THE FOOTBALL TEAM
If the New Orleans Saints' season could be summed up in one off-color anecdote, it would have to be this: On a clear Saturday afternoon before the Saints' Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers, owner Tom Benson brought in a mini-fleet of cars from one of his dealerships, something he does every year in hopes of making a sale or two. Apparently, though, it's not a sales pitch his players are too fond of, as one or more of them ended up defecating on one of those shiny, new cars. Not surprisingly, no player ever came forward to admit pulling off the act, though that didn't stop fans and media from making obligatory "Deuce" jokes. It was the ultimate excremation point on the season.
How better to symbolize the Saints since they made their miracle run in 2006? The last two offseasons resulted in a lot of fancy new free agent acquisitions — Jeremy Shockey, Jonathan Vilma, Jason David and Randall Gay just to name a few — and bloated expectations for how good the Saints would be. Yet both seasons were derailed by injuries to key players that made guys like Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister as useful as a Bensonmobile missing that new-car scent.
Say what you will about the Saints: They never used the nearly two dozen injured players as an excuse, and kept fighting throughout the season. Though the team was counted out by fans and media starting with the Week 7 blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers, the otherworldly play of Drew Brees kept the Saints in the playoff picture until they were finally eliminated with two weeks left.
Yes, the Saints were a rollercoaster all season, never managing more than a two-game winning streak. But as much as Black and Gold fans would like to forget all the injuries and all the losses and all that coulda, shoulda, woulda been, the 2008 season is just another letdown Saints fans can add to a long list of memorable disappointments.
Is there a Creole phrase that means "Wait 'til next year"?
THE BASKETBALL TEAM
It seems like a lifetime ago, but the Hornets began the calendar year flying under the radar. Attendance figures were low despite the team's winning record, and there was a lot of talk as to whether New Orleans could support a National Basketball Association franchise.
Then New Orleans got a chance to host the NBA All-Star game. After a weeklong celebration that featured an outstanding slam-dunk competition and, more importantly, little to no reports of violence or failing infrastructure, the people of New Orleans began to take notice of their team, and the good times began to roll.
Much of the love affair between the Hornets and the Crescent City has to be credited to superstar point guard Chris Paul, who seems to be everything this recovering city could want in a professional athlete: charitable, marketable and downright deadly on the court. Paul has grown into the bona fide b-ball superstar this city has always wanted.
Beyond the pageantry, though, the Hornets have started to show signs of becoming the anti-Saints. After starting the season with a disappointing 5-5 record (despite the acquisition of two-time NBA champion James Posey), there were grumblings of whether or not this team was a true contender. Since then, the Hornets have lost two games since Nov. 19 (as of this writing) and show no signs of slowing down.
After the Hornets' stirring 90-83 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 17th, head coach Byron Scott was asked if that was his team's best win of the season.
Our best win? Probably so," Scott responded. "To be down nine in the fourth quarter and still come back and win — yeah, I would say it's probably the biggest win of the season for us."
It was at least the fifth time since their sluggish start that Scott has been asked the question and has given a similar answer. Chances are it won't be the last.
THE JAYVEE FOOTBALL TEAM (R.I.P.)
If anyone had known that the New Orleans VooDoo shutting down operations was just a precursor to the Arena Football League canceling the entire 2009 season, the news might not have come as a shock.
Of course, that's not exactly how it played out.
Instead, the announcement came as a total surprise and was delivered in the form of a four-paragraph statement on the team's Web site. Up to that point, the VooDoo had been conducting business as usual, even hiring a new defensive coordinator, and with the team regularly leading the league in attendance, there were no signs of financial trouble for the squad.
Yet the people who might have been the most surprised by the news were the VooDoo players themselves. Defensive end Henry Bryant, whom Gambit Weekly featured for his off-field work in documentary filmmaking, said that if it wasn't for head coach Mike Neu, the VooDoo front office seemed content with players finding out the news on their own.
"They wanted us to find out through the media," Bryant said. "To me, that's unprofessional. I really respect Coach Neu for being a man and telling us all individually."
Bryant then brought up a point that hasn't been discussed much: what the impact of a team shutting down is on its players.
"I feel bad for some of the guys on my team," he said. "Some of them don't have degrees; some have kids and family, and they don't know anything but football."
For his part, Bryant is staying active with his film work and is actually drifting from professional football. He's currently promoting his documentary on children dealing with drug-addicted parents and is talking to kids about the dangers of drugs and HIV/AIDS. While many of his former teammates are holding out hope to land a spot on an NFL or Canadian Football League team, Bryant is getting ready to showcase his film at the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame on Feb. 24, 2009, and hopes to pick up distribution.
In the end, the VooDoo's sudden demise was a reality check for the people of New Orleans for whom the team seemed a success story in the city's recovery effort. But, as Henry Bryant proves, life goes on with or without football.
THE BASEBALL TEAM
As always is the case with minor league baseball teams, the biggest news isn't always the team's win-loss record, but which players get called up to the majors. This season was no different for the Zephyrs, with one caveat — it was the manager that got the call.
In the wake of the New York Mets firing manager Willie Randolph in the middle of the season, then-Zephyrs manager Ken Oberkfell and pitching coach Dan Warthen were promoted to the Mets organization. It's bittersweet news for the Zephyrs, as they are now the Triple-A affiliate of the Mets' division rival, the Florida Marlins.
But with all the changes that occur within a minor league team every season, the biggest one happened on the field. Or, rather, it was the field itself. The Zephyrs installed a brand-new $1.2 million field with the latest in drainage technology. It turned out to be money well spent, as the team had only two games postponed by rain and just three canceled due to Hurricane Gustav. Praise also to head groundskeeper Thomas Marks who, in his 10th season with the club, has been a constant, hardworking presence at the Shrine on Airline. No wonder he has his own bobblehead.
OUR COLLEGE TEAM
It's amazing how quickly fortunes can turn for a major college football program. Just a season after dominating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship, the Louisiana State University football team struggled and fell to a 7-5 record. What's worse, they'll be playing Georgia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve — as underdogs.
How far the mighty have fallen. Miles, one might say.
But such is the way of SEC football. It was just last year that the University of Alabama made an appearance in the Independence Bowl and just four years ago that the University of Auburn went undefeated and Tommy Tuberville seemed to have permanent job security. Now, Alabama is playing in the Sugar Bowl and Tuberville is out of a job.
With the team's five losses being the most the Tigers have suffered in six years, this can definitely be classified as a "rebuilding year" — though, oddly, it's tempting not to find fault with the players and coaches. After all, LSU was a good bet to finish the year in another BCS Bowl with much of its team intact from last season — that is, until would-be quarterback Ryan Perriloux was dismissed from the team before the start of the season after a string of infractions and second and third chances. Perilloux's absence left LSU without a single upperclassman at the quarterback position.
There is good news for Les Miles and company, though. The last time the Tigers lost five games in a season, they bounced back to become national champions the following year. The only question that remains: Who's going to be Tiger bait next season?