It started back in January. The Saints, after breaking nearly every offensive record possible, were heading into the Bay Area to face off against a Niners team who had no business holding the No. 2 seed. Drew Brees had just thrown for over 450 yards in a post-season game after shattering Dan Marino's record and being snubbed once again for the MVP award that went to the current year's media darling.
After hearing repeatedly that the Saints could not win on the road, outdoors, in the elements, in the post-season, in January/February (what about Super Bowl 44?), the Niners game started with a sense of trepidation. We saw a San Francisco safety head hunt Pierre Thomas, knocking him out cold, and out of the game. We saw Niner defenders lay the wood in an effort to hurt Saints players.
Yet despite the adversity, despite turning the ball over five times, the Saints offense took the lead twice in the last six minutes of the game. All we needed was for the defense to keep everything in front of them and force one of the worst starting QB's to beat them in the air, twice.
The unthinkable happened. Alex Smith, who averaged less than 190 yards per game throughout the season, looked like Tom Brady hooking up with an all-world tight end. What's even more perplexing is that our stubborn defensive coordinator seemed to have left for a job in St. Louis with five minutes remaining in the game. Instead of taking away the only weapon the Niners had - Vernon Davis - Gregg Williams dialed up blitz after blitz and allowed the most pathetic offense ever to make the post-season to march down the field and score two touchdowns, ending what should have been a Super Bowl Championship season for the best offense that ever took the field.
That Mike Martz wannabe cost the Saints a once in a lifetime opportunity with his stubbornness. Namely, a "window" year where Drew Brees and the offense are in sync and the rest of the team is relatively healthy in January and damn near unstoppable. Gregg Williams' play calling angered me so much that I left reading/listening/writing about football alone until now. Football is my religion. I worship in the Dome on Sundays, and always dress for church. For a few months, I lost my religion thanks to Gregg Williams.
Thanks to the beginning of a new league year, which marks player movement (free agency, draft, trades, ect.), I was beginning to reconcile myself with the finger that's missing a ring (it had been pointed at Gregg Williams during the hiatus). I started to get excited about the weaknesses our team could address and the additions the team might make. Then out of the blue, the NFL drops a bomb on a Friday. We suffer through weeks of talking media whores getting self righteous and taking the moral high road and acting like complete hypocrites. Complete with jailhouse lawyers speculating on legal ramifications and possible lawsuits. Add to that, Tom Condon and Drew Brees force the Saints into letting the best guard in the game go to a division rival.
Here's the rub:
- Concerning Brees, it comes down to thinking outside of the box. Instead of giving Drew Brees a 10-year, $500 million contract that he'll only see $40 million of, how about giving him a 5-year $80 million deal with $60 million fully guaranteed in the form of signing bonus? That's what its all about. Set a precedent with a guaranteed contract for a marquee player (like every other professional league dues for ALL players) instead of telling the world of the highest paid total that never gets realized.
- Whatever the Saints were accused of doing, they did in front of millions of viewers, including the staffs of every team and every competition committee. NFL officials and NFL Corporate view each game tape every Monday/Tuesday, at which point NFL corporate will issue fines for penalties called/missed concerning illegal hits and player safety. If the Saints did anything illegal on the field, it would have been dealt with. You didn't see any Saints players suffering James Harrison-type scrutiny. You didn't see hundred thousand dollar fines for illegal, malicious hits. Why? Because they didn't exist.
- As soon as the NFL let out the "bounty" allegations, players from many other teams, past and present, including Hall of Famers and many analysts all said to the affect, "Yeah, we all do that, but perhaps ‘bounty' is the wrong word." In addition, as for the word "bounty," every team Gregg Williams was a part of admitted to using a bounty system under him. Also, have we forgotten Buddy Ryan and the advertised "bounty bowl?" The point is that this is nothing new.
- From pee-wee football up to the NFL, every defensive player is trying to knock the opposing QB/star player out of the game with a legal hit. Duh.
- If a player has injured ribs, the opposition will target them and try to put "hot sauce" on the ribs. They game plan for that sort of thing; always have and always will. Why do you think coaches lie and try to obscure the injury report?
- Concerning the "legal" talk: you actually need proof, and the evidence is not on tape. If the Saints had a bounty on Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers, the bounty is as over-hyped as a Gregg Williams defense. Do you remember a vicious hit on either, or one that was flagged or fined? Didn't think so. Can you remember one instance a Saints defender dove at a knee three seconds after a play and actually looked like he was trying to cause an injury? Nope. Everything the Saints did and didn't do was within the confines of the game, within the rules.
- Speaking of player safety, if Roger Goodell wants to practice what he preaches, he should take the 18 game schedule and shove it up his ass. Furthermore, how about forcing all players to wear all pads. Also, lets make players with four inches of dread-locks get a hair cut and wear a helmet that actually fits, and buckle up the chin straps and wear a mouth piece so the helmet can do it's job? How about using the technology for helmets meant to protect from head injury like NASCAR does? For all the talk about safety, Goodell doesn't even enforce the basics. Ever hear "click it or ticket," the ad campaign reminding drivers to wear a seatbelt? How can you allow players to not use all of their protective equipment?
- The Patriots video recorded defensive signals in order to decipher and counter them and become unstoppable on offense. It gave them a huge competitive advantage. What the Saints allegedly did gave them no advantage. How does the punishment handed out match the crime?
- If Payton or the Saints want to appeal, guess who hears it? That would be Roger Goodell, the judge, jury, and executioner. I can hear it now: "I've thought about it, and I agree with myself."
Never has a head coach or general manager been suspended. Roger is mad that he was lied to. Roger has evidence (otherwise known as heresay in a court of law) from multiple sources, some of whom lied at first (translation: no credibility), others who were mad at the Saints for no longer being employed, and others who were sore losers after getting some hot sauce put on their ankle.
After confronting the team a few years ago, the Saints lied, covered it up, and continued to do nothing. I get that. The Saints should face punishment for that. Sean Payton should have gathered all of the staff and players and said, "Look, we dodged a bullet. Nothing will come of this, but this ends now." He didn't, and it will cost him $8 million.
Here's the thing though - this is a very big story because the NFL made it so. What happens in the locker room should stay there. It's a man law. The coach has a problem with pain pills? Deal with it behind closed doors. If you must fine him, do so; the public has no need or right to know the details. If a player fails a drug test or a wonderlic test, that's none of the public's business - it is supposed to be confidential. The NFL pressured Disney/ABC/ESPN to remove the television series "Playmakers" because it was too realistic, yet now they are pulling back the curtain and showing John Q. Public a peek inside the lockeroom, for violations almost every team has admitted to. That's sacrilegious and hypocritical.
When a player is suspended, his suspension starts week one of the regular season. Sean Payton's suspension starts April 1st. Mickey Loomis gets to play GM until Week 1. Odd discrepancy. The backup plan, Joe Vitt, is also suspended. Do you know what? It doesn't matter.
Have you ever seen the movie where a group of screw-ups suddenly comes under command of a dictator-like leader and bands together in their hatred for him to become the best team/platoon/whatever? Well guess what, this Saints team is full of anger. It's the Saints against the world, but most especially the NFL. And while they may lack a few defensive players, Pete Carmichael and Drew Brees have all their weapons and they are going to come out of the gates swinging. When Payton would show restraint and rest starters and not run up the score, you'll see Drew Brees throw for 10 TDs in a game and put up 80 points. Remember the Patriots the season after Spygate? I firmly believe this team now has additional motivation, additional fuel, and additional purpose to show how great they are, and you'll see something comparable to the undefeated 2007 regular season New England saw.
So the NFL better be prepared, because the Saints are about to be that team you love to hate. And unlike the comics, this is the real world where the bad guys usually win. Wanna bet? I got $5 on it. While we're at it, I'll put a nickel on Goodell and a dime on Williams. That will be an odd trip to the Big Easy in February when the Saints are hosting the Super Bowl.
The Saints are coming. Who Dat!?