The Saints have “furiously denied" an ESPN report that GM Mickey Loomis listened in on opposing coaches' communications during games from his Superdome suite between ’02-04, but the claim has caused the team to suffer "another public relations black eye," according to a front-page piece by James Varney of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Superdome execs said that the news “came as a complete surprise to them.” SMG Senior VP/Stadiums & Arenas Doug Thornton, whose company runs the stadium for the state, declined comment "on the technical aspects of the matter.” Thornton said that SMG “is not privy to whatever sources ESPN used and the company began its own investigation into the matter Monday.” Varney notes before yesterday's report, it appeared the "next major bruise to the Saints' public image would come" when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hands out "punishment to the between 22 and 27 defenders the NFL says were ‘willing and enthusiastic participants’ in the under-the-table bounties that the league said were paid for plays that deliberately hurt opponents” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24). In New Orleans, John DeShazier writes the allegation “couldn't possibly have surfaced at a worse time.” If it is true that Loomis used rewired phone lines in his Superdome suite, then it would “cement a growing belief outside New Orleans that the Saints have operated well outside the fringe of sportsmanship and decency.” If the charge is not true, and Loomis “vehemently denies that it is, it still will have an effect,” as it will “cause the franchise to waste more of its precious time combating this allegation at the same time it already is attempting to navigate a sea of misery.” Regardless of whether it is true or false, “gasoline has been sprayed on the white-hot flames that have flicked at the team's derriere almost all offseason.” This is “a major distraction for the franchise, in addition to the other major distractions that have occurred in the last two months.” It is a “charge that must be addressed and, as a result, one that subtracts preparation time from other important matters” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24).
THE BAD NEWS KEEPS ON COMING: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the Saints were "everybody’s second-favorite team post-Katrina," but if the allegations regarding Loomis are true, the team has "lost the moral high ground." Kornheiser: "They become -- again, if this is true -- a corrupt franchise” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/23). ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley said, "When it rains it pours and it’s certainly falling down on the Saints” (“SportsCenter Special: On the Clock,” ESPN, 4/23). ESPN’s Hugh Douglas said, “This team right now is snakebit. This is another black eye on the NFL.” ESPN's Colin Cowherd: "This is 100 times worse than Spygate. This is a cultural issue” (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 4/23). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said if the allegations are true, it is the "end of the career” for Loomis and it is “another major smear on a proud franchise” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/23).
PROFESSING HIS LOYALTY: In New Orleans, Mike Triplett writes Saints Owner Tom Benson’s loyalty to Loomis “by all accounts ... is as strong as it has ever been.” A source said that Benson was “so adamant to defend Loomis and his organization Monday that he instructed a team of attorneys to pursue a lawsuit against ESPN.” In the wake of the bounty investigation, another scandal “would decimate Loomis' job security,” and losing Loomis “would devastate the Saints.” Triplett: “As one of the most hands-off owners in the league when it comes to daily football operations, Benson has given Loomis about as much leeway as any executive in the NFL” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24).