It can be hard to find something positive in the way the New Orleans Saints started the 2012 season. It feels like a hangover from cheap liquor. The offseason was ugly, with suspensions, continuing drama about those suspensions — and a tough-to-stomach appearance of a team that wears the same Black and Gold colors as our beloved Saints, but doesn't seem to be the team from whom we've come to expect beautiful victories.
The week following the Saints' 35-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers Sept. 16, something struck me that not only is a positive, but should give Saints fans a reason to love their team more. Our players have class.
Entering the Kansas City Chiefs game Sept. 23, the Saints defense was ranked dead last. The offense looked like a shell of itself during the first pair of games. Yet the team kept it together.
Compare that with former NBA player Latrell Sprewell, who told the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn., in 2004 that he didn't know why he should care about a team that wouldn't give him a contract extension (he was making $14.6 million per season with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time). "Why would I want to help them win a title?" he asked. "They're not doing anything for me. I've got a lot at risk here. I've got my family to feed."
A yearly ritual in New York when the Giants lose a few games is for someone on the New York team to mouth off to a reporter, blaming the losses on a lack of leadership from the head coach, quarterback or someone. Some players even say the losses pile up because the coach doesn't use those individuals enough. The system, the field, the organization — name it and it's been used as an excuse. Yet I challenge you to find a single story, tweet or blog post expressing those sentiments by a member of the New Orleans Saints.
No one from the Black and Gold is finger-pointing or throwing people under the bus in the media. For crying out loud, the team put up small, round mirrors in each of the players' lockers as a symbolic message for players to look within themselves for ways to make the team better.
The Monday after the loss in Carolina, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo requested reporters meet with him to discuss the Saints defense. He could have waited until his customary Friday slot, but he didn't, choosing instead to face the music.
Quarterback Drew Brees (above) could be a life coach with the amount of positive messages he voices in his interviews. That's part of the plan. The Saints have painstakingly searched for and recruited talented players who also have character. For example, after losing to Carolina, wide receiver Lance Moore tweeted: "At the bottom right now. We must get back up. Starting w myself. I have to be better. I will be better. Stay together who dat nation."
Wins and losses are what matter at the end of the day, but isn't it nice that the home team isn't a reality show gone bad?
Leading into the Kansas City game, players made no excuses about the struggles of the early season. More important, they said they were leaning on one another in an effort to find solutions. One can't help but feel the team's performance actually matters to them.
I believe a person's true colors come out during the most difficult times. Right now I see a team facing adversity, but rather than walking away, it stands and faces the challenge. It's something to be proud of in this day and age of professional athletics.