And the Who Dat Nation hollered Amen, Amen and Amen.
Super Bowl week is bittersweet for Saints fans. After the team was eliminated from the playoffs in San Francisco during last year’s divisional playoff game, the Black and Gold faithful were fixated on the goal of the Saints become the first team to compete in a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
But those hopes began to unravel long before the first snap of the 2012 season when details of the Saints’ alleged bounty program surfaced in March of last years and the harsh penalties that rained down upon the players, coaches and front office thereafter.
The media distraction, the personnel uncertainty via player suspensions that were suspended several times, the organizational disorder of having a former head coach as a new coordinator and two assistant coaches acting as head coaches and terrible play on both sides of the ball resulted in the Saints’ failure to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
And while the Saints won’t be in the big game, neither will a certain other team from the NFC South: the Atlanta Falcons.
A Dirty Bird Super Bowl victory in New Orleans would have been too much for Saints fans, the ultimate indignity in a season that was already painful enough.
Falcon fans sashaying down Bourbon Street sporting newly released championship gear and flashing Atlanta Journal Constitution “stadium edition” front pages showing quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith hoisting the Lombardi Trophy would have been the Nola equivalent of the Germans marching down the Champs Elysees.
I have a grudging respect for the Atlanta organization. They’re a good team with a talented young executive with an involved, fan-friendly owner. They also have a head coach who looks like Steve Martin, which can be a source of great amusement when things backfire on him in games, as they more likely than not do when his team faces the Saints. That said, I was greatly relieved when the almost equally hated San Francisco Forty-Niners, the bane of the Saints’ former NFC West existence, dispatched the Falcons in the NFC Championship game, thus introducing thousands of Saints fans to the feeling, if not the word, schadenfreude.
The second Amen was for the return of the coach.
When word got out Sean Payton’s contract with the Saints had been voided, I dreaded the thought of another drawn out and agonizing negotiation dance as what played out with Drew Brees last Spring and the possibility of owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis being locked into a bidding war with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Anxiety over Payton’s possible departure to the Big D was so great that some Saints fans were even expressing hope that the Black and Gold would lose to the Cowboys so Dallas would have a better chance of making the playoffs and head coach Jason Garrett would have a better chance of keeping his job.
For the record, I wasn’t willing to go that far to keep Payton though I did hope that the Saints would retain his services.
The two sides reached an agreement before the new year and this past week NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Payton. The timing is important as it gave Payton an opportunity to evaluate talent along with the rest of the Saints’ organization at the Senior Bowl.
The third Amen was for the dismissal of Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the shift to a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Saints’ defense has been a major concern throughout the Payton Era, with the exception of the 2009 season.
While Gregg Williams was able to turn the defense around in his first season and contributed to the team’s Super Bowl win, the Williams effect came with a price. Also Williams’s defense didn’t perform so well in 2010 and 2011 and not too many people in New Orleans were sad when he left for Saint Louis.
Nobody was expected miracles from Coach Spags. However nobody was expecting fielding the worst defense in the history of the National Football League either.
Sean Payton said that the team’s defense had kept him up at night and he didn’t waste any time trying to cure his insomnia by firing Spagnuolo within days of climbing back into the saddle.