W. O. Bankston, '64, wealthy Dallas car dealer, sports addict and longtime friend of athletes pulls his plaid coat over his expensive belly. He checks the time on his large gold wristwatch encircled with diamonds, and moves on out of the New Orleans airport in a friend's 30-foot motor home complete with hot and cold running champagne.
It is 10:45 a.m., Friday, and Bankston is beginning the countdown to Super Bowl XII, his ninth Super Bowl game.
The first stop is the Dallas Cowboy's headquarters hotel by the airport. There Bankston threads through milling officials and athletes to Texas E. Schramm, president and general manager of the Cowboys.
"How things going, W.O.?" asks Schramm.
"Well, I hit seven straight wells," says Bankston.
"You have? That'll knock hell out of your tax shelter."
"Damn right. I was doing all right when they was dry."
W. O. a man unafflicted by shyness, rushes over to Cowboys center John Fitzgerald. "I hear you're workin' with Carl Sewell Jr. (another car dealer). I've known him since he was an itty-bitty boy. Get him to tell you about the autographed ball I got him from Babe Ruth back in '47. I entertained Ruth in Dallas. He was dying of cancer -- so we went out and got drunk."
Fitzgerald smiles that slightly indulgent smile athletes in their prime sometimes reserve for elderly men who talk of heroes past.Bankston then races up to Cliff Harris, All-Pro safety. "You better speak to me," says Bankston. "I got your little brother here. He's flying up in my airplane with my son tomorrow." A light dawns on Harris' face. "Oh yes sir, I really appreciate that."
Now, Bankston gets down to bidness, as they say in Texas. He takes out his "briefcase," a manilla envelope loaded with precious jewels, the kind scalpers have risked arrest for all weekend. Bankston adds some more tickets to his collection and invitation to the National Football League's annual bacchanalian blast.
"I got the Cowboys six cars for the coach to use here. They help me with my tickets -- and I help them with their cars. That's the way it is in Texas." Friends, Indeed
W. O. Bankston is an American archetype, the businessman who lives by quid pro quo, the businessman who brings a touch of glamour into his life by mingling with jocks, who drops $7,000 "personal" money -- to say nothing of Corporate funds he can write off -- on a Super Bowl weekend. It's the supreme sports event -- the game watched by 70 million Americans and another 54 million households around the world. It takes connection to get tickets, and Bankston savors the feeling, the sense of clout.
"I brought about 55 people down here. We're in four or five hotels and I paid all kindsa prices to get those rooms. I personally got 30 some tickets to the game. I buy 100 tickets for every game in season besides my two boxes. I got two.A high-class Eyetalian and I bought one box and Lincoln Mercury has a box.
"I carry a ton of people to the World Series and haven't missed but two since 19 and 34. You'd think I was one of the owners. Everybody knows me. I kept a box in Yankee Stadium for years. Mickey Mantle and I are best friends."
Best friends. Names are dropped like so much confetti during a long weekend with W.O. (William Orville). "Best friends" can, in the broad-gauge bon homie of W.O.'s cosmos, mean someone you met once at a party, someone you saw on TV, someone who bought a car from you -- and sometimes it can even mean best friends.
Pat Summerall, the play-by-play announcer is mentioned. "I know him, says Bankston. Summerall knows Bankston's name: "He hangs around with the Cowboys. He just sort of appears." Like a Father
Bankston went up to Mickey Mantle in a hotel lobby in 1951 and introduced himself. "I did all kinds of things for Mantle. He'pped him get a house once." He and Mantle did become best friends. Another friend is Billy Kilmer.
It is 1 p.m. now and a gang is collecting at Mantle's restaurant for oysters and barbecued shrimp among them Kilmer and Kilmer's friend George Owen, a Dallas real estate investor and friend of many quarterbacks.
Kilmer, red-faced and cheerful, claps W.O. Bankston on the back. "He tells fantastic stories about Mantle and Babe Ruth. Those were my heroes. I met W.O. when I was with the Saints 10 years ago. We have something in common, he loves all sports. He wants to help anyone in trouble. So many of my friends, if they ask about a car, I send 'em right away to W.O. It's just automatic."
Owen chimes in "W.O. put me in business, hell, four times or so. He's like a father to me. He got 600 people or so out of the penitentiary and rehabilitated most. He's very influential on the parole board. Eight per cent of his day is spent helping somebody. His business thrives because of that."
W.O. says of Owen, "He'd go broke and I'd put him in business again. I never liked his first wife. I told him 'either you lose my friendship, or you lose that gal.' He couldn't afford that I told him 'if you lose my friendship, you're losing your bank!" " Owen nods. "He got rid of the gal" Her name was Maureen and she later married Watergate figure John Dean.
Wine and beer pile up on the table, and soon the stories flow. How Mickey Mantle and Owen and W.O. once won a bet and got a Baltimore pitcher drunk before a game -- by rigging it so they could all drink tea instead of booze. Only W.O. didn't know about the tea and drank 18 drinks and passed out.
And there was the time Mantle and Owen tried to get Bankston drunk so they could steal his girl friend. "W.O. was between wives and we told this gal he was so old and wore out and broke. W.O.'s crazy like a fox. He pulled out $500 or so in bills and dropped it on the floor and asked us all to help him pick up the money. The gal took one look at all that money and we couldn't get her to say hello to us after that."
Bankston doesn't drink anymore. One of the first times he tried to stop was in 1948. "I dropped a gun, I was drunk and it hit the pavement and done went off and shot me in the belly. Figured I'd better stop.
Bankston's round face is distinguished by a flattened nose that looks as if it ran up against Muhammad Ali's fist. "Oh I used to fool around with the police. The sheriff, Bill Dekker, and I were great pals and I'd go out in my car with its siren and its police radio with him. Had a cowboy hit me one time and he put my nose clean over here," says Bankston, touching the side of his face. We'd do some arresting. Actually Dekker would do the arresting. I'd just sorta herd 'em to the car.
"Once a guy shot himself and I was carrying this dead man out and it went on National TV. (Baseball player Cletis Boyer was watching and yelled to Mickey, 'Here's W.O. draggin' this dead man out on TV.'" W.O. savors the story. "They all called to tell me about it."
The check for lunch comes to $140, W.O. Bankston reaches for it. Nobody stops him. Small Change
The cab moves through the French Quarter to Bankston's hotel the Monteleone. Total bedlam had not yet erupted if is only Friday, but already it is difficult to thread through the narrow streets. Bankston gives the doorman a $10 bill. In the lobby, scalpers sidle up and say 'you got any tickets?' Bankston brushes them aside and says to the bellhop, "I'm gonna give you $10," he x pauses. "One time. You help me along, there'll be more." The bellhop says "Yes sir."
Bankston stuffs the wad of $20s and $50s, some $100s wrapped in a rubber band, back in his pocket. "I always carry $1,000 or so. I just feel better with it in my pocket. Credit cards don't have the same feeling to me. I just never want to go broke again." The Sable and Suede Brigade
Dallas has been described as not so much where the West begins as where the East peters out. It is filled with bankers and investors. While most pro-football fans look as if they have been very well fed for a long time, the Super Bowl Dallasites go them one better in affluence -- they seem to have cornered the market on sable and suede. Bankston is no exception --his wife has a Neiman-Marcus mink with sable collar; he has a rust, custom-made all suede suit, pants and all.
But Bankston is a dying breed in Dallas, the wild-catting, self-made man. Bankston never got to the seventh grade; quitting school to help the family when his father, a railroad conductor, broke his back. He said he never had time to learn any sports. "First job I had was picking turkeys."
At 19, after a lifetime of odd jobs, Bankston, hit the rails and was picked up along with 20 hoboes who had hopped a freight to Dallas. Sheriff Dekker, then a patrolman, was there to escort them out of town, but W.O. convinced him he could get a job. He sold newspapers, worked in a funeral home, on the assembly line, then sold his first car in 1934 for $395 to a man named Tom Clark, who later became a Supreme Court Justice.
With his "Bank on Bankston" slogan, Bankston became third place in sales of Lincoln-Mercury luxury cars. He is asked if that is third place in Texas. "In the U.S. of A., honey." Y'All Come
The NFL's Friday shindig for 3,000 of it's most intimate friends -- includes Bankston, in pin-striped suit with vest. It is such a crunch that one guest goes up to Pete Rozelle, football commissioner, and says he'll come to next year's game on only one condition --that Rozelle promises him he won't get invited to the party.
It is an exercise in super self-indulgence with massive piles of shrimp, catfish, crab claws, oysters; bars in all corner of the monstrous Rivergage convention hall, two bandstands blasting out Cajun, country music, dixie rock and '40s jazz.
The owners and coaches and wives and assorted girl friends and friends are caged behind a picket fence. Partygoers lean over the fence to get Kallas coach Tom Landry's autograph. Bankston says hello to Landry in the crunch, who nods.
Bankston waits to say hello to Rep. Thomas "Tip" O'Neill (D-Mass.), House speaker and full-time football fan. O'Neill is surrounded by as many people greeting him as are athletes. He is talking with New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu. "You still mayor?" asks O'Neill. "For another four months." After Bankston, who idles up, drifts away, O'Neill says, "Who is that guy?He says I met him at a fund-raiser for Jim Wright." Someone explains that Bankston is a good man to the Democrats and that he is on the Democratic National Committee finance committee. O'Neill files that in formation away.
Bankston meets a man for the first time and says, "Next time you get to Dallas, call me and I'll get you a car and driver. He'll keep you out of trouble." The man asks, "But what if I want to get into trouble." Bankston says, "Well, then, I'll see to it that the police don't bother you." Quid Pro Quo for 'Little Joe'
Saturday starts shlowly for everyone. The players go into hiding. Sports writers get drunk.
Only the fans are stirring. They shout "Cowboys" and "Go Bronks" as they run up against each other in packs. Denverites drink Orange Crush drinks in sleazy bars next to strip joints, and middle-aged women top off sable coats with Dallas cowboy knit caps. By late afternoon the bellows of fans sound like the mating calls of crazed water buffalo as they move up and down Bourbon Street in the Quarter, in freezing cold wind. It is so cold that Bankston remarks to nearly everyone he sees that the silver money in his pocket is like ice.
He uses the morning to change to a larger room, to barter away some leftover tickets, to phone the office to see how his oil wells and car bidness is doing. His son, Jimmy, 27, wanders into the room with Cliff Harris' brother and Richard Tharp, a buddy who was 1976 world champion drag racer.
Bankston's son's crowd says he's never seen his brother so nervous before a game. Closed the bars at 6 a.m. they say they are saving themselves for the Cowboy blast after the game with Waylon Jennings. Bankston says he'll be in his plane on the way back to Dallas by then.
Bankston wanders up to the Presidential Suite to see John MacMillan, a Dallas Coors dealer, who had 17 cases of Coors flown in for pals who stop by. The suite is $250 a day. Bankston talks about how he is going to get a man named Warren G. Harding elected state treasurer. MacMillan says, "You can do it, W.O." McMillan asks if Clint Murchison Jr., chairman of the board of the Dallas Cowboys talked to him he was coming in just has arrived. Bankston says: "Last I before the game. He don't like all this hootin' and hollerin. He was over in Paris when I talked to him on the phone. I want to put my plane in his damn old hangar. He's got the room."
Bankston goes down to the lobby and talks to "Little Joe," a short man with an Italian accent and a muffler around his neck. Little Joe has put aside 8 rooms at the hotel and has turned one of these over to Bankston, in exchange, he would like two tickets to the game he says.That night, "Little Joe" imperiously holds forth in a tuxedo as the maitre d' at Morgans -- and magically finds a table for Bankston's party of 10.
"I knew the old man, Diamond Jim," says Bankston. Diamond Jim was a legendary New Orlean's restaurateur, longtime friend of Huey Long and wore diamonds on everything -- including the fly of his pants. His two sons now run Moran's.
"Everything you want done, you can get done in New Orleans -- if you live here," says Bankston. "When I want to put on the dog for some of my salesmen or customers, I call Little Joe and he'll have them met at the airport, get them a five-course meal and I catch the tab."
After dinner at Moran's, Bankston drops by the NFL players union party which is jointly sponsored by Mack Trucks. It is another intimate little do of 500 or so Ed Garvey, the executive secretary of the union, is asked "Is there any such thing as an intimate gathering at the Super Bowl? "This is it," says Garvey.
Players not in the Super Bowl and former players and female friends bolt down food and drink. Bankston talks to Redskin center and vice president of the Union Len Hauss. "I know you," says Hauss. "I met you with Kilmer."
Hank greenberg baseball's great, is on his way out and Bankston grabs him. There is not instant recognition, but then Greenberg finally says, "W.O. yes! How are you. You're looking fine." Later Bankston says he helped Greenberg in an oil deal. Greenberg says he can't recall it. "I just remember him from always being at the games, being a fan." Banking on the Bowl
It is midnight before the game and the French Quarter is now total chaos. Police ride horses and wear walkie-talkies and barricade the streets from cars. People mill around, strolling, and sometimes, stumbling, up the streets with glasses of booze in hand. All week the Hotsy Totsy strip joint door had been left slightly ajar for a free peek of a topless dancer as an enticement. With Saturday's jam med crowd there was no need for enticement. The door was closed to the non-paying teeming street mass.
There was an air of cheerful revelry, and one policeman predicted Bowl doesn't draw trash. It draws money people. The Mardi Gras draws trash." He is asked if he is more tolerant of the drunks on Super Bowl eve. "Yaaaa. You have to be. You can't lock up 100,000 people." There would be no trouble. "Super
There are 58,000 visitors in town for the Super Bowl. It has been said that the whole thing would be a great event if they just called off the game. But W.O. Bankston is one of the few who decides to pass up the partying and get to bed.
"I came here for the game. You come by my seats at the stadium tomorrow and I'll introduce you around to near everybody from Dallas." He thinks the Cowboys will win and make the point spread, "but I don't have a wager on the game and that's on my mother's grave. You all run along to the Old Absinthe House. I don't drink no more and I don't want to stand around listenin' to all that drunk talk." Name-Dropping, Bar-Hopping
The Absinthe House in the heart of the French quarter, is an ancient brick and wood structure with a few socially redeeming qualities; it is the unofficial drinking headquarters and packs them in, literally 10 deep. It is the P. J. Clark's of New Orleans where former NFL players, usually stars, meet for their annual Super Bowl drink-drunk contest as opposed to NFL's pass-punt-kick contest.
Billy Kilmer calls it his "office." Saturday night he held forth in one corner. Two women shout to each other above the din. "I saw Joe Namath!" "You did?!" "Well, actually, I didn't see him. I saw his secretary," "His secretary?" The talk is of point spreads, and booze legends-in-the-making.
One night it was filled with names --Summerall, Pete Rozelle, Ethel Kennedy, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who always has an annual Super Bowl party for himself: Herb Klein, Jimmy the Greek, Dan "Semi-Tough" Jenkins with a coterie of adoring young sports writers, Charlie Conerly, former iGants quarterback, and Alex Webster, former New York Giants head coac hand running back, Tim Mara, part owner of the Giants, and Tom Brookshier, formerly of the Eagles and parent CBS analyst for the Super Bowl.
Brookshier said his shoulder was hurting, then paraphrased a Vince Lombardian requirement for pro-players who are injured. Lombardi always commanded them to "play hurt" Brookshier said that, despite the pain in his shoulder, he'd "drink hurt."
Few of the former stars lost their competitive zeal at the bar -- and still objected to curfew restrictions. The bar closed at 5:30 a.m.
As they wended their way out near dawn to face Sunday's game as spectators one ex-jock joked that he would leave a wake up call -- with the barender. The Best Bowl Money Can Buy
Since the game started late to catch prime-time ratings, Sunday was more of the same -- flowing bloody mary brunches, Dixieland bands blaring out frenetic welcomes to the tourists who ate hot dogs and milled around in the Hyatt Regency lobby and waited for the game to begin across the street in the Superdome, which looms like some Close Encounters saucer.
But nothing would deter W.O. Bankston. This was his Super Bowl. He had paid for it, with and without hot and cold running champagne.