The Speaker’s Lobby: Super Wager
By: Chad Pergram, FOX News
06 February 2010
It’s easy for press-hungry Members of Congress to get lost in the shuffle. They have to compete with 534 others, who all clamor for the same ink and airtime. And there are only a few surefire methods to ensure they score some press.
Lawmakers can get involved in a scandal (have an affair or be probed by the FBI, take your pick). They can wait for hours on the aisle in the House chamber before the State of the Union speech to snare a shot of them shaking hands with the president. Or, they can hope that their local sports team earns a berth in the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, Super Bowl or Final Four. They can then place a friendly wager with another lawmaker who represents the other team that qualifies.
The stakes are usually a local delicacy or a signature dish from the region the lawmaker hails from. It makes a great photo-op on TV, shifting politics from the opinion page to the sports page. And the bets give lawmakers positive exposure to potential voters who don’t follow politics. They can tap into a crowd that doesn’t know much about the “public option” in health care reform, but know all about running the spread option on the football field.
Which brings us to Reps. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Joseph Cao (R-LA). And Reps. Andre Carson (D-IN) and Steve Scalise (R-LA).
Burton and Carson are pulling for the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl this weekend. Naturally, Cao and Scalise are taking the hometown New Orleans Saints.
In a surf and turf parlay, Burton wagered five pounds of prime Indiana steak. Cao put up five pounds of Louisiana Gulf shrimp.
Meantime, Carson bet doughnuts from Long’s Bakery and corned beef sandwiches from Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis. Scalise offered alligator sausage and blackened redfish.
If the Colts win, Burton gets the shrimp and Carson receives the alligator sausage and redfish. If the Saints prevail, Cao chows down on steak and Scalise auditions the doughnuts and corned beef sandwiches.
Both sides exuded confidence in their hometown team.
“We like our steaks medium rare,” said Cao in a statement.
Scalise said he looked forward to the doughnuts and corned beef. But was skeptical of the Indiana booty should New Orleans win its first Super Bowl.
“I’m sure it will be good. But it sure won’t be as good as Louisiana cuisine,” Scalise said.
But not every lawmaker was willing to place a bet.
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) didn’t think it was worth his time to challenge one of his Indiana colleagues. Not because Cassidy doesn’t have confidence in the Saints. But because he’s suspect of Indiana’s culinary offerings.
“I couldn’t think of any food that Indiana has that was worth staking crawfish etouffee on,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy was then reminded that Indiana produces a lot of corn.
“Well, the have corn. And corn. And corn,” he said. “We could use that to make grits. But we’d have to get the cheese from Wisconsin to make it cheese grits.”
Cassidy’s contempt for Indiana’s bill of fare didn’t sit well with Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN).
“In order to make the good food they have down in Louisiana, a lot of corn products are used to spice the dish,” charged Hill. “So without Indiana growing corn, their recipes down there wouldn’t be nearly as good.”
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) took the food fight out of the kitchen. He suggested that Saints wouldn’t even be in the Super Bowl were it not for Indiana’s higher education system.
“I have great respect for Drew Brees,” said Pence of the Saints’ signal caller. “He learned everything about his football at Purdue University.”
And Andre Carson noted that this was Colts second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
“They’re new at this,” he said of the Saints, who are appearing in their first Super Bowl and were the laughingstock of the National Football League for decades.
Friendly wagers and barb trading aside, passions about “who stole what from whom” has emerged as a centerpiece for this Super Bowl. Members of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation are energized by the NFL’s decision to allow vendors to hawk “Who Dat” t-shirts and other wares, featuring the fleur-de-lis symbol so long as they don’t mention the Saints or the league.
The NFL is historically very protective of its trademarks and controls use of the Saints logo, which is a black and gold fleur-de-lis.
Until the league relented, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) considered suing the league.
After the issue was resolved, Jindal said that the phrase “belongs to members of the Who Dat Nation.” He added that fans “should not have to worry about their clothing. Geaux Saints!”
Bill Cassidy chided the NFL for taking on Louisiana merchants over the Who Dat chant and the fleur-de-lis.
“The NFL is a little like the blob, absorbing all marketing in its way,” he said of the spat. And Cassidy said the NFL had no business claiming proprietary rights to the fleur-de-lis.
“King Louis XIV trumps the NFL,” said Cassidy, referring to the use of fleur-de-lis by the French monarchy.
But some feel it was the Saints who swiped something from them.
For instance, the Cincinnati Bengals went to two Super Bowls in the 1980s. Their fans were known to chant “Who Dey? Who Dey? Who Dey think gonna beat ‘dem Bengals?”
And many Bengals fans believe the Saints ripped them off.
“They stole it from us,” said Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), who represents part of Cincinnati. “They need to come up with something more original.”
And the “who stole what from whom” controversy is not limited to the Saints.
A reporter asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) if had a Super Bowl pick.
“With all due respect, I must admit I have a bias,” Hoyer began. “In the dead of night, without any notice, the Colts were stolen out of Baltimore.”
The Maryland Democrat of course referred to the scene in March, 1984 when the Baltimore Colts hired a fleet of Mayflower 18-wheelers to move the team to Indianapolis in the dead of night.
“And what a story New Orleans will be,” Hoyer said.
– Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.
– The Speaker’s Lobby is a long, ornate hallway that runs the length of the House chamber behind the dais. Lawmakers, aides and journalists often confer there during votes.
– FOX’s John Brandt contributed to this report.