done for all those years, and so they tried to keep it as consistent as possible for the fans, because it’s really all about the fans and making sure that they have a good gameday experience,” says Mark. “Being tapped to do that was an honor — and also a huge responsibility — to try to build at least a piece of what Dad left. He’s left such a mark on the game and on the fans. I’ve never really researched this to the point where we can claim it, but I think that he was one of the longest-serving stadium announcers in the NFL.”
Of course, stepping in for his dad ensured there were a few changes to Mark’s gameday ritual, all while creating new fan-favorite catchphrases of his own. “Mark had season tickets before he became the announcer, but he used to leave most games at halftime and go home and watch the second half from his house,” Mary Beth laughs. “So, when he got the job as the announcer, it was this family joke that, ‘Well, now you have to stay for the entire game. You can’t leave!’”
“I wasn’t going to change up some things that my dad had created as signature calls, like his, ‘First down, Saints!’ and his ‘Touchdown, Saints!’ and “It’s good!’ when they would kick a field goal or an extra point. I tried to mimic Dad’s way of doing that and I’ve kept those in place,” explains Mark. “Some of the newer ones that started since I’ve been announcing is my third down call, where I stretch out third down, and that gets the crowds going. Then my other one is ‘First down Saints, move dem chains!’ and when I say ‘Move dem chains!’ I hear the fans through the glass wall saying, ‘Move dem chains!’ That’s become somewhat of an iconic call now. I think it becomes familiar and something that they can all join in no matter where they’re seated or where you’re from — everyone comes together. It’s like all barriers are broken down once everyone’s in that Superdome, because we’re all Saints fans. It’s been a joy just to see that spirit of comradeship. I can hear them emulating that.”
It was so iconic, in fact, that it caught on immediately when Mark was announcing a Saints game in London. “We were at Tottenham Stadium, a soccer stadium, and they have a lot of soccer fans [in London] who follow the NFL. When the Saints would have a first down, and I would say ‘First down, Saints, move dem chains!’, at first they weren’t catching on to that, because there aren’t chains in soccer. But toward the middle of the game, you could hear all the fans saying, ‘Move dem chains!’ It was interesting to export some of our calls over to England.”
Mary Beth, who jokes that Mark didn’t “cut her from the team” as a spotter when he took over as announcer for their father, has one of the most fascinating and too-often unsung (in my humble opinion) positions within the complex web that makes up the gameday experience at the Superdome. Spotters are the people who stand on either side of the stadium announcer and watch every play to tell the announcer who does what: the person to whom the quarterback throws the ball; who makes each tackle; and how far the teams gain all fall under the spotter’s watchful eye — a huge responsibility if there ever was one. In the early 1990s, one of Jerry Romig’s spotters decided to retire from the position, and Mary Beth had the opportunity to begin what would become a decades-spanning run in the position. “My dad knew that I was a huge sports lover and Saints fan, and he asked me if I would start spotting for him. Are you kidding? Duh.”
“I was raised on football,” says Mary Beth. “I mean, we all know football. Even my daughter was raised on football — we just know the game. I think the hardest part probably for me is visiting team defense. Because offense, by the time you get to the regular season, you pretty much have your stable of players. And I know the Saints team by heart, but defense is hard because many more people play defense. But I have a notebook and I make cheat sheets the day before every game because the flip cards have really, really tiny print. So, I have the Saints offense listed, and on the facing page, the opponent’s defense. I open it to that page, and then I go from there. It’s fun — and it’s more fun when we’re winning.”
On a typical gameday now, the Romig legacy is impossible to miss inside the Superdome. There’s the Jerry Romig House Control Booth, named, of course, in honor of the legendary patriarch, and Jay is running the clock in addition to “putting out all sorts of fires,” laughs Mary Beth. Mark and Mary Beth ride to and from the games together in addition to working side by side throughout the game, and each has a unique snack they eat before settling into their high-pressure roles: chicken fingers from the Superdome concessions for Mary Beth and candy — like Twix and Snickers — for Mark. And while she doesn’t attend Saints games in person anymore, Janice Romig, the family’s 91-year-old matriarch, is always tuned in at home while wearing a Saints outfit, praying the rosary, and watching the television with the sound turned down and WWL Radio turned up.
“We’re together at least five or six hours on those Sundays,” says Mark. “It’s a real blessing to be with them, like going to church almost, or having Sunday dinner together.”
“When you think that there are only 32 teams in the entire league — so that’s 32 public address teams — I would love to know if there are any other public address teams in the NFL that are a family like we are. I mean, literally, a family. All of us up there,” says Mary Beth. “It’s just been tremendous fun and a serious honor that I don’t take lightly. I’m thankful that my brothers and I — well, all of our siblings — we dearly enjoy each other’s company. I mean, I would dare say if they didn’t enjoy my company, it would make for a long afternoon.”