MOBILE, Ala. – Amid 45 minutes of contrite, turn-the-page talk, coach Sean Payton said all the right things to soothe the savage feelings that New Orleans Saints fans have for the NFL right now.
In other words, Payton did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a serious solid in his return news conference on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl. As Goodell and the rest of the NFL set to descend upon New Orleans in force in the next few days, more than a few people have wondered if some ex-lax might get cooked into Goodell's bread pudding.
If not worse.
Instead, Payton, when asked how New Orleans should receive the commissioner, paved the way for a more peaceable week for Goodell and other league folk.
"I think it should be the same way our city has hosted the previous nine Super Bowls," said Payton, who was reinstated by the NFL on Tuesday after serving a season-long suspension for his role in the team's bounty scandal.
In other words: As much as Saints fans might want revenge, don't screw up the Super Bowl business.
"I think that's our responsibility because we're still the No. 1 destination for this game. We don't have to get in town cars and drive 45 minutes to some different venue out in [other cities that host the game] … we're right down the street from the finest hotels, the finest restaurants and the hospitality in our city is open to everyone."
In a larger sense, Payton set the right tone for his team.
It's time to stop looking back in anger. It's time for guys like linebacker Jonathan Vilma and, more important, quarterback Drew Brees to let go of the persecution complex.
Ultimately, the message that Payton is to laying out to his team and its fans is simple: Get over it.
"We're at a point where it's time for closure," Payton said. "It's time for us as a team, it's time for us as a league, to take this next step forward.''
Goodell clearly overshot his power when he punished the players in this case. You didn't need former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision in the appeal process to know that. Common sense understanding of the coach-player relationship was enough. Yes, the season was spoiled and so on.
The Saints spent the season complaining about it, which is understandable but unproductive. If you don't think that focus on distraction weighed into the 7-9 finish, think again. Brees was just as guilty as anyone. In December, after Tagliabue's verdict, Brees crowed about how the team was treated and how this vindicated the Saints.
"This has been a nine-month ordeal," Brees said on Dec. 12. "I'm so happy for our players. ... I think that this was some serious vindication … Thank God for the fight and the resolve all those guys have for justice …
"We, as players, are held to a strict code of conduct both on and off the field, and we have to be held accountable to that, as it should be. And I think they should be held to the same standard … Right now, the league office and commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players and some of the fans."
With all due respect to Brees and the Saints, that well-spoken criticism of the league means little or nothing. The fact is, Goodell's power hasn't substantially changed despite this verdict. He may be more careful next time, but he still has the ability to do what's in the best interests of the game.
If the Saints want to wallow in anger over what happened, there's not much good to that. If you hold onto it, you can continue to waste energy. The Saints are in a situation where they have three or four more years of Brees playing at the top of his game.
What they need now most of all is the word that Payton used almost like a mantra. That is "closure." Payton was asked, specifically, how he would deal with the lingering anger in his locker room.
"I'll be able to handle that," he said, his tone going from contrite to commanding for a moment. "Real quickly, we're going to understand where we are as a team. The unique thing is we have a gap here before we see the players here again. But we've got a ton of challenges right now, a ton of work. This meeting we're going to have this afternoon is going to be painful as we go through. We have a lot of tough meetings ahead and that's what 7-9 is."
It's also what 7-9 could be again if the Saints don't move forward quickly. That's because, whether you think the Saints got jobbed this season or whether you think it was fair, here's the harsh reality. Nobody else in the NFL cares.
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