"If you had any fuckin' heart at all, you'd be out fuckin' stealing for a livin'."
- Nicky Santoro
Before any of you moralists and live-propers jump my shit, let's just be clear that I'm neither advocating lawlessness nor justifying illegality. It's like, um, creative license or something. You know, metaphors and stuff about having heart, taking chances, pushing envelopes, not giving up, and the like. So now that the disclaimer's out of the way, let's get on with it shall we?
Since all of this bounty hysteria is mostly resolved save for player sanctions, let's set the table for 2012.
This upcoming season promises to be most compelling and without question, unprecedented. Maybe it will be suboptimal from a standpoint of competitive efficiency, but from an angle of entertainment it doesn't get much better than this. And hey, when you strip away everything else and look at this from a broader perspective, and then realize that "we" are all the beneficiaries of a Lombardi trophy that has us now freerolling for life, then this turn of events almost seems apropos. Who knew? At some point as Saints' fans, we just need to embrace this if we already haven't.
After all it could be worse. We could be Buffalo. Or Minnesota. Or, ahem, Atlanta.
When considering all of the considerable fallout from this strange, strange year--starting with the twilight zone loss to Alex Smith and the 49ers that was a harbinger of things to come--one thing continues to resonate with me: the maintenance of culture.
By maintenance I mean two things: 1) continuing the franchise culture of aggression and envelope-pushing and 2) maintaining said culture in a sustainable and healthy manner. I'm in no way advocating the continued lunacy (and awful defensive strategems) that Gregg Williams espoused in New Orleans (and everywhere else he coached, mind you), but I am an advocate of sustaining the philosophy that attracted Williams to New Orleans in the first place. It's that same philosophy and mindset that's most recently netted Steve Spagnuolo, Ben Grubbs, Brodrick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton, Chris Chamberlain, and David Hawthorne. Perceptions be damned.
The modern installment of this franchise has been built upon aggression, attacking, inducing confusion, and one-step-aheadism. And that's a good thing. This is not something to be apologetic for, nor is it a philosophy that should be abandoned because the team screwed up and Goodell subsequently overreacted. Instead, it's a mission statement that needs a tweak with some safeguards in place. Be arrogant all you want. Just stop being needlessly brazen.
Relinquishing the "heart" and ferocity shown by both the city and franchise is no reasonable choice, especially under duress.
OTHERWISE THE TERRORIST WINS.
Instead it's time to fortify, bunker up, and prepare for the looming, protracted battle against both on-field foes and off-field hatred. At this point, there's no other choice but going to the mattresses.
The one thing I'm moderately terrified of, however, is this team losing its edge in the aftermath of its public scarlet-lettering. Over the past three seasons in which the Saints have proven themselves to be elite, fearsome, and unrelenting, the team's ubiquitous, collective swagger has become self-sustaining while generally cornering foes into being intimidated and reactive. This needs to remain focal.
The governance of this attitude makes ends meet; and it's not a connective trait the team should be in a hurry to abandon in the face of a public crucifixion.
It's eminently possible to be fearsome and unrelenting without being malicious and recalcitrant. It's up to the Saints to ensure this blistering competitive philosophy prospers with the necessary adjustments and oversight, all the while eliminating behavior that's no longer tolerated in the (:air of gravitas:) National Football League. With Sean Payton still around to mold the attitude, I'd have no doubt the philosophy of aggression would persist. But that's not the case right now, and one wonders just what the response might be when Payton absconds to Goodellian exile.
What the large majority of the viewing public/scorned media/league higher-ups want to see, presumably, is the Saints wallowing in the mire of their perceived karmic comeuppance. And they want to see us staggering around pitifully, bagging up, and shaking our heads in bewilderment.
Two words: PIPE DREAM.
It's one thing to be regretful and contrite for the stupdity, arrogance and apparently sinister motivations of the Gregg Williams-led Saints' defense, along with the continued deceptions and refusals to end the practice of bountying. It's another thing for that wrongdoing to dissuade forward progress. Let's not go milquetoast. We'll save that for the Vikings and the Falcons. It's imperative to acknowledge, repent, and suffer the consequences of misdeeds past, yet quickly move forward with a common, aggressive, winning purpose in mind.
A punishment suffered does not a future sacrificed equal.
When the hysteria dies down and the games are played, perceptions will die a flaccid, whimpering death for the 60 minutes each week that actually count.
Regardless of the hatred that exists now and will persist for the foreseeable future, those attitudes are almost completely irrelevant--officiating notwithstanding--to what happens on the field.
#9 is still walking out of that tunnel, haters.
The roster is still stacked. And young.
Mark Ingram should build upon the progress he made in 2011, and make the leap. Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and Marques Colston will continue to nightmarishly confound defenses each week. Ben Grubbs should allow the O-Line to proceed without missing a beat.
The defense should be markedly better. One of the league's pre-eminent defensive coordinators is now in the fold, replacing that blustering, has-been, one-trick pony. What have you done for us lately? I believe that question answers itself.
For the first time since 1993, the team apparently has an excellent collection of LBs. Martez Wilson and Junior Gallette should continue to grow into legit pass rushers. As Patrick Robinson's inconsistency gives way to confidence, his high talents will shine. And Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins might even combine to intercept a damn pass this year. We can dream.
Hell, we might even get to witness our kickers engage in the proverbial "training camp battle."
Doom-and-gloom is not remotely upon this team. Try as they all might, Goodell--that bloated, soulless, bumbling, corporate emperor--and his pliant, errand-boy messengers of pre-packaged, self-serving media narratives cannot force this team to suck. It's not going to happen.
You feel that sting, big boy? That's pride, fucking with you.
After the Super Bowl this season, the Saints were 7:1 favorites to win the 2012-'13 Super Bowl, trailing only the Packers. Now, after the shitstorm that just blew through town, the wise guys haven't downgraded the Saints too much. Specifically, the Saints are now 15:1 to win it all. For comparative purposes, the Saints started both the 2009 and 2011 seasons as 20:1 favorites.
So while Vegas has basically concluded that, in light of BountyGate, it will be twice as hard for the Saints to win the big game, they still only list Green Bay (7:1), New England (7:1), Philly (12.5:1), and San Francisco (13.5:1) as having a better chance at glory than our Saints.
If we've learned anything during the Brees era, it's that the team responds well to adversity. The entire '06 season. Losing the first 4, then winning the next 4 in '07. Being the first team to win the Super Bowl after losing their last three regular season games. The most road wins over the past three seasons. And now? Being the first team to have its coach suspended for not just ONE game, but for an entire season.
What offers confidence is that this is a team with an optimal mix of talented veterans and promising youth, replete with the requisite guile to formulate a healthy counterpoise to the challenges that await. Fear not.
If this were just some run-of-the-mill, plain vanilla team, it might be different. But they're not, so it's not. With or without Sean Payton in 2012, this team remains a contender.
The caravan is on its way.