I'm not going to tell you Kenny Wilkerson was some sort of perfect man on the day he's laid to rest. Nope. I always hate when people try to sanctify the dead.
I'm just going to tell you why he mattered to me and why he mattered to Saints fans.
Kenny mattered to me because I can say with certainty I wouldn't be where I am today without him. If I had more of an ego I'd probably tell you I'd have this great job, great life, and fantastic wife without having met Kenny. The thing is, I don't deal in the hypothetical. I only have this one life and meeting Kenny set it in a certain direction.
He could be a pain in the ass to work with. He wanted things done one way - his way - and only after you proved you were capable would he allow you to deviate even just a little.
Kenny was a hard-headed son-of-a-bitch about how audio was supposed to sound, how interviews were supposed to be done, and pretty much anything else. Want to know how to saddle a horse? Kenny knew the perfect way and everything else was ****.
Kenny went from doing construction to being the sideline reporter for the Saints and hosting his own radio show. And to get from laying dry wall to interviewing Jim Mora, you'd better be a hard-working, tough son-of-a-bitch.
I can't say Kenny inspired me to be some hard worker. It's more like he could see every one of my flaws and would then proceed to rip them out of me by force.
I basically can't multi-task. Oh, I can write pretty well or do a good interview but only one at a time. If Kenny told me to "slow the **** down, focus, and listen" once, then he told me a thousand times. I'm one of those people whose mind will wander off into a daydream while my house is on fire. Why? I don't know. But Kenny broke me of that. It only took saying, "Listen the **** up, Ralphie boy" 7,000 times over.
The man made me aware of a lot of my work flaws, but he also helped me become really great at my job.
I can still remember my favorite moment working at WWL. It was 2004 and the Saints were 6-8, barely in the playoff race, and someone was interviewing Aaron Brooks from his hometown paper in Virginia. Maybe he felt relaxed because no one else was around but I spotted him and just started recording the interview. It was just me, the other reporter, and Brooks. The other reporter asked his final question and I asked Brooks something like, "What does this two-game winning streak say about how this team and you have stuck together?"
Pretty lame question ... except Brooks went off. He railed against the media, fans, Benson, players, and anything else. It was an expletive filled 90 seconds of awesome!
As it was happening I could almost hear Kenny's voice telling me his two biggest things about interviews. "First, never ask a player a question where he can answer 'yes' or 'no.' Always who, what, when, why and how. Players in general hate to talk. If you ask them a question they can answer in one word, they will. Second, when a player starts talking and is in the middle of saying something that might be good, SHUT ... THE ... **** ... UP ... and let him finish."
Someone else heard Brooks' rant and walked up and actually tried to ask him a question. I literally put my hand up like a traffic cop. I probably would have strangled him if he had started to speak. Brooks finished and I was literally giddy as a schoolgirl. I had gold. I knew it would lead on Buddy Diliberto's show and no one else had it!
I saw Kenny later in the pressroom and just told him to listen. Listening to great audio and realizing it's fantastic is hard to describe. I guess the best description is to imagine watching the lottery and each number on your ticket is getting called.
"Oh, this is cool I have the first number. Yeah I got the second one. Wow, I have three numbers. And four, holy **** my Christ I might win $30 million!"
Listening to great audio is like that. The better it gets the bigger the rush. I can still see Kenny throw his head back and scream, "How the hell did you get this, Ralphie Boy!?"
"Right place, right time. And I shut the **** up."
"Cut it and play it for Buddy. It will take over the entire show."
That's why Kenny mattered to me.
He should matter to you because he gave us news the Saints sometimes would rather we not hear. If you want to hear nothing but sunshine, rainbows, and candy corn news about the Saints, Kenny Wilkerson probably wasn't for you.
He was great at getting Saints news on the sideline and through his many sources. Kenny got some of his best breaking news from assistant trainers, interns, and other people in the facility you've never heard of. You know which people know all the gossip and dirt on teams? Therapists and guys who work in the training room, that's who. It's why coaches like Bill Parcells tried to make the training room as uncomfortable as possible.
Lots of fans thought Kenny hated the Saints but he just reported what he saw and what he could find out. It wasn't his fault the Saints were a dysfunctional mess under Jim Haslett.
The one thing that Kenny had a hard time understanding was that once Buddy D passed away, he didn't have anyone to protect his tough reporting. The Saints couldn't touch Buddy, WWL 870AM couldn't touch Buddy, because the man was an icon. He threatened to quit twice while I was working there.
Buddy wanted as much info on the Saints as he could get and Kenny was his eyes and ears. People will tell you they argued in the sports office, and they did, but sometimes it was volcanic. They were both stubborn as hell and if somebody had made a reality show of it you'd have been addicted.
After Buddy died, reporting unpleasant Saints news became more difficult for Kenny. In particular because Sean Payton cleaned up the dysfunction under Haslett so there was simply less crazy news. No more Charles Grant and Aaron Brooks fighting stories to confirm.
In addition, Sean Payton made getting information much more difficult. The Saints fired people who just happened to be some of Kenny's sources. NFL coaches make even the smallest item seem like a state secret and Payton is no different. NFL coaches treat the media like an annoyance and an obstacle to winning games.
I can't go into what forced Kenny from WWL radio because I never got the complete story, so no rampant speculation here. I will say Kenny felt wronged and he felt the Saints had a huge part in it.
My father always said you should pay respects to two people in life: those you love and those that mattered in your life. Kenny Wilkerson was the latter to me so I'll be in New Orleans today saying goodbye.
Kenny mattered if you wanted to know more about the Saints, and deserves to be more than just a footnote to fans. He deserved more than 52 years and cancer. He made following the Saints more fun and more interesting.
I'll miss him.