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Payton’s Ego and ex-Hawks at Center of Saints’ Sins

New Orleans has always been known as a shady city. Maybe it just rubbed off on Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt.

How else do you explain the fact that they are now embroiled in their second ethics scandal in two years?

The stunning punishments for the bounty system led by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams come two years after Payton, Loomis and Vitt were at the center of a painkiller controversy involving Payton and Vitt. A former team security guard sued over his termination, claiming Loomis told him to destroy evidence of Payton taking pills and Vitt stealing them from the team training room. The lawsuit ended up in arbitration, where it faded from the public consciousness.

They all evaded legal and league punishment in that case. But Payton, Loomis and Vitt weren’t so lucky this time, as the bounty fiasco has landed them all major suspensions — a full year (and $7.5 million salary) for Payton, eight games for Loomis and six games for Vitt, in addition to Williams’ indefinite ban.

The penalties wouldn’t have been nearly as severe if the good ol’ boys hadn’t lied to Commissioner Roger Goodell about it — and let Williams continue to do it for another season.
Payton was banned for a year because he was arrogant. It’s that simple. He’s an egomaniac who thinks he can do anything he wants. It’s not surprising. He learned under one of the NFL’s most notable power mongers: Bill Parcells.  And then Payton became the figurative savior of New Orleans by delivering the city’s first Super Bowl title. He had become the King of Saints. He had the ego to match. And now it has been burst.

Whether you agree with Goodell or not, that is why he punished Payton as he did. Because he was an arrogant liar.

While some will argue this taints the Super Bowl win over the Colts in January 2010, we’ll say this: Drew Brees does not play defense.

And we’ll argue that, while the bounty system was very unsportsmanlike, it could hardly affect the game to the degree some think it could. Yeah, Brett Favre took some hard hits in the NFC title game leading to that Super Bowl. But the refs basically let the Saints beat on him, failing to throw flags several times when they probably should have.

The Saints won the Super Bowl fair and square on the field, so anyone saying the bounties taint it is confusing that emotionally driven opinion with the fact that the Saints have merely tainted their reputation. A win is a win. You can’t take it away from someone. You can only think less of them for achieving it.

Meanwhile, it’s somewhat ironic that Loomis gets suspended for supporting a pay-for-play system, yet he is holding out on paying Brees $20 million a year.
It’s also funny considering he used to act like Scrooge when he was the pay master for the Seahawks in the late 1980s.

As former linebacker Dave Wyman told it in our book, “Then Zorn Said to Largent,” they didn’t have direct deposit back then, so players would have to go collect their checks directly from Loomis.
“Mickey became the guy everybody didn’t like because of that. As guys would trudge upstairs to get paid, with slings around shoulders or braces on knees or wraps around badly sprained ankles, we would just think, ‘What? We have to go up there and prove to a bean counter that we deserve to be paid? You think we didn’t earn this check?’

“Mickey acted like the money was his. In 1988, when we went to the playoffs, I got a lot of bonuses — about 30 percent more than my base salary. I was proud of reaching those incentives because they were based on individual and team performance. But Mickey looked at the check and said, ‘Geez, all this money we’re paying you, we might as well have Fredd Young back here.’ And I said, ‘Mickey, just hand over the check. Why you gotta beat me up for it?’ ”

Funny to think Loomis is now in trouble because he was sanctioning a program in which his players were paid for beating others up.

It’s also no surprise that Vitt was complicit in this scandal. By all accounts, Vitt is a likable guy with a great sense of humor who has always been a passionate, loyal (some might say kiss-ass) assistant.
As Paul Moyer said in our book, when Vitt was an assistant in Seattle in the 1980s, “They called Joe Vitt ‘Leash’ because he talked really tough like he was going to stand up to Chuck, but when the leash was let loose and he had his chance, he never did. Basically Joe was Chuck Knox’s boy.”

“Chuck: ‘I need a ride to the airport.’ Joe: ‘OK, coach.’

“Chuck: ‘I need to be picked up.’ Joe: ‘OK, coach.’

“Chuck: ‘I need you to take this report downstairs for me. I need you to get some film for me.’ Joe: OK.’

One day, Vitt told fellow assistants, “I’m so tired of this crap. If Chuck comes in and asks me to do one more thing, I’m not doing it.”

When Knox arrived, he said, “Joe, I need you to run down and take care of this …”

And Vitt replied with his usual eager, “OK, coach,” and ran and did it. That’s when Rusty Tillman started calling him Leash.

And, perhaps because of that kind of loyalty, he’ll be on a 10-game leash with the NFL next season.
A bunch of current and former Saints also figure to be playing a shorter season this year. That might explain why the Seahawks have been cool on a couple of their own free-agent defensive linemen.
Anthony Hargrove played pretty well as a reserve for Seattle last season, but he played for the Saints under Williams in 2009 and 2010 and could be one of the reported 22-27 players the NFL is targeting for suspension. Same with Jimmy Wilkerson. Even though Pete Carroll said he would like to have Wilkerson back after the lineman sat out last season with a knee injury, Wilkerson played for the Saints in 2010 and could be facing some time off, too.

Any Saints defenders — past and present — are fair game, and that explains why the Saints are trying to add defenders like Seattle linebacker David Hawthorne.

You have to feel sorry for Brees, who has been the best quarterback in the NFL over the last six years and has been such an uplifting presence in rebuilding New Orleans. He is in the tough position of needing/wanting to support his coach and teammates after they engaged in a fairly despicable practice. Brees had to have heard about it, and he would have been better served to trash his half-hearted denial before he made us know of its “real existence.” He’s one of the great players and people in the NFL, but some will consider him guilty by association. Too bad.

Good thing he’s in New Orleans, which has always been known as a shady city anyway.

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