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John DeShazier: Pete Finney covered it all and did it with class and a smile

Today became a little less sunny minus Pete’s disposition

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Peter, or Pete.

I tried to call him "Mr. Finney," when I met him, back in 1992, when I was hired by The Times-Picayune.

I tried to call him "Mr. Finney" because his reputation preceded him, because if you knew anything at all about the newspaper in New Orleans, and if you knew anything at all about sports columnists who were synonymous with their cities and their jobs, you had to have heard of Peter Finney.

I tried to call him "Mr. Finney" because I was 26 years old, he probably was about 64 – but 64 in that Dick Clark sort of way – and I was taught to respect my elders, particularly the ones who'd earned it 50 times over.

But Pete would have none of it. If you knew him, you were a friend and if you called him Mr. Finney to his face, he wanted none of it. He treated you like an equal.

So, same as everyone else, I called him Peter, or Pete.

And it was fitting because most of the time, that's all that is required when we speak of legends. And yes, that word – LEGEND – is an exact approximation of the man that was Peter Finney, a journalism titan who died Saturday morning at the age of 88.

Name a sports event of significance – Super Bowl, Final Four, Triple Crown races, college bowl games, championship boxing matches, grand slam golf events – and the likelihood is that Pete was there once, twice, 25 times. And if you attended an event in which he wasn't present, other journalists would look at your credential, see that you worked for the T-P, and ask, "How's Peter Finney?"

Of course, Pete wouldn't want to hear anyone call him a legend, either. He was as self-deprecating as they come and if you made a fuss over his accomplishments, well, he was more comfortable pulling out his nails with pliers than he was talking about himself, or hearing someone talk about him and the work he'd done.

But the fact is this: Today became a little less sunny minus Pete's disposition.

The journalism profession lost a man who could be revered, who gave 68 years to the business and seemed to greet most days as if he never saw a bad one – or one that, if it began badly, couldn't be improved with a nice, cold one. The business lost a man who had seen a little bit of everything, from the birth of an NFL franchise (the Saints) to the birth of a sports-altering facility (the Mercedes-Benz Superdome), to the beginnings of tens more sports franchises and facilities.

He was there at Tulane Stadium on Sept. 17, 1967, when John Gilliam returned the first kickoff in franchise history 94 yards for a touchdown for the expansion Saints. And he was there at Sun Life Stadium on Feb. 7, 2010, when Tracy Porter returned a Peyton Manning interception 74 yards for a touchdown to cement New Orleans' 31-17 victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

Every person who worked with Pete at the T-P between those historic dates and after – and especially those of us who were fortunate enough to have been able to work closely with him in the sports department – has a little piece of Pete embedded in us. And if we don't, the fault lies with us.

There was the time he wrote a gameday column when the Saints were coached by Jim Mora, a not-so-flattering portrayal of a Sunday loss, an accounting in which Pete was as harsh as I'd ever seen him be regarding the Black and Gold.

But Monday afternoon, there was Pete, sitting front and center for Mora's news conference, ready and willing if Mora wanted to express displeasure, or anything else.

It was a lesson in professionalism and accountability, of not spouting off and then leaving others to answer for your words, of not confusing personal feelings (Pete was New Orleans through and through, so he wanted the Saints to succeed) with professional obligation.

Pete was preceded in death by his beloved wife, "Deedy," in 2013. Sixty-one years they were together; parents of six children, grandparents of 20, great-grands to five.

It's a legacy that's as magnificent as anything he accomplished as a writer and columnist and, in truth, he seemed much more proud and impressed by the achievements of his family than he was about anything he'd done.

He was Hall of Fame in that way, too.

So today I'll be sure to refer to the Hall of Famer, the much-honored titan, our beloved friend and legend, in the manner in which he would have preferred.

We all can say, Rest in Peace, Pete, and totally feel comfortable with it. Because something tells me they don't use last names in heaven, either.

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