Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trying to hang on to the past

Back in the 90s I was in a very famous teeeevee show..

Poor Sean Payton. He used to be big time. He's the guy who took the job in the building where it used to be wet and then showed everybody how to smell the resilience and stuff.  It was a big deal.  We won football. Perhaps you aren't old enough to remember.

If you were born the summer Payton took the job as the Saints head coach, you are enjoying your first few weeks of fourth grade right now.  Good luck this year. Sorry your parents wouldn't let you go out for football.  They're right, though.  It's a really really dangerous and stupid activity.  It probably won't even be around for much longer.

But that's okay because, as we mentioned above, Sean Payton won it for us once. You were three years old at the time. It was fun, though. It's why those of us who are old enough to remember it still feel sorry for the husk of a has-been  Payton has become.  We feel bad because we were around to see it all happen.

First there were the drugs, then the public divorce, and then the year away from football courtesy of one of Roger Goodell's frequent and now much better understood fits of capricious abuse of power. Inevitably, this was a period of bizarre and erratic behavior culminating in the obligatory subscription to the trendy lifestyle cult of the day. We understand that fame is a destroyer and that this is pretty much the typical life cycle of the superstar.

We suspect that Payton's ride is coming to an end. But how is he going out?  Are we watching a slow, steady unraveling? Or is there one more moment of catharsis still to be realized? None of us knows what will happen in the future. But, once you've been around long enough, there are a few stories you might see enough times to recognize them when next they play out. The trick is knowing which one you're watching as it happens.  You almost never get that right.

Here's one some of us thought we recognized during the summer.  Old guys like me might remember the day that Tom Benson finally got tired of the Mike Ditka regime.  In one bloody bloody offseason, Benson fired everybody. He fired the coach and all of his assistants. He fired the trainer. He fired the general manager. He fired the "capologist."  He even fired the dog.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Fetch Monster, who delighted Louisiana Superdome fans by retrieving the kicking tee after kickoffs and field goals at New Orleans Saints home games, has been fired by the team.

The Australian Shepherd got her walking papers Thursday. She joins president-general manager Bill Kuharich, coach Mike Ditka, most of his staff and trainer Dean Kleinschmidt on the roster of ex-Saints.

"What they're doing is getting rid of the only winner they have so far in PR," said Mike Moriarty, a Houston lawyer who, along with his wife Melna, owns the dog. "I don't think in three years the dog lost a game."
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis weren't fired this year.  But the organizational purge that went on around them reminded us, at least a little bit, of the cleansing by fire Benson initiated fifteen years ago.  The scouting director was fired. The pro personnel director moved on to greener pastures. Rob Ryan wasn't fired but he did get a new assistant/supervisor/potential replacement.

"I'm Jimmy!" was traded for a center and a pick that became Stephone Anthony. Ben Grubbs was traded for a pick that became Tyeler Davison. Kenny Stills was traded for a pick that became PJ Williams who is on IR now and somebody named Linda Ellerbee.. or something.. I think. Haven't seen much of him.  Basically Kenny Stills was traded for air.

Other things happened. The best all around football player of the Payton era was released.  The biggest mistake of the Payton era was consigned to a parallel dimension from where he can only communicate with the real world in short bursts through other people's twitter accounts. They even drafted a new quarterback as if to drive the point home that change was in the air. Tom Benson disowned his whole freaking family.

For a while there, we were able to see all of this positively.  The Saints were a Superbowl favorite in 2014 but finished 7-9.  Fans weren't in the mood to hear about what needed to be "tweaked" or "cleaned up" or whatever else a coach might say when he's out of ideas. Instead action.. any action... was more satisfying. Perhaps a spastic expulsion of toxins was the way to recover from such a massive disappointment.  It's what anyone's company does if they don't make the numbers in a given quarter.   Just fire everybody.  That's sane, right?

Or maybe that's actually kind of crazy. I think it was Junior Galette who, in a rare moment of clarity, first pointed this out.
"Who else do they have?" he asked pointedly in an interview with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Friday. "You tell me: Who else do they have?"
Yeah, well, uh oh.  Please do not answer Jairus Byrd. Before this week, you might have meekly suggested Cam Jordan is a kind of reliable person but now that's out the window.  Keenan Lewis was a person. But we won't hear from him until week 5 or 6.   For a while, there was a plan to just let Brandon Browner run around pass-interfering with people but we've barely seen him practice or play in the preseason.  Worse, still, the most substantial answer to Junior's riddle is probably, they are going to play a lot of rookies. When The Purge started to happen this summer, the reason we were momentarily excited was we assumed it implied an actual plan was in place.  That seems less likely now.

We should have understood this as soon as the team got back to Greenbrier where, much like last season, the team barely participated in actual football practice.  Instead they brought in special video game equipment to get some "virtural reps" in.  Also they purchased something called a "Cryochamber" because.. well.. I'm not sure what they need it for exactly.
“If you’ve ever just sat in an ice tub, it’s real beneficial, and yet, it can kind of take your breath away,” Payton said. “Another technology is the cryochamber, which is new, a shorter period of time.”

Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spent some time in the offseason researching the device, and it’s been put into practice for the entire team all summer.

After donning mittens and socks designed to protect fingers and toes, the player has to stand inside the cylinder for three minutes, and their body is enveloped in a freezing air mixture for three minutes.

Payton himself tried it Friday morning in West Virginia.

“It’s not easy, but I would say it’s easier than sitting in the plunge pool,” Payton said. “I got in it this morning. … It’s a long three minutes, but coming out of it, I know how it feels.”

New Orleans has encouraged the entire roster to give the cryochamber a try.
They're not telling anyone just yet but if you're wondering what happened to Jairus Byrd, turns out he hung out in this thing a little too long.  You won't see him again until the year 10,000 when he is thawed out by the apes.

Meanwhile they never got around to figuring out how they want to do any of the actual football this season. I'm typing this about an hour before kickoff in Arizona and right now this team looks like an unfinished weekend project.. or, to use a real world example, Rob Ryan's shoddily constructed house.  When they traded for Max Unger and dumped Ben Grubbs, we thought they were going to rebuild the interior offensive line.  But starting today on either side of Unger are the underwhelming Tim Lelito and the 500 year old Jahri Evans. They didn't bother to finish the job.

Who even is on this team?  All week the Saints didn't seem to know. In one of the more "inspiring, heartwarming" comeback stories of camp, Tim Hightower made the roster.  Then he was cut the day before the opener. There are 12 rookies both drafted and undrafted on the roster. The other day, they found this guy named Obum Gwacham laying on a pile somewhere. Rob Ryan says he "shows real talent." He's not active today.

Nobody even knows if Jairus Byrd exists.  Brandon Browner barely practiced during camp. C.J. Spiller was supposed to be important.  What does he look like?  Does anyone really believe Zach Hocker is going to be the kickerDo the Saints even know who is going to call the plays?
Sean Payton may not handle all of the Saints’ play-calling duties this season.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael may get his chances, too. Carmichael, who called plays in 2011 after Payton broke his leg and has handled duties in preseason games the past two years, gives the Saints another option.

So far, New Orleans is still working on how the two will divide duties when the regular season begins on Sunday in Arizona.

“We’ll figure it out here as we go,” Payton said. “Pete’s someone that’s been real in-tune to what we’re doing. It may change week by week.”
Just gonna get everybody in a huddle and whoever has the best idea at the time, that's the play we're gonna run. It worked pretty well for Occupy Wall Street. What the hell?  Here's an annoying interview with Jay Glazer where Sean Payton talks about the importance of "attention to detail."  And yet he hasn't quite figured out the basic logistics of getting a play called this year.  Seems kind of nuts.

What does it mean, though?  I see two explanations. Neither of them is particularly good for the 2015 outlook. It could be there really is a plan in place to spend this season developing a younger roster.  Let the rookies make mistakes. Take your lumps and come back next year for one last push before Drew Brees retires. If that's the plan, note the emphasis on "take your lumps" because there will be a lot of them. Things will get worse before they get better.

The other possibility is that Payton really is a total burnout.  He didn't set the whole thing on fire this summer to purge it of impurities, he set the whole thing on fire because fuck this shit. If that's what's going on then things are going to get worse before they get sad before they get hostile before they #GetWeird before Tom Benson fires everybody again.

Knowing all of this I thought long and hard about reversing field and calling for the Saints to win 10 or more games anyway.  The reasons for doing this would be as follows.

1) Just for the sake of being contrary. Everybody expected the Saints to be great last year and they were.. not great. Everyone expects bad things this year so.... but that would be reactionary and irrational, right?  Well consider, in that case..

2) Football is totally random anyway.  Pro football is especially random. Most games are decided by only a few points and by unpredictable factors like injuries or missed calls or multiple accidents of fate. Don't bet money on these games. You'll end up in a mental competency hearing.

Nobody knows what will happen in the future. We don't even know who is on the team right now.  We can only tell you what any of you who have received the conventional wisdom already know.  If the Saints can keep Drew Brees healthy and upright they will do two things exceptionally well: Pass the ball and play zero defense.  Even in their down years under Payton that's been good for between seven and nine wins on its own.

But something about this year feels even more down than that. The starting middle linebacker is a rookie.  The pass rush is provided by ? There is one free safety on the active roster today. It's opening week and if I had to describe these Saints in one word it would be, unready.  Maybe we'll see some progress in a few weeks.  They are potentially not terrible. They'll score points, anyway. Probably not enough.  Call it 7-9 again. That could be hopeful or it could be bitter depending on just how crazy Payton really is.  Stay tuned.

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