Editor’s Note: A guest post by Todd Masson, formerly of the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Outdoors section…
I think I figured out why the highway robbery of the Saints hurts so bad.
I couldn’t sleep last night. At all. I’m not an insomniac. In fact, most nights, I sleep better than a baby on Benadryl.
But last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tommylee Lewis getting blitzkrieged in front of God and everybody, with a handsomely paid National Football League official staring directly at the scene of the crime and failing to do his job.
That man had a yellow handkerchief tucked in his waistband, its bean-stuffed end left to dangle right at hand level for just such an occasion. Yet, rather than reaching for it, he simply made the incomplete signal, with both hands crossing his chest.
Watching it live, I was initially elated when the play occurred, since pass interference would give us three downs to run out the clock before Will Lutz skipped on the field to kick a 20-yard field goal and send the Saints to their second Super Bowl. Easily the best Saints kicker since Morten Andersen, and maybe even better than him, Lutz could make a 20-yarder left-footed.
But my elation turned to incredulity as no flags hit the section of the field Fox made visible, and then no yellow “FLAG” banner appeared on the screen. That incredulity quickly transitioned to despair.
I’ve been a lifelong NFL fan. I watch way too many games every Sunday, Monday and Thursday during the late summer, fall and winter. I’ve never, in my entire viewing career, seen a more egregious no-call on a pass-interference play. Every season, and really in every game, there are ticky-tack calls where a defensive back gets flagged for bumping a receiver or barely laying a hand on him.
If they don’t go your way, you gripe about the officials, but at least you understand that by the letter of the law, the guy in the stripes was technically correct.
But I’ve never seen a wide receiver blown to smithereens with the ball still on its way to him, and no flag being thrown.
If that happens in a Week 3 game, you go home, lick your wounds and start looking forward to next week. When that happens in a playoff game, there is no next week.
You would think the NFL would have its best officials on the field for such games, and maybe they did. If so, the league office in New York should be doing some serious soul-searching today.
Still, though, it won’t hurt them as much as it does us.
And that’s why I couldn’t sleep last night. As I lay in bed, I pondered why watching grown men play a game means so much to me. My family is still healthy. I still live in a comfortable house. The flag that flies over the post office near my neighborhood means I can still, for the most part, speak my mind and make my own choices.
None of that was impacted by some incompetent moron on a football field failing to do his job. So why did it feel like my heart had been ripped out and chopped up by Roger Goodell, a guy who stays employed despite being the most despised commissioner in the history of professional sport?
It’s because of love.
Quick story: Every year, I used to attend and cover an event Drew Brees organized that brought terminally ill kids from Children’s Hospital down to Buras to fish for a day. Many of these kids were so sick, they couldn’t go without shots or other medication for more than a few hours, so nurses would have to accompany them on the boats.
Even as sick as they were, these kids would always be star-struck when they got off the bus and Brees greeted each personally. But by the end of the day, they felt like Brees was a close, personal friend. He would joke with them, sometimes tease them, and they would joke and tease back.
I fished with Brees one of the years. On board were two teen-aged cancer patients, a boy and girl, both bald-headed from chemotherapy treatments. Watching Brees interact with them was a study in compassion and care of the infirm. He picked up right away that neither child wanted to be pitied, so he didn’t dote on them, nor talk down to them. He treated them like normal teen-agers. He laughed at them when they missed fish, and in turn, they did the same to him. Wherever they were on the boat, Brees was right next them, chatting about hopes for life and dreams of the future.
Surely the man was moved by their condition, but he didn’t make it the focus of the day.
I’m certain the annual event cost Brees a king’s ransom. Sure, he makes a fortune, and his bottom line hasn’t been significantly impacted. He’ll still die a rich man and leave all four of his kids with a secure future.
But the man surely could have kept all the money for himself. Just because he makes a lot doesn’t obligate him to give any of it away.
And really, the money is the least of it. Organizing such an event had to be a monumental undertaking, and Brees was all up in the middle of it. Surely he had demands on his time and duties at home that were pressing — like we all do — but he put them aside to serve sick kids. Is that easier for him than it is for me? No it isn’t. I can’t afford such an extravagant outing, but there are other ways I can provide aid and comfort to those so much less physically fortunate than me.
I was humbled as I pondered Brees’ generosity.
Since he arrived in the Crescent City as a birthmarked, bum-shouldered kid in 2006, Brees has hosted events like this all over New Orleans, and in the process, has captured the hearts of an entire region.
As they say, Father Time is undefeated, and at this stage of Brees’ career, Father Time is up by 30 and there are three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Only one man in NFL history has ever played at Brees’ level in his 40s, and Brees should be facing him two weeks from now in Atlanta.
Sometime very soon, Brees will throw his last pass as an NFL quarterback. Before that day, he may never again have an opportunity like he did Sunday. In fact, odds are, he won’t. Every NFL season is a battle of attrition, a game with an oblong ball that takes strange bounces that sometimes benefit lesser opponents. Many years, it’s not the best teams that make it to the conference championships, but the healthiest and the luckiest.
Drew Brees, a man who means so much to an entire region of the country, may never again make it this far. He had what could be his last shot stolen by a man who refused to do his job, whether through incompetence or something more nefarious.
And that’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.
I played no part in the game. It shouldn’t affect me like it does. It’s absolutely not rational. But love seldom is.