By Mary Foster/The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — William Little, a New Orleans Saints fan for more than 20 years, sat at Walk-On’s sports bar and restaurant near the Superdome, angrily picking at his lunch Wednesday. The penalties handed down by the NFL against the Saints for placing a bounty on hard hits had cost him his appetite.
“I understand they wanted to make a point, but why didn’t they come down on the other teams that have done it?” he said. “It’s not like the Saints are the only ones. There have been teams that have admitted doing the same thing.”
The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton without pay for next season, indefinitely banned the team’s former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, suspended Mickey Loomis, the team’s general manager for eight games, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
Questions about who will run the team, conduct the draft, and even what players will take the field weighed heavily on fans’ minds.
“I will not watch the NFL for the next year,” said Brent Ardeneaux, a 30-year-fan and season ticket holder. “I will not buy any of their products or support them in any way. And I think all Saints fans should do the same. This is outrageous, way outdone.”
The subject was the No. 1 topic everywhere.
At Walk-On’s, 42 of the restaurant’s 72 televisions were tuned to coverage of the Saints. Several tables at one point broke into the “Who Dat” chant to show support.
“Looks like we are the scapegoat of the league,” said Gail Thomas. “We’ve always known the NFL doesn’t like the Saints so when they got the chance, they took it.”
After news of the Saints bounty program broke, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently — although not on the same scale as the NFL found in New Orleans.
Even the governor got in on the debate of why the Saints were the only team punished.
“Certainly as a football fan, I do hope that in addition to what they’re doing to the Saints, I do hope they hold other teams to the same accountability,” Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said “If other teams are guilty of the same behavior, I hope they’ll face the same type of scrutiny, the same type of sanctions.”
Most Saints fans believed that has not happened.
“They dropped the hammer on the Saints to make a statement,” said Mike Serio, whose restaurant draws Saints fans. “They made a statement that they aren’t going to tolerate that sort of thing. It just seems like they could have been spread it around the league a little more.”
The example was intended for more than the NFL, attorney Conrad Meyer said.
“The NFL is expected to set an example for the colleges and the high schools as well,” Meyer said as he watched the television coverage.
For Saints fans who watched the team struggle for years, supporting them even when they wore bags on their heads in shame, the scandal comes at the highest point in Saints history. Two seasons off their Super Bowl victory, fans saw the upcoming Super Bowl, which will be played in New Orleans, as the Saints’ destiny.
“Let the rest of them know, we’re still coming,” said Karen Buckles. “We don’t need Payton; all we need is Drew Brees. We are going to support Drew, our team and our city more than ever. They can hurt us, but they can’t kill us.”