by Bert Bartlett
Change never ceases to amaze, and sometimes can come at a dizzying pace. About a year ago, posts titled Super Gras and City Champs were being transmitted off this page, eventually winding up in a book. About a month ago, the last post on this page fabled a ship sinking to the disaster in Seattle, where a bad ending to a season occurred for a good team. That’s football, and more of us will get over it, but the news about Head Coach Sean Payton moving his family to Dallas was a squib kick on all things Saints, and especially New Orleans. The publisher of the coach’s book, now ironically titled Home Team, likely winced at the news, but isn’t feeling any pain.
Jeff Duncan of the Times Picayune wrote a few candidly good articles that pulled no punches about the generally negative reactionary sentiments of Who ‘Dat Nation. The appearance of conflicts of interests and speculation was rampant, on the the football, business, and personal fronts. The likes of ESPN and CBS Sports chimed in this week, with hosts accusing people in this city of playing the “Katrina card” in excess. One said New Orleans was a “parochial” city, and should not have taken the news personally. He’s right on the first front, but a few cities in this country like this one have a sense of place about them, and for that it has no apologies to make. It retains the right to feel, as much as anybody has the right to not be here. So there is no “right” or “wrong” public verdict to the news, the bottom line being only what the Paytons decided to do for their family.
Katrina Card? The hurricane suddenly and inextricably changed the city, which will be on worn on New Orleans’ lapel forever, as much as any other accoutrement. The storm is an emblem of something in between the ravaging potential of nature, human foible, tragedy, the absurd, remembrance, some dignity, and more than anything else, adaptation, so those on the outside simply better get used to keep hearing about it from time to time. As much as the city can try harder to “get over it”, others should listen for more than just wails. Sure, Post K mass psyches remain fragile, which is essentially what the Sean Payton news exposed in this community. Pop 100 MPH winds and ten feet of water or so onto any town, and odds are it will remain sensitive about it for awhile. How many NFL cities had people die in their stadiums in an attempt to stay safe?
Running to daylight from the sociological fodder, what matters most for Saints fans is what effects it may have on the team. What the news brought to light is that somehow the front office neglected to redo and extend the coach’s contract after leading the Saints to a championship. Unwittingly, Mr. Benson and GM Loomis may have fumbled in that regard, for now, but for all we know the coach and his agent may not have even wanted an extension beyond two more seasons, which now seems like a short period of time. There has been buzz for awhile about the club securing Drew Brees’ with a new contract, as it should, but was the head coach unintentionally slighted, allowing him to think about life in other ways than walking the sidelines in Black and Gold? It appears Sean Payton was somewhat taken for granted, and Saints fans suddenly were faced with what their team could look like without him.
The subconscious is a subtle but powerful element to any football player, and team, given the mental and physical exertion the game requires, particularly if the objective is to separate themselves from the pack of parity in the rest of the league. Whether an outfit is ready to play or not is discernible shortly after any opening kickoff. Somehow, deep in the recesses of the minds of Saints players, if it’s not certain their coaching staff will be here much longer, or there is an assumption that the current program has essentially run its course, this could lend itself to a little less focus, drive, or urgency, just enough to slightly lessen their intensity and performance as a group. It’s akin to easing foot pressure on the accelerator, without realizing it. Witness the regular season finale that was a debacle of effort against Tampa Bay, when there was nothing really at stake. The emotional hangover may have contributed to what the mess out west the following week.
These guys are pros and will prepare and play hard in the business they are in, but they are also inexorably human, which is why plenty of games get won and lost, particularly the ones that matter. No ambiguous assumptions were buried inside Saints noggins when they went 16-3 and won the Super Bowl.