They have no hopes at anything else. No playoff chances until next December. If you listen to the national press, no hopes at getting their head coach back. Heck, they don't even have a first-round draft choice to look forward to, thanks to the Bountygate penalties. But they still have their pride.
As I wrote after Week Three, I once covered the Baltimore Colts, a team that was usually out of contention for post-season honors by Thanksgiving. Sometimes by Halloween. As a practical matter, they were probably out of it by Labor Day. But, like the Who Dats, their loyal legions of Colts Corrals would not admit it as they went through their motions of loyalty and masochism.
So with that experience under the belt, here is what we can expect for these latter three weeks of the regular season. After each loss, the ink-stained wretches of the press will dutifully ask the players how they could continue to toil even as their sugar plum dreams of post-season play and championship glory disappeared. The standard answer, which becomes a cliche to losing teams, is "we are playing for pride." Just as it was a difficult admission for those Baltimore Colts players of the late 1970s, teams that had enjoyed modest success, it will be difficult for these Saints players to admit it. Playing the game for the pride of being a professional athlete sounds a heckuva lot better than saying they play for the money. But some of them will be thinking that way, because new contracts or free agent opportunities will depend in part on how they finish this season.
We will always play "what if" with this team. What if they had not experienced the offseason distractions of Bountygate? What if their leader had not selfishly held out in his own contract negotiations until the eve of training camp? What if their head coach had been there for all or even part of the season? We will never know. What we do know is that the Saints are toast for this year and fans had better start looking for better days ahead while Saints players will begin reciting the death chant of a losing team. They will be playing for pride, because that is all they will have left.
by Jim W. Miller
His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores, at Amazon.com and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com
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