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SBD/March 7, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
Saints GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton yesterday in a statement apologized to Owner Tom Benson "for their part in the bounty scandal that has roiled the franchise, and the pair also vowed nothing similar will unfold again in New Orleans under their watch," according to James Varney of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Neither Loomis nor Payton "have spoken publicly about the matter, which engulfed the Saints last Friday." Yesterday's statement "did not directly address the NFL's accusations." The statement began, "We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility. This has brought undue hardship on Mr. Benson, who had nothing to do with this activity. He has been nothing but supportive, and for that we both apologize to him." Sources said that Benson's confidence in Loomis and Payton "has not diminished." Both Loomis and Payton reportedly "were at work Tuesday, supremely unruffled" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/7). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said of the apologies, “This is the minimum they owe, but just because you apologize for something, it may lessen the punishment a little bit but there still ought to be big punishment coming” ("PTI," ESPN, 3/6). Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio: “The phrase, ‘This will never happen again,’ is probably the understatement of the century. This better never happen again” ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 3/6).
A LITTLE BACKGROUND: SI's Peter King in a cover story notes the NFL's investigation into the scandal "was dry-docked" following the '10 NFC title game in which the Saints allegedly "put a bounty" on then-Vikings QB Brett Favre. But during the latter part of the '11 season, the league said that it "received 'significant and credible new information' that the bounty program did exist in 2009 and continued through '11." Before the Saints' Jan. '12 playoff game against the Lions, the league "informed Benson of the renewed investigation." At that point Benson "allowed NFL officials and outside forensic experts to gather evidence, including copious club e-mails, related to the bounty program." Benson also told the league that he would "contact Loomis to make sure the program wasn't in place." One of the documents examined by the NFL was an "e-mail from a former team consultant, Mike Ornstein, to Payton, allegedly pledging $5,000 toward a bounty on an opposing quarterback." A source said that Ornstein -- "at one time a close confidant of Payton's who in October 2010 would plead guilty to federal fraud and money-laundering charges in connection with the scalping of Super Bowl tickets and the sale of bogus game-worn NFL jerseys -- claimed he was kidding about the pledge, but the league took it seriously." Confronted with the note from Ornstein, Payton "expressed surprise and said he hadn't read the e-mail." King notes the inclusion of then-Saints LB Scott Fujita's "name in the investigation is noteworthy." During last summer's CBA negotiations, Fujita and former NFLer Sean Morey "pushed hard for improvements in working conditions, including fewer full-contact practices during the season." Fujita said, "You don't spend time with guys like Sean Morey and other former players, or have close friends whose health fails them, possibly because of this game, and not be affected by that. I wanted to be part of the paradigm shift." King notes it is likely NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "will come down hardest on Williams, Payton, Loomis and [Saints LB Jonathan] Vilma, in that order," while Benson "appears to be in the clear" (SI, 3/12 issue).
A SCARLET LETTER: SI.com's Don Banks noted the NFLPA "has been mostly quiet so far in the early days of the Saints saga." When the union "does weigh in, it's expected that it'll line up in defense of the players on all fronts, both those who were targeted by bounties and those who did the targeting." The NFLPA will "no doubt also welcome any measures taken by the NFL to eliminate such practices from the game, thereby making it safer." The Saints "will proceed into the offseason with a cloud that looms over their 2012 season." The Saints have a "bit of a stage this coming NFL season." They will play the Cardinals in the Aug. 5 HOF Game in Canton, and will "play host to the NFL's final game of the season, too: Super Bowl XLVII in the renovated Superdome on Feb. 3, 2013." Those will be "spotlight opportunities for the Saints, and it's hard to imagine their season won't be continually cast amidst the backdrop of the bounty pool scandal" (SI.com, 3/6). SI.com's King wrote there is "going to be a scarlet letter on the franchise over this issue" (SI.com, 3/6).
ANOTHER HEADACHE: USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes legal opinions "are split on whether a player who was the target of a bounty might have grounds for a suit." But bounties "might come into play on another legal front: the barrage of concussion-related lawsuits filed against the NFL by former players" (USA TODAY, 3/7). NYU sports law professor Robert Boland said that the NFL "faced another challenge -- to its public perception." He said, "The worst image the NFL could have is that the sport ... gets minimized because of the danger. It becomes gladiatorial to the degree that boxing has now suffered. It's not that boxing is without fans, but boxing certainly has become marginalized because of the violence" (USA TODAY, 3/7).
There was a "chaotic scene outside Angel Stadium on Tuesday as fans who had purchased prepaid discounted ticket voucher plans lined up for as many as eight hours on the first day they could redeem vouchers for tickets and couldn't get to the front of the line," according to Diane Pucin of the L.A. TIMES. One fan "had been standing around for 5 1/2 hours and had nothing to show except a wristband and some vague warnings that she might need to come back Wednesday." The Angels sent a letter to voucher holders last Monday encouraging fans to "redeem your vouchers early once your opportunity begins March 6." Angels VP/Marketing & Ticket Sales Robert Alvarado said that the letter "had been sent out partly in response to situations last year where voucher holders showed up on particular game days only to be turned away because voucher allotments were gone." Alvarado said, "Our intent was to be proactive. Last year we undercommunicated availability for voucher allocation." He said that the letter was "sent to about 7,000 voucher holders." He added, "About 1,000 showed up today." The process of picking out "games and seats was sometimes lengthy." Alvarado: "It's unfortunate that some transactions took a while. ... We had as many as seven windows open today so we anticipated some of this." He said that opening more windows "was not just a matter of calling in extra staff when lines started to form." Alvarado: "A lot of our ticket sellers aren't full-time employees. They have other jobs and are usually available to us on Saturdays or in the evenings. So it's not just a matter of calling them up and bringing them in." He also said that yesterday's wristbands "would be honored Wednesday." But he added, "You might spend most of the day in line again" (L.A. TIMES, 3/7).
EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS: In California, Bill Plunkett noted fans "were in line before the ticket windows even opened Tuesday and the rush overwhelmed the staff at times, leaving some fans unhappy -- and empty-handed." Angels VP/Communications Tim Mead said, "There was an anticipation that there would be additional traffic at the stadium. But to that level? No.” Mead added that adjustments "are being worked out to accommodate as many people as possible in future days." Angels officials said that approximately "50,000 vouchers were sold since they became available in December" (OCREGISTER.com, 3/6).
Stars LW Steve Ott in the past has said that the team "was ecstatic to be purchased" by Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi in November, and after spending an evening at the Gaglardi house Monday, Ott said that the "feeling was even stronger," according to Mike Heika of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Ott said a new owner matters to players, "Because I’ve seen the success of this franchise, and I’ve seen it when it was one of the best franchises in the NHL. I saw this building with six years of sellouts and payroll commitments and emotional commitments. And let’s be honest, it hasn’t been that way the last couple of years. Now, to see an owner who wants to win, who cares, who holds us to a standard, that’s fantastic. I don’t want to disappoint that guy, because I know how much it means to him." Gaglardi had a "little gathering where he had a few of his newest friends over to meet his wife and three boys." But Heika writes it was "so much more than that," it was a "message to the players that somebody has their back, that somebody cares about them, that this is more than just a business." Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said, "It shows the players, it shows the coaches, it shows the fans that there is a real guy there that really cares about what’s going on. ... I have been a part of organizations where the owners are right out front, and you’re part of their family. And the more you get to know them and the more you see how much they care, it makes you want to play for them that much more." Gaglardi: "Honestly, I was just excited to have them here and have some fun. It’s exciting for my kids, exciting for my family. It just makes it more real for them." Nieuwendyk added, "What Tom has shown us since he bought the team and what was driven home (Monday) was that he’s a guy who cares about the team and cares about winning. I think there’s a lot of value in that" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/7).