The NFL Players Association filed another losing motion this week when it asked federal judge Ginger Berrigan to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the suspensions of Will Smith and Scott Fujita. Berrigan must rule in the next day or two since the season, for everybody but Dallas and the Giants, begins Sunday. So the beat goes on.
But lost in all the discussion of a TRO's, a new NFL season, Sean Payton's vacation, interim head coaches and interims to the interim head coach is one big tuna can at the bottom of the New Orleans Saints' travel trunk. It is still only a faint smell, but the longer it sits and spoils, the more likely it will result in another stinker on the Saints reputation. If you recall, Saints owner Tom Benson retained former FBI Director Louis Freeh to conduct a complete and impartial investigation into the Bountygate scandal and its assorted tentacles.
I have always liked statistics as a component of sports, as opposed to statistics as a subject in school. Case in point, in order to achieve my masters degree many years ago, I completed ten courses. I had nine A's and one C. The stinker course? Statistics. Of course, that was the day before pocket calculators when high computing was a gizmo called a slide rule, which looked like a ruler carried on your belt like a cane knife. All the architectural majors carried them, and not one of them could have figured out an earned run average to save his life.
When Sean Payton's one-year suspension ends, he might find the cupboard bare when he returns to his Saints office. Certainly not of players. Drew Brees will end his career in New Orleans, and most of the core Saint players are under contract for the foreseeable future. No, Payton might find that his absence led to a mass audition of his assistants to run their own shops. And there would be merit to that logic.
Joe Vitt, Aaron Kromer, Steve Spagnuolo and Pete Carmichael Jr. all could be candidates for head coaching jobs about the time Payton returns to reclaim his locker. You earn your bones when the bullets start flying, and all four aforementioned assistants will soon be dodging and ducking while rallying their own troops to take out the enemy. Bullets have never flown so frequently around the Saints organization as they have during the past offseason. Bountygate, Brees holdout, wild stories of bugging devices, the commissioner suspensions, players suing the commissioner and other lawsuits being prepared.
Okay, you know how this works. Professional athlete of some respect goes into coaching, has some success but gets fired and goes to TV where he becomes a personality. Decides he wants to get back on the field and accepts a plum job as the head man of a prominent team. Then, his desired renaissance declines into the Dark Ages. Guess Who? If you guessed Mike Ditka, you would be a Saints fan with a grudge. If you guessed Bobby Valentine, you would be a Red Sox fan suffering through a miserable season.
So Louisiana State Police investigators have spent your tax dollars and a couple of months discovering a fact that most of a sane civilization already knew. Saints GM Mickey Loomis did not order Superdome wiring rigged to eavesdrop on opposing coaches' booth-to-field communications. In another announcement that did not receive much attention, the LSP investigators announced that former Governor Huey Long is still dead.
Monday's revelation was probably the biggest no-news news conference the LSP have ever held, but don't blame them. It just points up the fabrication that ESPN reporter John Barr tried to perpetuate onto a vulnerable and willing public with his allegations about the eavesdropping equipment. The report came at a time when the Saints were being accused of every impropriety since the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, for which they may yet suffer further suspensions. Any allegation of impropriety in the wake of Bountygate automatically carried some perception of truth, which created a feeding frenzy of news sleuths looking behind every tree for a suspicious Indian.
Tyrann Mathieu had said it before, but this time he apparently meant it. "The Honey Badger Don't Care" became an anthem for a player whose athletic ability and charisma had captured a fan base and a national following. He was great for the game with his blond mohawk and his enthusiasm on the field reflecting a bubbling personality off it. He was the 2011 Chuck Bednarik defensive player of the year in college football, a Heisman Trophy finalist and a favorite this year. He was a bonafide candidate to be the top player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The story earlier this week smacked of some relief for Saints fans, weary of a long subpoena-loving, brief-writing, lawyer-infested non-football offseason. ESPN, who hasn’t made a glaring mistake since airing the fairy tale of Mickey Loomis and the Bugged Booth, reported a settlement offer that would cut Jonathan Vilma’s suspension from the entire 2012 season to eight games.
Most of us have gone through enough diets over the years to know what it means to finally earn that first trip to DQ after meeting the goal. Weeks or months of abstinence, temptation and torment are the torture you endure so that you finally can order that Reese's Cup Blizzard in celebration. And that is exactly what Saints fans were able to do Sunday night.
After months of pain and suffering as their beloved team was being roasted over a self-induced bonfire, fans finally were able to enjoy some football. The results did not matter as much as the fact that once the players took the field at the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game all thoughts of NFL fines, suspensions and ongoing litigation finally could be tossed into the rumble seat. Oh, the bad things are not totally over. Jonathan Vilma's law suit is still out there amid reports today that the NFL has offered to cut his suspension to eight games if he drops the suit.
I sensed a moment of true comfort when I saw the photo of the newly erected Sean Payton billboard at the Saints' indoor practice facility. In case you missed it, the suspended coach's steely glare looks down on his players and coaches in such a way that one receiver commented that no matter where he was on the field, the coach's eyes appeared to be on him. The caption under the photo says simply "Do your job."
Who Dat Nation should put away the Sal Hepatica because this supports my belief that Payton's absence this season will not have the adverse impact on the team's chances that many believe it will. The reason I believe this is that Payton is still around. His presence is far more evident than a billboard and far less than suspicions that Payton, Joe Vitt and Mickey Loomis have untraceable burn phones upon which they talk several times a day. People who believe that are watching too many NCIS reruns!
A friend asked me how I felt about the NCAA's unprecedented penalties imposed on Penn State, and, to be honest, I really don't know how I feel. The question has too many aspects, and the penalties have too many effects all to be captured in one "feeling." Let me try to explain. I know I feel that some form of penalty was appropriate, although no manner of penalty could have fit such a heinous crime as Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia.