Payton’s defiant move is classic Parcells

Any doubt that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton fell from Bill Parcells’ coaching tree instead of, say, Jim Fassel or Ray Rhodes has been eviscerated.

In his hour of darkness, shunned at least temporarily by the league that once embraced him, Payton pulled what can best be described as a Big Bill.

He blew on his thumb and up came his middle finger, and he did so in a way that is not punishable.

Days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell meted out a year-long ban to Payton for his “complicity” in bounty-gate, the young coach found a way to reveal this as the joke it is. He reportedly approached Parcells about stepping in this season as interim head coach of the Saints. And just like that, what began as a way to punish New Orleans — and more importantly send a legal message — has instead become a possible tactical advantage for the Saints. They get one of the best motivators the game has seen, and Payton gets to live in Dallas with his wife and kids and watch. There is no bigger non-verbal insult than this.

And this is exactly what Payton seemed to be saying with his oddly worded statement apologizing for “what has happened” and now this flirting with Parcells. Whether Big Bill says yes or no, a message has been sent and, based on what I know of Parcells, he is laughing. His at-times combative protégé learned exceptionally well.

Coach Parcells was the king of the sly “bleep you” while in Dallas. This was never more so than in the case of Terrell Owens. Parcells did not want to sign The Player. This has come under considerable debate in the years since Parcells fled Valley Ranch — presciently declaring, on his way out the door, that in three years you would never know he was there. He told people this was not what he signed up for and was overruled, and so Parcells refused to call Owens by his name. He always called him The Player.

It was juvenile and small and had very little to do with The Player. This was about Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, what Parcells thought was their deal, and about sending a message that while he stayed in the circus ring he was not going to dance.

This is exactly what Payton did. While apologizing and doing the dance for Goodell, he has slyly sent messages that he does not agree. I have to believe he is not alone. Amid all moralizing about how Payton endangered players and kids and all that is good and holy, the truth is what he endangered was the games being played on Sundays to exorbitantly big crowds and for insane amounts of money. And that was really dangerous.

In all likelihood an 18-game schedule is way more dangerous to overall player health than any bounties by Saints players. So when Goodell flexed his power, it was more about whatever the legal terminology is for making sure the ugly behavior on the lower levels never touches corporate.

This all is a nice little debate about how much the league really wants to “help” former players unless, of course, you are Payton. The hypocrisy is probably a little harder to stomach if it is your career being put on hold so the commissioner can get a bunch of headlines about how much the league cares and how powerful he is.

You can not win, so you slightly rebel.

Parcells is the perfect rebellion. I keep hearing how there is no way Parcells wants back into this because he no longer has the stomach for everything the game demands. This is not true. He just does a better job of tempering that impulse nowadays.

He calls this a killer business and, for him, it is. It also has a pull for him.

The reason he gave for coming to the Cowboys was a chance to win on the big stage, and there will be no bigger stage next year than in New Orleans. (Except, of course, if Tim Tebow plays for the Jets.) There will be so many competing motivations in New Orleans, so many storylines, and an actual chance to win.

Imagine Parcells with an actual quarterback. The last time Parcells had one of those, it was Drew Bledsoe in New England. There is a pull for him here, as is there in helping Payton. The guy is not perfect, but he has become better at loyalty.

As a Big Bill fan, I am of course hoping he will accept.

If nothing else, I am looking forward to his opening press conference in which he says he appreciates the opportunity even though he is not a Hall of Fame coach. It is his way of blowing on his thumb for the benefit of the Hall of Fame voters, a lesson Payton obviously learned well.

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