by Bert Bartlett
An online headline just stated a Saints fan set up a trust fund for Drew Brees in empathy of his contract situation. This is definitely one of those instances where it’s the thought that counts, and a symbol that this tumultuous off-season has officially gone bonkers. One can picture a Bunny Matthews spice of NOLA kind of cartoon, featuring a well fed lady from the Ninth Ward, with spiked hair and reading glasses, and no shortage of lipstick, captioned with Yeah Drew, dawl, we luv ‘ya, and we wanna’ take care of ‘ya! Who ‘Yat !
As it has dragged on, the man in charge of the purse strings, GM Mickey Loomis, has had it to deal with, in addition to Bountygate, two interim head coaches, innuendo of federal wire-tapping charges, and last but not least, his own pending suspension. Loomis’ plight is remindful of a public exchange that took place in Dallas in the early 1970’s. Talented but generally disgruntled Cowboy running back Duane Thomas was in contract holdout mode (and a bad mood). A reporter asked him what he thought of his GM, Tex Schramm, to which Thomas responded “he’s a liar, a cheat, and a thief”. Naturally, reporters rushed off to Schramm to elicit a response. With perfect equanimity, Shramm quipped, “well, at least he got two out of three right”. Loomis would do well to not take anything overly seriously these days. And Number 9 has to give a little – while taking alot – in getting the fat contract he deserves, which he will.
Us Against The World ! has become the offical Saints fan battle mantra for 2012, reiterated by some players’ comments in the media. Though there is always something to say for an extra motivational chip, the sentiment will be more weighed on by the fans as the year goes along, because it’s the players who, once the pads start popping, will be sternly reminded what they are out there for. This is particularly true for the numerous free agents and draft picks seeking to simply make the team.
The commissioner’s player suspensions came in much lighter than expected, with only two current Saints materially affected, one for the entire year. The team has signed a bevy of new veterans to replace some familiar names who have departed, particularly at linebacker. So for the countless draft picks out of college and free agents looking for a job, the competition will be steep. Their goal is to avoid the wrath of The Turk, the anonymous assistant who shows up at the player’s locker in late summer, with a laconic message that “Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook”, careening plenty of childhood dreams into a puff of smoke within a matter of minutes.
The Saints brought in about 90 newcomers to a mini-camp in early May, excluding most of last year’s roster and practice/injured, or “taxi” squad. By September, about 2 out of every 3 players who have walked through the gates on Airline Drive will have been given his walking papers. We could bore ourselves to tears with the statistical backgrounds and an abundance of spring friendly, media potential reports of the prospects, but find the angles on some having more appeal. Keep in mind this class of new blood (no pun intended) has already been handicapped by many draftniks, who have dismissed it as the worst in the league, in part because of no top choices until the third round of a seven round draft. And while they were at it, a Sporting News poll already had Interim Head Coach I, Joe Vitt, pegged as the worst head coach in the league. Us Against The World !
For The Adhesive Tape On Your Gold Helmet, Your Name Is?
Some kids ought to make the team on name alone. From the likes of Kadaroon Anderson, Tressor Baptiste (yes, obviously a Loozyanna boy), Travaris Cadet, Hutch Eckerson, Jose Gumbs, Kamaal Mcilwain, Deon’tae Pannell (we appreciate that apostrophe insert, certain to prevent mispronunciation), Gregory Romeus (is that a spinoff of Prometheus, the Greek champion of mankind? He stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mere mortals, for goodness sakes. On second thought, how does one “steal” fire?), Aderious (was his Mom serious?) Simmons, Joshua Victorian, and Stan Warrenhuffman (is that a typo; is he Stan Warren, or Warren Huffman, or is Huffman his middle name? Trainers will likely take the easy route and just call him “The Man”), who gets your choice for Most Likely To Succeed ?
Appraisers have to like Joshua Victorian, and Travaris Cadet certainly intimates a New, No Nonsense Saints, but the overwhelmingly sentimental choice here is Hutch Eckerson. Anybody named Hutch ought to be a football player (except for Starsky’s partner, who didn’t seem to fit the mold). He is, fittingly, an offensive tackle. And who can forget how splendid the toy helmets by that manufacturer’s name looked under the Christmas tree? Eckerson comes with a risk, though. When the quarterback barks out signals form the line of scrimmage, i.e. Hut…Hut !, will Eckerson take it as being singled out, turn his head, and eternally get called for illegal procedure?
Quarterback Patrick Witt arrived from Yale, seeking to avoid becoming just another “camp arm” by the time the season starts. He was in the press last fall for eschewing an intractably scheduled interview in Atlanta for a potential Rhodes Scholarship to stay at school to play in his last “The Game”, Yale vs. Harvard. C’mon Man, you’re smarter than that ! Or are you just nuts? Take the Rhodes and run with it! Pat Haden pulled it off, out of USC, then with the Rams. Haven’t you seen a disc yet of the movie Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty playing quarterback? It all works out in the end!
Witt’s story has not ended well. First, Yale got trounced by 38 points. Subsequently, The New York Times reported that the Rhodes offer was actually pulled beforehand, after accusations of him sexually assaulting a female student in September surfaced, as well as prior arrests, one for criminal trespass in Nebraska when he was a student there. And tragically, that day in New Haven, Yale lost more than a game when tailgate activity (and inevitably some alcohol) resulted in an errant Uhaul hitting three women students, killing one of them. Eyewitness accounts and reports of those events are as dubious as some of Witt’s goings on. And now he wants to play quarterback for the Saints. Well, these days his controversies are much second fiddle to the team’s, which we are sure he appreciates. All the kid probably wants at this stage is to be left the hell alone, and throw.
Aaron James, II
Aaron James was a promising basketball player and top draft pick out of Grambling by the NBA’S New Orleans Jazz a long time ago, when “Pistol Pete” Maravich was the franchise. After his selection, his first quote to a reporter was, not so humbly, the equivalent of that “two superstars can coexist on the same team”.
With similar though less rioutous ribaldry, when he arrived in New Orleans, little known defensive back Corey White from Samford (not Stanford) remarked he was looking forward to “picking off” Drew Brees in practice. Sounds good kid, but will you even be on the team by the time Brees gets here? It’s OK, in this day and age, you can’t rely on anyone but you to make a name for yourself…Geaux Corey Geaux….
Were Those Really Rules?
Defensive tackle Aikem Nicks from the University of Regina in Canada (Um, we actually have to admit we did not realize they play college ball in Canada, too) was all set to play at LSU in the summer of 2009 when some NCAA rules violations occurred while he was in Baton Rouge, like getting a rides to and from the airport, the athletic facilites, to church, and being put up at a player’s apartment by his position coach, who lost his job because of that. No wads of cash were exchanged, nobody got raped, and no ordinary laws were broken, but it was enough for the NCAA to declare him ineligible at LSU, effectively sending him back to Canada, and cost a caring coach his job. We wonder if the NCAA is as proud of the pettiness of many of it’s regulations (which go broken, anyway) as they are of their annual BCS revenue, which rivals the budgets of some third world countries. At some point, the gross hypocrisy must end…
We have entered a curtain dropping era of the Post K Saints, the team’s image transformed into a newer age, Sinners Too, the results of which will be as unpredictable as they transpired. If one constant can be hoped for, it will be that the personnel selections will prove to be as bountiful as they have been for quite some time, which has allowed the team to have as deep and talented a roster as there is in the league. The scouting department is led by Rick Mueller, whose brother, Randy, was unceremoniously dismissed as GM about a decade ago, despite having led the Saints back to respectability and their first playoff win with Jim Haslett as head coach. The pure speculation for his dismissal was spending some of Mr. Benson’s annual budget without prior approval.
But Rick Mueller and his staff of scouts have come up with find after find, such as Pierre Thomas as a non-drafted free agent, Marques Colston being the Saints’ version of Mr. Irrelevant (a 7th round pick), and Jahri Evans, drafted out of tiny Bloomsburg State (we had never heard of that school either), now the highest paid offensive lineman in the league. The scouts are feeling fortunate Jimmy Graham did not get away, him being a steal in Round 3 of 2010, while the rest of the league is embarrassed for not taking him earlier. Graham is a legit superstar and likely the next major contract restructure for the front office. Sure the scouts have had their misses over the years, particularly on defense, but the fruit of their labor, much of it tedious grunt work, is every bit a reason for the Saints’ relative success as Drew Brees and Sean Payton combined. So if history is any indicator, this year’s newcomer class will result in some sleepers and keepers, the names of which won’t be evident till later, after the annual anticipatory hyperbole that comes with every training camp in August. Damnit Eckerson, quit jumping offsides !
Player personnel is an area that Sean Payton’s exile will be acutely felt, he not having a final say on who makes this team, or who he inherits, unless of course he happens to pull off a Sopranos by bumping into Joe Vitt at Rouse’s and is overheard reeling off his grocery list in code. Head coaches and position coaches see different things in different players when it gets down to those final decisions on who to keep around…
Let’s hope none of the newbies don’t compromise their chances like free agents Biren Ealy and Kolomana Kapaniu did in 2009. As delineated in the book A Tale Of Two Seasons, Katrina & A Super Bowl, in the chapter How Not To Make The Team, they were arrested after urinating in public in a parking lot in Elmwood, and cut right afterwards. At the risk of redundancy, they never gave it their best shot.