No respect for the Saints? Fine by them
On the eve of another High Holy Day – no, not Rosh Hashanah, stupid, the beginning of the NFL season – fans of all denominations, from casual to degenerate, are well advised to acknowledge their debt to a man named Howard Katz.
Katz is an NFL VP, known better by his informal title of “Scheduling Czar.” (It’s a great country, you have to admit, when a Jew can be a czar). Anyway, he’s the guy who brought you Thursday night’s season opener, Vikings-Saints in New Orleans.
It’s more than a rematch of last year’s thrillingly violent NFC Championship game. I mean, this guy Katz is so good he could write for the WWE. Underneath all the hype is a seamlessly constructed opener, a thematically congruent way to meld the offseason with the new one.
In other words, it’s about Brett Favre, Brett Favre and Brett Favre.
Will his mangled ankle hold up?
Will he end it with another interception?
Will the vicious Saints defenders finish the job they started last January? (A lot of you are hoping, I know).
The Saints are basically faceless stooges here, mentioned only in relation to Favre. But, hey, you get the feeling they’re used to it. Last year, people asked “Who Dat?” This year, they’re still asking.
They remain an inspiring story, part of that never ending documentary called New Orleans. But, let’s be serious, they’re still the Saints – or, the ‘Aints, as they were known for decades – one of the worst organizations in all of sports. For a while after Katrina, the city’s population fell below that of Green Bay’s. Even now, in its somewhat recovered state with about 355,000 people, New Orleans isn’t a small market. It’s a tiny one. The New Orleans Buccaneers couldn’t make it. The New Orleans Jazz couldn’t make it. The New Orleans Hornets won’t make it, either.
And I recall a spate of stories, before the Super Bowl had even been played, predicting that the Saints were over before they’d begun, that they wouldn’t be able to re-sign their talent. Didn’t happen, though, did it?
Have I mentioned that the Saints are defending Super Bowl champs?
You wouldn’t know it from the coverage, of course. For months now, you’ve been hearing that the Vikings’ aspirations rest entirely on Favre. Never mind that he’s lost his best receiver, Sidney Rice, for a minimum of eight weeks. Or that Percy Harvin is suffering from crushing migraine headaches. You keep hearing all about Minnesota and the Super Bowl.
Green Bay, too. The Packers are the fashionable pick. But again, as they’re led by Favre’s successor, Aaron Rodgers, they’re merely a new angle on an old story.
The Jets have entered the fray as prospective contenders, thanks mostly to HBO’s hype machine, “Hard Knocks.” The Jets have a fantastically entertaining coach and a second-year quarterback who threw 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions as a rookie. Oh, yeah, they also had the preseason’s longest and most exhaustively covered holdout in Darrelle Revis.
Still, wouldn’t you take the Colts and Peyton Manning over the Jets? And don’t forget the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s chances will improve immeasurably with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, whose offseason misdeeds commanded more attention than all the good works done by players in New Orleans. Then there are the Patriots, perennial contenders, and the Cowboys.
But the Saints?
Quite possibly, the most disrespected and discounted team ever to win a Super Bowl.
“It’s just the way we are down here,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma told our Alex Marvez on Wesdnesday. “We don’t look for the media attention. We don’t have an Ochocinco or a Terrell Owens. That’s just not us.”
In some quarters, they’ll always be regarded as ‘Aints, a small-market team with a midget quarterback. “I’m pretty sure that factors into it,” he said. “We’re fine with it. We don’t have an issue if the media wants to focus on every other team but us, because when all is said and done, we’ll be there at the end.”
“Our core is still intact,” said tackle Jon Stinchcomb. “We’ve added pieces that can help us out.”
They lost linebacker Scott Fujita and journeyman running back Mike Bell. Darren Sharper figures to be out at least half a season. That hurts. On the other hand, they picked up two skilled, veteran defensive ends in Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson. Another defensive lineman, an excellent run-stopper named Sedrick Ellis, returns from injury-plagued season.
And yes, they still have the midget quarterback. I guess some people still think it was a fluke, the way Drew Brees outplayed Manning in the Super Bowl. Then again, Brees has been pretty good for a while. In ‘08, he threw for more than 5,000 yards. In ‘09, he completed more than 70 percent of his passes. He’s led the league in touchdowns the last two years.