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Column: The day the Dat died in New Orleans | Reno Gazette-Journal on Astini News

NEW ORLEANS (USA TODAY) — Maybe that 2009 Super Bowl season was just too perfect, too magical, too heavenly.

Maybe, Sean Payton is Robert Johnson. His career is certainly at the Crossroads.

Did the Saints strum a deal with the devil?

It sure felt like it on Ashes Wednesday. Perhaps never has the city of New Orleans been more sober. This was like Ash Wednesday times 27, which is the number of losing seasons the Saints have had since they started playing in 1967.

March 21, 2012 — The Day The Dat Died.

Saints coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season — the draft, mini-camps, all workouts, picnics, the prom, everything. He knew about the bounties and lied about it to NFL omniscient-er Roger Goodell, who tends to put bounties on those who lie to him. Payton's sentence starts on April 1, and it's no joke. There will be no parades in New Orleans on that day.

Payton was not just the Saints coach. He, and quarterback Drew Brees, are the primary reasons the Saints won the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, 2010. He and Brees are the primary reasons the Saints are 41-13 the last three seasons and 4-2 in the playoffs — easily their best era in a bleak history.

And now he's gone until 2013. If the Saints somehow become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium on Feb. 3, 2013, against New Orleans native Peyton Manning and Denver, Payton can't coach in it. But they're not going to make it. Not without Payton — the best offensive mind going in the NFL.

Brees is great, but he needs Payton.

"We all know how much of a game day talent he is," former Saints safety Darren Sharper said.

"There goes the Super Bowl," Pat Armond, a retired nurse, said Wednesday in Alexandria. "I'm just sick about it."

Bourbon Street has been changed to Alka-Seltzer Avenue, and it smells worse than ever.

"I feel like I've been kicked in the gut," Saints punter Thomas Morstead said. See you on Alka-Seltzer.

Believe me, the Saints will not miss general manager Mickey Loomis, who was suspended for the first eight games of 2012, as much as Payton. All Loomis' suspension means is for eight weeks, Loomis can't sign or draft and overpay busts like Jonathan Sullivan, Tebucky Jones, Alex Brown, Al Woods, Olin Kreutz, Turk McBride and Shaun Rogers. Too bad Loomis can't be suspended for the draft.

Loomis has done well in spots, but Payton's eye for talent is much better and nearly as good as his coaching abilities. Loomis didn't find Marques Colston. Payton did. Loomis probably should have been let go when Jim Haslett was fired after the 2005 season. He was as much responsible for the putrid smell on the field from 2001-05 as was Haslett. And this is the second time Loomis has not adequately informed his boss, owner Tom Benson, of what was going on with his team. The Vicodin scandal of 2009-10 was another example.

They won't miss assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt either. Vitt, who was suspended for six games Wednesday, was heavily involved in passing the prescription drug Vicodin around the Saints coaching office like it was candy. Loomis, Vitt and Payton should have been reprimanded by Benson or the league for the Vicodin mess, and maybe they would have learned something.

You can call the NFL's penalties of the Saints too harsh all you want, and they were too harsh.

But know this. The NFL's investigation proved one thing very clearly. The Saints are dirty. Payton, Loomis, Benson — all three of them make up the evil trinity.

"Clearly we were lied to. It was clearly out of control," Goodell said.

"Make sure our ducks are in a row," Payton said to his assistants in an effort to keep the lie straight, according to the NFL.

Payton told Goodell he was unaware of the bounties, but the NFL located an email Payton received that detailed a bounty on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers before the 2011 opener.

Loomis let it all go, just like with the Vicodin. What else is he letting go up there on Airline Drive in Metairie, La.? Drugs and bounties, we know. What else? Strippers?

Benson may have been cleared by the NFL for not knowing, but he should have known his team was being operated like The Big Easy. He is the owner. His office is not that far from the locker room. Being out of touch and an oblivious, naked emperor should not be a defense. It was Benson's job to know what the people he hired were letting happen. And we all know how dirty Benson was in the days after Katrina when he tried to move the team.

The Saints are dirty. And who could blame a purely honest and real guy like Drew Brees (-us) for not wanting anything more to do with them?

Maybe Loomis was smart in recently putting the exclusive franchise tag on Brees, who now cannot negotiate with another team even if he wanted to do so.

Brees is all the Saints have now. And they need him more than ever. At least Katrina wasn't the Saints' fault. This is.

But how can Brees look Loomis and Payton in the eye and trust them after all this? How can he see that any contract he works out with the Saints is not a deal with the devil?

Copyright 2012 USA TODAY

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