Some Saints tales from the past to ease the painby J.W. Miller on 01/27/19
YES!, I’m still ticked off, and NO! I do not plan to watch the Super Bowl or any other football until training camp, and I will only watch the NFL draft because Kentucky might have its biggest draft-day haul in history. But before we leave the subject of football, some news items have popped up the past couple of weeks that reminded me of some interesting tales from the Saints past that might help ease the pain.
SAINTS PAY OKAFOR FOR MISSED INCENTIVE. The Saints paid Alex Okafor a $400,000 incentive bonus for making five sacks, although the rush lineman only recorded four sacks during the season. He fell one sack shy of the target, but the Saints paid him anyway. “The Saints have given me opportunities since I got here, and I’m just blessed and grateful that they still believe in me and are taking care of me the way they are,” Okafor said.
That brought to mind my annual post-season meetings with GM Jim Finks when we would go over the incentive list to confirm who earned bonuses and who did not. Our typical playing time incentives were $2,500 for playing 25% of the total snaps, $5,000 for playing 50% or $7,500 for playing 75%. They were not cumulative; the higher level the player earned is what he got. One player achieved 24.5% of the offensive plays, and I marked it as earned. “Wait a minute,” Finks said. “We don’t round off here. He didn’t earn it.” And that’s how QB John Fourcade missed out on a few extra bucks that season. I wonder if Okafor would send him a check?
SAINTS ANNOUNCE DEAL WITH CASINO. In December, the NFL and the Saints announced a new partnership with Caesar’s Entertainment Corporate as the first-ever official casino sponsor of the NFL. Caesars owns Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans. After Chris Hemmeter opened the first casino in New Orleans in 1993, the printing company that printed the Saints GameDay program came to us about accepting some rather lucrative ads the casino wanted to buy. I requested permission at an NFL meeting to accept such advertising, but I was rebuffed based on the NFL’s longtime aversion to any form of gambling.
The growing proliferation of casinos around the country had other clubs asking the league office the same question and some were receiving different answers. The Redskins were allowed to accept signage advertising from the Maryland Lottery. The Patriots were allowed to accept advertising from a Native American casino. But I had to tell our GameDay sales group that casino advertising was off limits to us.
Fast forward into the season, and I got a call from Jay Moyer, Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s legal counsel, who informed me the Saints were being fined for accepting casino ads in GameDay. I adamantly denied it, and Moyer asked if I had a program handy. I did, and he instructed me to look at “page 82.” I flipped to page 82 and saw a K&B drugstore ad, and I told him so. He told me I must have the wrong page or the wrong game, because his copy contained a full-page ad for the local casino.
I was flabbergasted, and I called the head of the GameDay sales group, who sheepishly confessed. The 100 GameDay magazines that were delivered to the Saints office contained the drugstore ad, but the 10,000 or so that were sold in the Superdome carried the casino ad. Needless to say, the third-party sales group paid the fine.
FANGIO IS NEW HEAD COACH OF THE BRONCOS. Vic Fangio was Jim Mora’s linebackers coach and one of my best friends when we were both with the Saints. He has made the circuit over the years for his defensive acumen and most recently served with distinction as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. Vic is a great defensive tactician, but my favorite Fangio story reflects his good nature and his calm demeanor in the face of adversity. I remember it so well because it was his cool that calmed my adversity.
We were frequent golf companions, because Vic was a good player and generous, but not intrusive, with tips that tried to improve my game. On the day in question, we were out at the original Eastover Golf Course, which was a challenging tract off Bullard avenue. It was on a par 3 hole that had a long, wrap-around sand trap guarding the right side of the green, a frequent landing spot for my shot. Sure enough, kerplunk!
I took my sand wedge and swung hard, but it dug in and moved the ball about three inches. I swung again with a similar result, although the ball did not move quite as far. My third swing was even uglier than the first two but not nearly as ugly as my mood. I turned and flipped my sand wedge in a whirlybird toward the cart. The club hit the roof standard, bent into a “V” and fell to the ground. I walked over, picked up the offending stick, snapped it in two and threw both pieces into the woods.
If Eastover was known for anything besides double- and triple-bogies, it was snakes and gators. But Vic calmly walked into the woods, retrieved the portion of club that attached to the clubface, handed it back to me and said: “You can get this re-shafted.” Feeling like the doofus I was, I apologized and have never thrown a club since. Thanks again, Vic, and good luck in Denver!