Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Merci Beaucoup

Unlike the Dallas Cowboys, the management of The Onside Kick (moi) has an automatic renewal clause for our domain name so there was no interruption of service when the anniversary of this site passed last week.

It’s been an interesting year for the Saints- actually every year is interesting for the Black and Gold though sometimes fitting the purported Chinese connotation of the word.

And while there was no “Two Dat” the past year has not been dull.

The seemingly never-ending celebration of Saints Super Bowl championship, the opening of Champions Square outside of the Louisiana Superdome, the 2010 draft class, the mowing down of our running back committee, the emergence of undrafted rookie Chris Ivory and the ignominy of being ejected from the postseason by the NFL’s first playoff team with a losing record are some of the stories that defined the season.

And then there were Willie Roaf’s near election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the release of tight end Jeremy Shockey.

If there was such a thing as a Who Dat force, Obe Wan Kenobi would have sensed tens of thousands of female Saints fans crying out in heartbreak after that bit of news was delivered.

Hell even Super Bowl Sunday was exciting for Saints fans, though not for good reason.

The Black and Gold faithful got a lesson in geography when the posh north Texas town of Westlake splashed into the news.

With the prospect/likelihood of an NFL lockout on the horizon, Saints fans might also learn something about antitrust law and collective bargaining before the first coin is tossed midfield…whenever that may be.

For those of you who have honored me with your visitation (and return reads), please accept my most sincere thanks.

Covering the Saints as a fan-journalist is a labor of love and I’d probably do it even if nobody clicked on the site. For me, it’s part reporting, part catharsis.

I’d also like to extend special thanks to, the New Orleans Saints organization and NFL draft guru Mike Detillier for their access and cooperation.

In the case of the latter, the most knowledgeable man on college football not employed by an SEC school is one of the best individuals in sports journalism and is a total class act.

Next week I’ll post an extensive interview I conducted with Mr. Detillier. Also there are a few other new angles I intend to include in my coverage. Stay tuned.

Once again, merci beaucoup.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No Shockey: Saints Cut Starting Tight End

After the New Orleans Saints front office spent months pursuing a trade with the New York Giants in 2008 to land Jeremy Shockey and swapping 2nd and 5th round picks in the 2009 draft to finally close the deal, the organization released the emotionally charged tight end on Tuesday.

Shockey, one of the more popular players on the team though not known for being overly engaging with the fans on a one-on-one basis, had his ups and downs with the Saints.

In his first season with the Black and Gold, Shockey didn’t catch a single touchdown reception and fumbled the ball twice. However in the 2009 season, Shockey caught three touchdowns and had a touchdown reception in the Super Bowl. He also made three touchdown catches in the 2010 season.

Shockey never achieved the consistent level of production with the Saints that he enjoyed with the Giants, where in his rookie season had caught 74 passes for 894 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Shockey’s best season was in 2005 in his fourth season with the Giants, when he made 65 receptions for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns.

In comparison, Shockey’s most productive season with the Saints, during the team’s Super Bowl run, was below that of five of his six seasons with the G-men. Shockey was also hobbled with injuries throughout his three years with New Orleans.

When the Saints picked tight end and fellow “U” product Jimmy Graham in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, Shockey’s spot on the roster in the longterm became less secure.

Between his time on the bench, the large salary he would command in 2011 and Graham’s big plays as a substitute for the oft-injured tight end, many speculated that Shockey’s days in a Saints uniform were numbered shortly after the team was eliminated in the playoffs.

Even with his questionable durability, Shockey brought a level of stability to the position of tight end, which had been a revolving door of starters in recent years.

When healthy, Shockey had good hands and got the check downs the Saints offense needed to keep drives alive and their defense off the field. He represented a potent offensive weapon that kept opposing defenses guessing, which played into the hands of quarterback Drew Brees when his offensive line provided him with good protection.

Oh did I mention he added intensity to the team?

Despite his contributions to the team, Shockey simply wasn’t worth $4,000,000+ for the 2011 season. Just business, Jeremy nothing personal.

To Shockey’s credit, he had kind parting words for the Who Dats that cheered him and sported his #88 jersey, tweeting “always will remember my time in New Orleans. What a city, you all welcomed me like one of your own, and we had a great run. Onto the next chapter, the Deep Unknown.”

Shockey’s last comment is applicable to both his new free agent status and an NFL season that is up in the air.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Benson, Loomis, Payton Issue Statements on Personal Real Estate Transaction

“Sean is our head coach. Like we do with everyone in our organization, we support them when they need to make tough personal decisions. Sean is making a decision in the best interest of his family and he needs our support and he will get it. What I do know is that Sean is completely focused on bringing our team back to a championship. We continue to move in that right direction and I look forward to 2011.”

“Sean and I have discussed his decision to move his family to Dallas and like with any personal decision, it is important that he does what is best for his family. This is a personal family matter for Sean and his family and after discussing it with him, I support his decision. We spoke of numerous other coaches that have done the same thing successfully. I am confident that Sean will continue to be an excellent head coach for the Saints for many years to come and he remains steadfast to get our team back to the Super Bowl and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans.”

“When my wife and I relocated our family from Dallas, we had always dreamed of someday settling there. We feel that now is the best time to do this. It’s a decision that I’m sure many families have to confront, and I don’t know if there is any one right or wrong decision – just the best one you can make for your own family.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

From Home Team to Commuter Team: Payton Packs Up

Attention respectable sports writers: please don’t hate the blogs.


We don’t have the same professional liability as you so we’re able to cavalierly jump the gun with the only risk being that of tarnishing our clever message board screen name.

But then again, we also don’t get paid beyond GoogleAdSense banner spots and do all our travel on our dime and not a company’s.

And for the record more than a few of us who post under our legal names try to be responsible in our postings.

And as my source observed where there’s smoke there’s fire, even if the flames are not where everyone thought they were.

Here’s a rundown on how I arrived at a tidbit of news that made Black and Gold heart rates across the metro area accelerate.

Unlike other sports message boards that went running full steam on speculation, my source wasn’t part of a stampede but arrived at this destination independently.

At about 2:32 PM on not-so Super Sunday, I received an e-mail from someone dropping a nickel on the Payton family exodus to Dallas.

Now something seemingly so outrageous typically leads one to check a calendar to verify that this news was not arriving in the vicinity of April 1st before posting. However, I had no reason to question the integrity of my source, who is related to someone familiar with the Payton family’s presence in Mandeveille.

Now this being secondhand hearsay, I was hesitant to post anything about it. However, I did see that Canal Street Chronicles, one of the best Saints oriented blogs, had something on it and personally knowing my source to be a reputable individual, so I ran with it prefaced with the word RUMOR. And I have no regrets.

I felt there was something to the story even if it all didn’t make sense.

After all, why would Sean Payton abandon head coaching duties in New Orleans, where he possesses a great deal of latitude, to go to Dallas as either a head coach, unlikely since the Cowboys had just awarded in January then-interim-head coach Jason Garrett a four year contract as the permanent head coach, or as general manager, the more probable job, where owner Jerry Jones can at times resemble mad King George III in his team management?

Well it turned out Payton’s move to Dallas had nothing to do with either intensely speculated reason.

The Saints organization, which amazingly exhibited surprise by the frenzy, have only themselves to blame for not anticipating how their franticly loyal fan base would react to even a hint of Payton potentially leaving New Orleans, for either residential or professional reasons.

The Saints fans finally have winners (for the first time) on their side of the field and they’re naturally jealous of anyone who would covet the talent, players or coaches.

So what of the move?

Word that escaped Airline Drive indicates that Payton intends to keep his residence on the northshore though his primary residence will be in the exclusive Vaquero Club (home of the Jonas Brothers) and that he will fly in from north Texas when necessary.

While calming the frayed nerves of Saints fans afraid that the coach was moving on to “greener” pastures, it does raise a few questions.

Is Payton’s departure to the Cowboys in some sort of capacity now a matter of when rather than if?

And secondly, what does it say about the Payton family’s attachment to New Orleans.

And for that matter Payton’s sincerity towards the Crescent City, considering he titled his autobiography Home Team.

The first point first. I think at some juncture in his career, Payton will rejoin the organization where he served as an assistant coach prior to assuming head coach duties with the Saints. This is my personal speculation here. We’ll see in a half-decade, plus or minus a year, whether this comes to pass.

The second point perhaps stings our collective psyche the most leaving the feeling that we’re just not good enough for them.

That’s the read I’ve picked up from fans who have taken the move as a personal affront.

Now perhaps I should deliver the following words from behind the protection of a chicken-wire fence but, so what?

If the Payton family wants to retire to Dallas after he hangs up his visor and clipboard, then that’s they’re choice. New Orleans isn’t for everyone.

And does anyone REALLY consider Mandeville New Orleans?

Nothing against Mandeville but Lake Pontchartrain and the once longest bridge in the world act as much of a buffer against the city’s problems as they do its soul.

Our feelings shouldn’t be hurt nor should we take this as a slight. They tried the gumbo and it’s just not for them.

If anything, I’m thrilled Beth Payton allowed her husband to invest in our community at a time when things were at the nadir.

This wasn’t simply taking a job but relocating his young family from one of the glitziest cities in America to K-ville. Trading the swanky Neiman Marcus North Park to the recently looted Saks Fifth Avenue.

Could you imagine standing in Payton’s sneakers having to make that sale to his Indiana wife? Payton provides a glimpse of it in his book under the chapter title “Move Where?”.

Imagine the honey-dos he had to sign off on to make that happen even if the Payton family have been richly rewarded for coming to New Orleans.

So if this is indeed a case of Beth Payton wanting out, no offense taken. I totally understand even if I am more of a Lafcadio Hearn mindset.

But what about that book, might you ask. You know HOME TEAM.

Well if you read the book, you’d know that the title had as much to do with the Saints securing the number one seed to own home field advantage in the playoffs after the debacle in Soldier Field during the NFC Championship than anything else.

I think Coach Payton loves the city and its people. However it’s apparent the relocation is a family decision. Some Saints fans might not respect him as a coach and figure in the Saints for it, but I respect him as a husband and a father for making what was going to be a tough public relations move.

So long as the Lombardi Trophy stays in the 504 area code and Payton keeps chewing his Juicy Fruit while sporting a fleur-de-lis, I think fans need to respect his decision and not discuss the matter any further now that Payton is just relocating and not defecting.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rumor Alert Rebutted: Saints Claim Payton Stays

The New Orleans Saints organization has refuted the rumor that head coach Sean Payton would leave the team to take a position with the Dallas Cowboys.

WWL radio has a story on their website with comments from organization officials about the rumor that spread across the internet during the opening minutes of the Super Bowl.

The story was fueled by sources in Mandeville who allegedly know the Payton family that claimed to have heard that they were poised to move to Dallas in early March.

It should be noted that this site and the Canal Street Chronicles, another Saints oriented blog, both prefaced stories about reported Payton's departure as a rumor.

Rumor Alert: Payton to Dallas?

Word on the street is that Saints head coach Sean Payton might be leaving New Orleans for "greener" pastures.

A rumor of not significant credibility has emerged that the Payton family will be moving to Dallas in the next few weeks. Payton worked as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys before accepting his first head coaching position with the Saints.

If true, this could be the reason why defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former head coach himself, has not actively pursued head coaching opportunities with franchises with vacancies.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Putting the "Foot" in the Pro Football Hall

While tens of millions of Americans are huddled around ginormous plasma televisions on Super Bowl Sunday, I will be sitting in a mostly empty Roman Catholic Church fulfilling my weekly obligation.

The Super Bowl for this football fan isn’t very “super” if the New Orleans Saints aren’t playing. Beyond seeing the latest talent offered by the nation’s marketing minds, a Black and Goldless Super Bowl is a reenactment of the Hall of Fame game involving two teams I am indifferent towards.

The big excitement for me this weekend is when the inductees for the 2011 enshrinement class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame are announced on Saturday.

There’s no shortage of outstanding athletes being considered for gridiron immortality, though I will be rooting the most for longtime Saints tackle Willie Roaf.

Until linebacker Rickey Jackson was finally voted in last year, many Saints fans pegged Roaf to be the first “True Dat” to have his bust unveiled in Canton, Ohio. Hopefully Roaf will be the “Two Dat”.

Roaf, one of the best offensive lineman to play the game, is assured of election, either this year or in the future when there isn’t such a glut of talented players up for consideration.

However I would like to take this opportunity to beat the drum a bit for someone who isn’t a finalist for the hall but is certainly induction worthy, punter Ray Guy.

Guy was a semifinalist this year but missed out on the last cut.

Punters aren’t the stars of the game as they’re more likely to make a highlight reel by running down a punt returner than by excelling at their job.

Though punters don’t score points but they can determine an opponent’s field position through the distance, accuracy and hangtime of their kicks.

A good punter can neutralize a return threat by booting the ball out of bounds at the ideal hash mark or buy enough time for the coverage to force a fair catch.

I remember when Saints fans went apoplectic when the team drafted a punter in 2009, though that pick turned out to be a stroke of genius that paid dividends throughout the season especially in Super Bowl XLIV, though Tom Morstead’s critical play was not a punt. Still, “ambush” proved that not all big plays come in the form of immaculate receptions, broken tackle touchdown runs and pick-sixes.

Ray Guy was the first punter ever picked in the first round (23rd overall selection in the 1973 Draft). The Southern Miss product was an All-Pro for six straight seasons and played in seven Pro Bowls. The career Raider also has three more Super Bowl rings than Dan Marino.

I know, that’s not nice but then again neither is denying Guy his rightful place in the Pro Hall of Fame for all of these years.

Add to Guy’s resume the following: he never had a punt returned for a touchdown and hitting the video screen gondola that formerly hung from the center of the Louisiana Superdome during the 1976 Pro Bowl.

Guy’s feat of foot reemerged in the news last year when Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso hit the giant video screen suspended over the field during an exhibition game in new Cowboy Stadium.

Prior to the 2010 NFL season opener in New Orleans, I had the opportunity to chat with Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen. I asked him about whether he thought his fellow Raider deserved enshrinement, which Allen answered in the affirmative.

During Saints training camp I asked Morstead the same question. He also concurred.

There isn’t a single pure punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are only three placekickers.

It seems that the hall voters keep forgetting the first four letters of the game’s name, which is disrespectful to the position and the athletes who play it. One wonders if a mascot will make it into the hall before a punter does.

While punters and kickers don’t “look” like football players, they do win games.

Ray Guy deserves this long overdue honor as does the position he played better than anyone else.

So good luck Willie on Saturday and better luck for Ray in 2012.

I'll even say a prayer to Saint Jude's intercession on Super Sunday.