“If I’m going to suck on something, it’s not going to be a crawfish.” These were the immortal words of then-new Saints Head Coach Mike Ditka when asked about his adjustment to local customs during an interview for our 1997 People to Watch issue. Ditka, who was pictured sitting on a motorcycle and puffing on a big cigar, didn’t elaborate on suckability, although the verb “suck” was frequently part of the conversation during his tenure as head coach.

“Suck” is a word with polar opposite connotations. There is the distinctively negative use, but when applied to the experience of consuming crawfish, it’s at its most glorious. To suck the head is to ingest the broth of flavor contained in each cavity. Crawfish eaters who are either from out of town or squeamish are conspicuous in their manner of consumption. They sit there meticulously peeling the tail, one scale at a time, while having tossed the head aside. Their motion is slow and unsteady as compared to an experienced crawfish eater, for whom working through the pile is a steady, circular, non-stop motion: break the head from the tail, suck the head, pinch the tail to make the meat pop out; eat the meat; grab the next crawfish. The process is machine-like, with the only break in the action coming for an occasional swig of beer or a chomp into the accompanying potato or corn.

There are other ways to eat crawfish, of course, as detailed in our cover story recipes. What was once dismissed as a junk food had gained respectability.

While here the former Saints Head Coach opened Mike Ditka’s steak house. As a Midwest-style meat and potatoes place it was OK, but his entrées might have been embellished with a splash of crawfish étouffée on the side. That would not have sucked at all.