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|Air time was nary time|
I should have posted a warning Sunday around 7:20 p.m.
Do not adjust your set. Your television is not broken. That is CNN you are watching, not America's Most Wanted.
In case you missed it, CNN presented a feature on Ferriday's Walter Johnson and his hit on former New Orleans kicker Morten Andersen back in 1987 during its entertainment program at 7 p.m.
Courtney Sager of CNN called our office about two weeks ago and asked how to get in touch with Walter. After I told her I would get in touch with him for her, I asked Sager what they were doing.
She said it was a feature on Walter.
Considering all the publicity over the New Orleans Saints and "bountygate," it did not take too much detective work to figure this one out.
"Let me guess," I said. "Y'all are wanting to talk to Walter about the hit on Morten Andersen."
Sager acknowledged that, and asked if I knew how to get in touch with Walter.
I made some phone calls, but knowing how private and reserved Walter is, I figured getting him to talk to CNN would be a big challenge.
I actually did a feature on Walter two years ago and asked him about the incident.
Johnson told me he was ordered to hit Anderson by Houston coach Jerry Glanville.
"Coach Glanville was a crazy man who would come up with anything," Johnson told me then. "But he was a good coach. People liked the guy. I was just doing what I was told, just knock the heck out of him. It wasn't illegal. When I went to the Saints, I became good friends with Morten and ate at his restaurant a lot."When I made contact with Walter, he told me he did not want to talk to them, but told me I could talk to them for him.
Then came the bombshell. The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a story about the play and Andersen was quoted as saying he asked Walter after the game about the hit and said Walter told him he was paid $1,000 to do it.
It's been 25 years, so I figured Andersen's recollection was not the best.
I told Walter what Andersen said and he could not believe it.
Walter told me he did not even talk to Andersen after the game because Andersen left to see the doctor.
The next story I saw said Andersen asked Walter about the play after Johnson was traded to New Orleans.
So CNN arrives March 20 at 10 a.m. Yager, interviewer Ed Lavandera and cameraman Ken Tillis arrive and ready to set up shop immediately. They scout the Sentinel and then we walk over to the press building, which is no longer used because we have our paper printed in Bastrop now.
All three people were very professional, very nice and easy to work with, not wanting to take up too much of my time.
They ruled out interviewing me in front of the press although they were endeared with the old press. They had me stand in front of a bundle of papers and had everything set up. But then Yager walks up looking at her phone and said she sent a picture to the producer who did not like that setup.
We walked back outside and I recommended Ferriday High's football stadium where Walter played and we drove over there.
This was right before last week's storms so the wind was whipping up pretty good and when we stepped on the football field it was really kicking up and that was ruled out.
We returned to the Sentinel and set up across the street from the front of the building.
Sager asked me to take off my shades and I told her those were my transitional glasses. She asked me to take my glasses off.
The wind was still kicking up, but we went ahead with the interview.
I answered several questions about the incident, telling them Walter said he was not paid $,1000 and was told to hit the kicker.
That's about the only part that made the final cut.
I told them Johnson said he never heard anything about a bounty when he played, or even after he played. I told them that Johnson said Glanville specifically told him to hit Morten Andersen because at that time andersen was 75 percent of the Saints' offense.
"(Teammate) Eugene Seals was also told to hit Andersen," Johnson said. "I never questioned it. If my mama was out there in pads I would have hit her. Football is a physical game."
I also told them Johnson said Glanville had somebody assigned to hit the kicker every game because the kicker is the one left to make a tackle if the return guy breaks it.
I was surprised that hit the cutting room floor.
They asked me my personal opinion and I told them that Walter has always been up front and honest about everything. He will give you his opinion or tell you what happened and if you do not like it, that's not his problem. Walter is not the kind of guy to fabricate a story just to save face or stay out of trouble. He is a down-home country boy who truly believes in honesty, doing your job and working hard for your boss. Back then it was the coach's way or the highway.
After we finished, Yager asked Lavandera to ask me the first three questions again because of the wind.
We went through that again.
Yager said during that part I looked toward her and it looked as if I was looking at the camera, so Lavandera asked me the same three questions plus one again.
He asked me the same four of five questions twice more. I told him at least I had my answers memorized by then.
I wondered later if they did that on purpose to try and get some other response.
They asked if we could try and talk to Walter one more time. We went to his place, but he was not there. I called Walter and he was off fishing. Walter did allow me to give him Yager's cell phone number and said he would try and call. Yager called me back in an hour and said Walter never called. I told her I would try him once again, but she said not to worry about it, it was obvious he did not want to talk and they did not want to bother him any more.
I talked with Walter's wife, Tangelia, and she expressed her concern that CNN would make Walter look like a bad guy. When I initially told Tangelia about Morten's statement, she was shocked Morten said that.
I was very anxious minutes before the program aired. It was unlike writing a story where you hope the subject approves of the story and that all the facts are right.
I had no control of the final product. I could only pray they were fair to Walter and did not edit my interview to seem like I was talking against Walter. There is no doubt in my mind Walter was not paid for that hit.
The feature was part of a story on "bountygate." Peter King of Sports Illustrated spoke about the current situation with the Saints. I don't think his part was edited at all.
When it came to the part about Andersen, they talked to the kicker about five minutes and he said Walter told him he was paid to do it.
They followed that up saying Walter would not talk to them, but he had talked to me. They filmed the part about me saying Walter denied getting money and was told to hit Andersen. I did say I thought Walter was remorseful about hurting Andersen, but he would probably do it again because it was football. It's physical. They left out the part where I said Walter was doing his job and if he didn't do what he was told he knew someone in the wings was waiting to take his place.
They went back to Andersen saying he knows he heard there was $1,000 involved in the hit.
At first I thought Walter was making a mistake by not going on camera to talk about, even knowing how much Walter does not like attention.
After watching the final cut, I can understand Walter's reluctance and would not advise him to go on camera with them to state his case.
The part about being paid $1,000 obviously makes the story more interesting and controversial.
I believe Walter would have been very frustrated if he would have gone on camera with the final product.
I know I am.
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