Thursday, March 05, 2015

Indispensable man

Last month, Mickey Loomis told reporters that the Saints had "a plan" to deal with this season's edition of "Cap Hell" (which may or may not exist depending on which theology you are subscribed to.)  Loomis didn't give away too many details but he did say, ""I wouldn't call it easy."

He also hinted that it might entail some emotional difficulty.
Loomis said he would view the team critically without overreacting to last year's finish.

"Every year we've got to look at our team with a critical eye and try not to be swayed by the emotional investment we have in any given team," he said. "That's true whether you're 11-5 or 7-9. Obviously we've got a different feeling after 7-9 and not living up to expectations that I think we all had coming into last season.
For a while, the ordeal of coming to terms with disappointment was limited only to the Benson family.  This week, that is beginning to change.

Yesterday, we learned that the Saints are "shopping" their most productive defensive player as well as their (currently) most controversial one. And then this happened.
NEW ORLEANS - The Saints have released fan favorite and Super Bowl hero Pierre Thomas.

Thomas all but confirmed the move with a Tweet to fans of the team. The move was first Tweeted by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

"I want to thank the New Orleans Saints organization, all my coaches, my teammates and the Who Dat Nation for an amazing adventure," Thomas Tweeted from his official account. "I have so many wonderful memories I will never forget. I am thankful to have spent the past 8 years in the great city of New Orleans! As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end but I'm not done yet."
My my does the time fly or what.  For most fans it feels like only yesterday when Pierre was magically hatched from an egg to beat Antonio Pittman out of a roster spot during the 2007 pre-season. We took it as an auspicious sign that Sean Payton was the kind of coach who would allow a rookie free agent to render his 4th round draft pick irrelevant.  Looking back, it may have been the best decision of Payton's Saints tenure.

"Underrated." That's the first thing most fans will want you to know about Thomas.  Let them keep talking and they'll tell about his uncanny balance, or his vision, or the fact that he almost never fumbled.  Someone will talk about screen passes.  But everyone will want you to know about how underrated all of this was.

During a time when there are fewer running backs among the NFL's marquee superstars, Thomas was never a household name outside of New Orleans.  Having shared playing time with Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and the legendary Jedidiah Collins, Pierre was never even the most famous back on the Saints' roster.  But an argument can be made that (other than the quarterback, of course) he was the most important player on the team.

Just take a look at what Reid has compiled, for example. You may have instinctively understood that Pierre Thomas was "underrated."  Did you realize, though, that he was essential?
In 2009, Pierre Thomas cemented his legend as a Saint during the postseason. In the NFC Championship Game, Thomas scored on a long screen pass on the Saints' first drive to even the score at 7. Later in the game, he scored again. In overtime, in the game's most crucial moment, Sean Payton called on PT to return the kickoff. Thomas promptly returned the kick 40 yards, setting the stage for an historic overtime victory.

Not quite finished though, PT secured a critical first down on a fourth-and-1 leap to set up Garrett Hartley's game-winning field goal--a play in which a lesser guy would have fumbled, or been driven backwards, from the thunderous hit delivered by Vikings' linebacker Chad Greenway. 

Two weeks later in Super Bowl 44, Pierre Thomas scored one of the most iconic touchdowns in Saints' history on the most beautiful god damn screen pass you've ever screen. This was the finishing touch on Ambush, a sequence that catapulted the Saints to Super Bowl glory.

Lost in the shuffle is Pierre Thomas' 2011 playoff game against Detroit, one in which he quietly contributed 66 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving. Thomas' presence on the field, though, steadied a Saints' team that started slowly. His 59 first-half yards kept the Saints afloat while much of the team fumbled through a listless first half.

The next week in San Francisco, the Saints weren't so lucky. On the game's opening drive, Thomas, on the doorstep of the end zone, took a vicious hit and left the game with a concussion. The Saints then fell into a huge hole and never recovered that day, and one might argue that neither so have the Payton-era Saints.

With Pierre Thomas in the fold for that entire playoff game in San Francisco, one wonders how different Saints' history might look right now. 
That's what they call a "big game player." During the most crucial moments of the Saints' most glorious run, Pierre Thomas was the indispensable man. 

Even when it comes to our greatest heroes, we sports fans can be a critical lot.  Even the most famous contributors to this Golden Era of Saints football have drawn our ire.  Reggie Bush couldn't just put his head down and run forward. Roman Harper fell down all the time.  Mark Ingram was a general disappointment for a few years. Jeremy Shockey was a douchebag. Jimmy Graham is almost as much of one. Junior Galette thinks you are all "fake fans." Even Drew Brees is an annoying brand whore.

Nobody ever complained about Pierre Thomas for any reason unless it was to wonder why he wasn't getting the ball more.

There's a real short list of Saints, even from this era of smelling greatness, who are unconditionally loved by everybody. I tried getting people to name them on Twitter this afternoon. We came up with Steve Gleason, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colston, Scott Fujita, and Tracy Porter before we got into an area where people might dispute some names.

We all agree that Pierre Thomas is one of those guys, though.  When you lose those players, it hurts.  At least it does until they come out with their own brand of barbecue sauce two or three years later. So we've got that to look forward to, at least.

See alsoHere is a B&G Review post that went up just as I was finishing this.

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