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pakowitz 05-05-2003 10:26 AM

High hopes start now in the world of Saints fans

Nick Deriso / Sports Editor
Posted on May 5, 2003
Hope, Alexander Pope long ago wrote, springs eternal.

For football fans, that's never more true than this time of year.

The players are saying all the right things. Even the coaches are loose and talkative.

"In high school," New Orleans coach Jim Haslett confided about new backup quarterback Todd Bouman, "he was a United States slam dunk champion."

Bouman was just one of the offseason acquisitions the Saints were getting a first look at this weekend, as the team held an upbeat and energetic minicamp at its new practice facility in Metairie.

There's not much to dislike about these first flowering moments of a new NFL season.

Every team is tied. (Well, except Arizona, which is already mathematically eliminated from the postseason.)

Every bad end has been temporarily absolved by new faces and new dreams.

Every hit just feels like a thunderclap of hope.

Many of those hits came from former Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, chosen No. 6 overall. "He's a beast," marvelled defensive end Charles Grant, a college teammate.

Haslett recalled how, when reviewing tape of Sullivan in a Georgia game against Tennessee, he saw the lineman having words with an opposing player.

Sullivan was next seen repeatedly stepping on the Volunteer's head - something sure to bring back halcyon memories for Haslett ... only its his own foot and poor Terry Bradshaw's noggin.

Hope, then, smashes and grinds and smacks ... eternal. (All apologies to the late Mr. Pope.)

Seventh-rounder Talman Gardner, a native of New Orleans, appeared a little shaky - perhaps spooked about lining up next to the hometown heroes.

"I was too antsy about it," Gardner said. "I just need to relax and it will come around for me."

The rookie class also includes a couple of in-state undrafted players: Defensive tackle Kendrick Allen of LSU and cornerback Lynaris Elpheage of Tulane.

In all, there were 10 guys who didn't get drafted participating - 10 guys who still believe, even after seven complete rounds of people moved ahead of them into the league.

Hope, it must be said, can linger ... eternal.

There are guys just getting started, and guys starting all over again.

We had Bouman flinging - I mean flinging - it all weekend.

Ask Saints receiver Donte Stallworth - who, after trying to bring down a few of these ground-to-ground missiles - displayed a pair of gloves that were battered and torn.

"These," he said, "were new when I took the field this morning."

Hope, then, screams in a tight spiral across the Louisiana sky ... eternal.

Free-agent safety Tebucky Jones - a Connecticut native who has played since college at New England - isn't dressing in layers anymore.

"I love it down here," he said, when asked about the heat. Jones did allow as how getting acclimated will be a process: "It'll take a week for me to get my wind up and get used to the humidity."

So, yes, the signs of spring's annual rebirth are everywhere.

Azaleas have become a riot of pink and white.

You wear a coat in the morning, with short sleeves underneath for the afternoon.

Joe Horn is holding out.

Might be for the best, while Jones is feeling so frisky.

"Any receiver that comes across the middle, I'm going to hit him in the mouth," said Jones, who appeared wearing running back Ricky Williams' old No. 34.

Even so, his interviews, I'm happy to note, were not conducted wearing a helmet visor.

Old Alexander Pope was certainly on to something.

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