January 20, 2007
by Ric Sweeney
Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice long ago lost his ability (desire?) to inform; his last remaining bullet is provocation – cheap, self-serving provocation. I know, I know: He’s a columnist, his job is to stoke our ire and generate interest in his publication. But he’s also bound by a code that requires responsibility and accuracy and he seems not the least bit interested with either of late.
Case in point, his most recent Texan fan-baiting screed, Saints Show City a Revival is Achievable. While it may initially appear that Justice is shedding a light on the New Orleans Saints and their remarkable season, make no mistake about it: His real focus is the Texans though he never actually mentions them by name.
By lauding the Saints and what they’ve accomplished this year, Justice is really just sticking it to the Texans and all that they didn’t accomplish this year. And while it’s overtly obvious the two worst teams in football last year (by virtue of record) have taken wildly divergent paths in 2006, using the Saints as a standard to measure the Texans is nothing more than a cheap shot that does a disservice to both the team and its fans.
Not that Justice has any obligation to blow sunshine through our anal cavities on behalf of the Texans; he most certainly does not. But he does have an obligation to not be lazy; to not wallow with the lowest common denominator; and above all, to maintain his and by extension our integrity.
Granted, the Saints were indeed 3-13 last year; and yes, they did pick directly behind the Texans in last April’s draft. And in Justice’s world, it’s enough ammo to load his flaccid gun and fire a few rounds at the Texans. Hey, Justice screams between the lines with all the subtly of Nancy Grace on a four-day coke binge, how did that 3-13 team get to the precipice of a Super Bowl in one year while our 2-14 team is stuck celebrating six wins? He wants to be the fuel for your anger. Maybe you’ll mention his column on a message board, give the writer his props. Unfortunately, pesky little things like perspective and facts eviscerate Justice’s piece to its core and exposes its weak foundation.
The Saints’ turnaround is a great story and because of that, it has been allowed to exist in a world where black is black, white is white, and going from 3 to 10 wins in a single year is nothing short of a miracle. And in the context of serving up New Orleans as a feel-good story in the aftermath of Katrina, I don’t necessarily have a problem with it. But when you then use it to drive a dagger though the Texans, as Justice has, it merits being exposed as a giant fallacy.
Consider that, prior to that small thunderstorm you may have heard about blowing through their hometown, the Saints’ aggregate record in the five years prior to their flood-soaked 2005 campaign was 42-38 with a playoff victory. Justice doesn’t mention this at all. But given that info, isn’t it more likely, considering not just the extent of Katrina’s damages, but also the lasting ramifications, that Mother Nature and not Jim Haslett, grounded last year’s Saints? Remember, in addition to having their minds on their families and friends back home, the team also had to play – depending on your level of cynicism – anywhere from 9 to 16 road games last season, the most-ever by an NFL team. Did that merit a mention in Justice’s column? Of course not. Nor did the fact that Deuce McAllister, a three-time Pro Bowler, missed 11 games after blowing out his knee.
It’s interesting to note, in the four games in which McAllister was healthy, the team was 2-2; they lost the game in which he was injured and then proceeded to go 1-9 in his absence. Worth pointing out? Not when Richard Justice has dreams of a Pulitzer Prize dancing in his pointed head.
And while Justice is quick to point out the 27 new players on the Saints’ roster (“It was as if the Saints left town as one organization and returned as another.”), it, too, is devoid of any context. Because among the players that WEREN’T new are two Pro Bowlers this year (Jamal Brown and Will Smith), former Pro Bowlers McAllister, Joe Horn and John Carney, plus current starters Mike Karney, Jamar Newsbit, Jon Stinchcomb, Charles Grant, Bryan Young, Mike McKenzie, Fred Thomas, Josh Bullocks and return man Michael Lewis. So when you mention 27 new players, isn’t it relevant that the majority of them are back-ups?
Justice, of course, mentions Reggie Bush. Glowingly.
“They got lucky in the draft, too. Another team’s mistake allowed them to take a player they never expected to get. He has become part of what makes them special.”
Hmmm… I wish I could crack that code…
“Reggie Bush, the rookie the Saints never thought they’d get, combined with Deuce McAllister to form the NFL’s best running back combination.”
Never mind the Saints actually ranked 18th in rushing this year. But more egregious than lobbing reacharounds at Bush is that Justice doesn’t mention the two Saint rookies that really made a difference this year: Marques Colston and Jahri Evans, who started every game at right guard. Then again, the Texans didn’t memorably pass on them at the top of last year’s draft, did they?
It all fits neatly into Justice’s giant F and U to the Texans. The piece couldn’t care less about the Saints; it was designed to rile up fans who, frankly, are just as lazy and irresponsible as Justice.
And so the Texans, whose current regime will be paying for past sins for years, now have even more crap dumped on them, all because we’ve entered a new dawn of fandom that demands instant gratification with a media champing at the bit to play the role of enabler. Holding the Saints up as a measuring stick is an easy lay-up for fans who want only to flood talk shows and message boards with vitriolic hyperbole.
Doing so, unfortunately, dilutes what a fine season the Texans actually had. They weren’t fortunate enough to have a Pro Bowl running back stashed on injured reserve and they didn’t bring in a wounded gunner who turned out to be a savior. But they did get better, little by little. They improved across the board; found playmakers; discovered complementary parts and did more to undo the damage of the previous regime than should have ever been possible in a single offseason. Yeah, sure, the Saints were sunk by Katrina; I promise you, Charlie Casserly did more damage than a hurricane ever could.
But even while the Texans were slowly starting to turn a corner, the Chronicle continued to play instigator all season. Rather than rise above the fray it joined it, rolling around in the slop while feeding the beast. The next issue of the paper that doesn’t mention Vince Young will be the first. Can we not move on? It’s staggeringly disappointing that the only paper in town has such a low standard. It has the power to lead a revolution; to challenge its writers to raise the level of discourse and be a voice of reason. But I guess that doesn’t sell enough papers. What a pity.
There are a lot of reasons to be upset, disenfranchised and tired of the Texans. But not being the Saints isn’t one of them. Nor should reading the local paper.
Ric Sweeney is proud he made it through the entire piece without once resorting to a “Dick Justice” reference… which, now that he thinks about it, is kind of disappointing.
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