The New Orleans Saints are no longer NFL football’s feel good story. A team that was beloved from 2006 to their Super Bowl championship in 2009 has been in hot water with Commissioner Roger Goodell and is presently sitting at 0-4.
In 2006 the Saints were returning to New Orleans and the Superdome after both were all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. They had a new coach in Sean Payton, a new quarterback in Drew Brees and a new rookie in Heisman Trophy winning halfback Reggie Bush.
That season the Saints opened their home schedule on a Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons. Steve Gleason blocked the first Falcons punt and it was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. New Orleans won the game 23-3 to the joy of everyone. The Saints would go 10-6 and make their first trip to the NFC championship where they lost to the Chicago Bears.
Three years later New Orleans would go 13-3 and win the NFC West. From there it was two wins in the playoffs and off to the Super Bowl. There they would face the Indianapolis Colts and native son Peyton Manning. Spurred by a surprise onsides kick to start the second half, the Saints defeated Indianapolis 31-17 for its first World’s Championship.
Another three years have passed and things are completely different. In 2012 four Saints players along with Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and defensive coordinator Greg Williams were implicated in a bounty scandal by Goodell and the league. It was alleged that Williams had assigned bounties in which big hits and opponents being knocked out of games was rewarded. After a lengthy investigation all parties involved were found guilty.
Payton was suspended from the NFL for one year. Williams got a lifetime ban. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma got a year’s suspension. The other players were suspended for a few games as well. The love affair with Saints football was officially over.
In September, Goodell’s player suspensions were overturned after an appeal making all of them eligible to return to the NFL. They are not free of wrong doing, however, as the case is still pending. Williams and Payton are still out of football and neither has fought the league’s decision.
No one knew how all of this would affect the Saints going into the 2012 season. Now we do.
New Orleans currently sits at 0-4 after losing to the Green Bay Packers Sunday. They have been close in every game. Two of the losses were to the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs at home. The Chiefs game was lost in overtime after New Orleans blew a 17 point lead.
The Saints seem lost without Payton. Brees and the offense have scored but the defense has not stopped anyone. With the season only four weeks old, New Orleans trails the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals and 3-1 San Francisco 49ers. It seems like a hill too hard to climb.
The feel good stories of 2006 and 2009 are over and seem like so long ago.