Bills quarterback J.P. Losman is returning to the city where he played his college ball for Tulane as Buffalo plays New Orleans in their first preseason contest. And while Losman will be catching up with a lot of friends, there's one person in particular he's hoping he can find some time to reunite with before heading to the Superdome.
Monsignor Crosby Kern, the rector of the historic St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, is a confidant of Losman's. The two met while Losman was attending Tulane and Kern, a Tulane alum himself, would often welcome students into his home for quiet study, food and lively debate.
Losman, who admits his first trip to Kern's residence was because of the food, was a classical studies major who was immediately taken with Kern's vast knowledge on a number of topics. A veritable expert on world history, religious history, the arts and fluent in nine languages, Kern was beyond Losman's scope of reality.
"I was just kind of amazed by his knowledge of history and religion and philosophy in general," said Losman.
So during his time as a student at Tulane Losman made his visits to Kern's home more frequent to tap into that knowledge and develop his own thoughts and opinions on a lot of the subject matter he was studying.
"We used to have some really great philosophical discussions," said Kern. "He was interested even as a young man in college and he wouldn't shy away from the hard questions that I'd give him and I think it's helped him to grow."
Kern watches all of Losman's games with the Bills on television during the season, and attended every Tulane home game while Losman was on the Green Wave roster.
He and Losman talked a lot through his college years about the cocky label he got from the media.
"I think in the beginning people thought he was kind of a self-righteous kind of guy that said, 'I'm going to do this and I'm going to that,'" Kern said. "We've talked about that and it's important that he believed in his own abilities, and that's what he was expressing. And now he's translating that into a leadership role for the team up there."
In addition to developing his leadership abilities Losman has also broadened his endeavors to include his Buffalo Lives project (www.Buffalolives.org) which is a downtown Buffalo beautification effort.
Kern is not surprised by Losman's commitment to his adopted city.
"I know he loves it," said Kern of Losman's affinity for Buffalo. "And that's a great thing for him to understand because his main commitment is to the team, but there's also a commitment to a whole city, a team, a people if you will. When J.P. gets into something he either gets into it wholeheartedly or he doesn't get into it."
Kern feels Losman's college years helped make him a more balanced person who quickly developed a broader range of interests.
"He's got a great appreciation for art," Kern said. "I think that's been acquired and nurtured. And that's a fabulous thing because it goes beyond just football. Now those become a tag team and they become the vehicle to exercise that type of leadership both on the field and off. He's more well-rounded than just having the myopic view of football."
Losman credits his appreciation for the arts to the city of New Orleans itself.
"It's a city of self-expression," said Losman. "There's a realistic self-expression. They don't hold anything back. They just let loose. I was able to see that down there for the first time in my life and so I developed a greater appreciation of that expression through art."
Kern and Losman were to meet up in week four of the 2005 season when the Bills were to play at New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina changed those plans.
"He was very concerned," said Kern. "Right after Katrina hit one of the very first calls I got was from J.P. and he wanted to know where I was and how everything was going."
Losman and Kern usually talk once a month and Buffalo's quarterback gets updates on the city's recovery from the hurricane from his mentor.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," said Losman. "It's pretty messed up. There's some bad stuff. There are still houses sitting in the middle of the streets. You can tell that no one has even walked down some streets since it happened."
"It's going slow but sure," said Kern. "The danger is after two years people forget and they think everything is alright. The real tragedy of New Orleans is not that it was a natural disaster, but rather an entire engineering failure by the corps of engineers. That's a tough concept for people to try and accept."
With Kern busy with his parish and various community efforts tied to the city's recovery, and Losman doing some globetrotting this offseason to Australia and Mexico, the two of them haven't spoken with each other in a few months.
"I haven't talked to him since I traveled so I'm sure he's going to want to hear all about that," said Losman.
So after a failed reunion in 2005, they look to make good on a meeting almost two years later, although a knee injury has limited the Monsignor's ability to get around.
"Last Friday I tore the meniscus in my left knee so I'm not able to get up and around," said the 69-year old Kern. "I'd like to say it's a football injury, but it's not. I'm hobbled."
Kern is concerned he won't even be able to attend the game as he had planned, but Losman thinks they'll be able to work something out.
"Thursday when I get in I'll probably just stop by and see him," said Losman whose mother is also flying in to meet them. "We're staying downtown so we won't be far from where he lives."
And when they do meet up they'll have a lot to discuss.
"It'll probably be a little bit of catching up and then also I always try to find out how he is doing," said Kern. "I read between the lines on him and he knows that so he has to be careful what he says."
"He knows how to read me," admitted Losman. "I've never fibbed on him because he would see right through that."
So what's the first thing Losman will say to his trusted confidant?
"I won't say anything," Losman said. "I'll just give him a hug. And he'll start crying. He gets emotional. We're just unusually close. He's just got so much experience and he's so sharp… He's a wise man."