Update: Sean Payton is appealing his NFL penalty.
In the Saints Nation uproar since Head Coach Sean Payton was benched for a year over bounty-gate starting on April Fool's Day, one thing has been nagging at my memory. It starts with a series of citations sent by the NFL to local merchants to cease and desist in the use of the phrase Who Dat, particularly in conjunction with the fleur de lis symbol.
In January, 2010, the Saints were Super Bowl-bound and the city had never seen such an uproar over its team. In the face of the cease and desists, politicians used it as a platform in an election season and it seemed like they were weighing in more often about Who Dat and the fleur de lis than any other issue. Many Saints players went on record stating that the NFL did not own the phrase Who Dat, and Coach Payton publicly agreed.
The furor kept rising. In February, 2010, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued the statement: "Pursuant to the constitutional and statutory authority bestowed upon the Attorney General of the state of Louisiana, I have been investigating the issues raised by the National Football League's claim of potential trademark infringements against local businesses as well as concerns of our citizens regarding potential ownership claims of the NFL to the phrases 'Who Dat' or 'Who Dat Nation' and/or the fleur-de-lis symbol. This afternoon I held a conference with the NFL. The NFL has acknowledged that the correspondence sent to several Louisiana retailers is problematic."
The merchandise in question in the exclusive hands of the NFL on the Saints' Super Bowl winning season would have meant millions of dollars more in profit for the league. I am not speculating that the NFL is suspending a coach without pay for a year in direct retribution for standing against the league. And as far as the bounty system, pointing out that others purportedly do it too has never been an adequate excuse for anything.
But in a season where the Super Bowl culminates in New Orleans, it's impossible to explain how personal it feels as a Saints fan not to have your coach. Potential player punishments are hanging in the air, politicians are weighing in, and fans are walking around in a state of suspended animation. The citizens of New Orleans have felt powerless far too often to take it sitting down. There have been rallies, and there will be more. This city has mobilized behind the Saints in far better circumstances, and it is here for them now.
Whatever the bounty scandal outcome, the Superdome will host another unforgettable Super Bowl next year. No one throws a party like New Orleans. As the NFL team owners meet, with Payton in attendance and final Saints punishments yet to be meted out, it would go a long way toward healing our annus horribilis if the league realized that for us, losing Sean Payton was enough.
And in this case, enough was too much.