When the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV at the conclusion of the 2009 season, they were the toast of the National Football League and a feel-good story that provided a previously disaster-ravaged city plenty of hope.
Two years later, the Saints erased their goodwill with their involvement in a bounty program that could cost them another Super Bowl run in 2012; and most importantly, thumbed their nose at player safety by placing numerous players in team’s crosshairs including Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner.
After building a case against New Orleans dating back to an investigation beginning in 2010, Roger Goodell’s penalties were necessary and appropriate:
- Sean Payton will serve a season-long suspension beginning on April 1, which will cost him nearly $6 million – and not do any favors for his mortgage payments.
- Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis will be suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season without pay.
- Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who would have been the likely immediate interim successor for Payton, is suspended for the first six games of the season.
- The Saints will lose second-round picks in the 2012 & ’13 drafts, which is big. New Orleans gave away its 2012 first-round draft choice to New England in the Mark Ingram deal, which means they will not pick until the third round in this year’s draft.
- Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely and will have to wait to begin anew with the St. Louis Rams.
Individual player punishments will occur in the future but the early returns on the Saint punishment are evident. The arrogance and unwillingness to be forthcoming ultimately may cost New Orleans more than the franchise’s $500,000 fine.
When Goodell spoke with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen last Wednesday, his comments spoke volumes:
“Clearly we were lied to. We investigated this back in 2010. We were told that it was not happening. It continued for another two years until we got credible evidence late in the 2011 season. We were able, obviously, to identify significant information that verifies from multiple sources that this was going on for a three-year period.”
After reviewing Goodell’s comments, it’s easy to see why he reacted the way that he did.
One of the defense mechanisms used by Saints supporters may be that the bounty concept is not new to the NFL. While that is true, the Saints were the first to lie about it AND leave a paper trail.
When the NFL owners meeting begins this week in Palm Beach, Florida, Payton and Loomis are expected to be on hand. Payton, in particular, will have a lot of answering to do.
Years from now, it will be nearly impossibly to accurately tell the story of the 2009 Saints without providing detail behind the Gregg Williams-led bounty program that began during the same season.
The city of New Orleans deserves so much more than to have its Super Bowl title victory diminished by the deceit of Payton and Williams.
Sadly though, the duo’s collective recklessness tarnishes the greatest moment in Saints history.