On the evening of Sunday, February 5, 2017 and the end of the 2016-17 NFL season, only one team will really get to celebrate, and that’s obviously because only one team can win the Super Bowl LI. But does that mean that 31 other teams are losers? In the current sports culture, we want everyone to have a trophy. We’ve all heard of the little league games where every participant gets a trophy. Some people love this idea because it lets kids know that not winning a game doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re worthless competitors. Others despise the fact that a participation trophy kills the competitive spirit, makes "sissies" out of our kids by rewarding them for losing.
Where do you stand on this? Personally, I absolutely abhor participation trophies. They make no sense and in my opinion, they indeed let children know from a very young age that they don’t really have to give their very best since they’ll get rewarded for just playing anyway.
But I can listen to the opposite argument, to people saying: "hey, you can work really hard and even have the better team and still lose in the last game, so that shouldn’t make you a loser or deprive you of a runner-up trophy." To me however, this argument only holds water when it comes to amateur sports like little league or college sports, where players aren’t (at least in principle) paid for their participation.
When you’re talking about pros, players who get compensated (quite handsomely, I might add) for performing at their job, there is simply no excuse for "sucking," pardon my French. And so we come to your 2016-17 New Orleans Saints.
The Saints, who currently employ one of the highest-paid head coaches in the NFL in Sean Payton ($8 million/year), have been mediocre for three of the last four years. As unacceptable as that sounds, after two consecutive 7-9 seasons, it isn’t completely out of line to wonder whether the Saints themselves and their fans still expect the best from their team. Oh sure, you want to best for them, you’d love for the team to make the playoffs and maybe even make an improbable deep run. But do you expect them to make the playoffs? to win a playoff game? to get to and maybe win the Super Bowl? If you have your hand up, you’re either a man of great faith or…a great liar.
So, if you don’t really expect your Saints to win the Super Bowl this upcoming season, what would be an acceptable record for the team to you? Okay, I’ll go first: I don’t expect the Saints to do much of anything this season, especially not winning the Super Bowl and that makes me sad. It makes me sad because the past four years of Saints football have made me slowly accept a "participation trophy" of sorts for the professional football team I root for. Can they win the division and at least win a playoff game? No? Ok. Hmmm…can they like, finish at least above .500 then? No? Well, ok. I mean, can they at least not get swept by the Falcons then? NO??? Come Ooooooon!!!!
Yeah, I’ve been reduced to bargaining with the football gods, so an acceptable record this upcoming season would be: better than 7-9, even if they don’t win the division or make the playoffs, but please just keep sweeping Atlanta, please? So, 9-7 or 8-8 for the 2016 New Orleans Saints would be perfectly acceptable to me.
Sure, I could use false bravado and say that the only thing acceptable would be at least 10-6 and a playoffs berth. But then again, I’ve never been a dreamer. When I look at the Saints, all I see is Drew Brees and the 21 dwarves (offensive and defensive players combined), so until I’m proven wrong, I’m no believer in whatever Sean Payton has been doing with the Saints since his return in 2013. The reason is simple: I’m not sure that Payton and his team actually believe that they are capable of winning it all anymore. And if the team and the Saints organization themselves don’t really have that kind of self-belief, then to me they’re not worth wasting my high hopes on.
But maybe for you this has nothing to do with false bravado and you truly expect the Saints to do much better? If so, tell me why and tell me what would be an acceptable record for the Saints in 2016-17? More importantly, if the Saints do not reach whatever benchmark would be acceptable to you, what should the organization do to fix it?