Blog and Tackle
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May 16, 2005 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ 4:28 pm
Today was the first real day of offseason practice for the Saints (at least on the field, with the start of Coaching Session workouts). It's so early in the year that rookies haven't yet learned their "responsibilities" of fetching breakfast and carrying shoulder pads off the field for their veteran counterparts. The heat index hasn't topped 100 degrees (let alone 120) yet. The public hasn't even had its first chance to scrutinize the black and gold at a public minicamp.
Yes it's only mid-May -- I understand our opener vs. Carolina is still 118 days away -- but I'm already amped up for football.
Why the "gridiron glow" when baseball season is hardly a month old? Perhaps if you had been on the barnstorming tour I was on last week -- a rolling bus full of black and gold that we call the Eastern Regional Caravan -- you'd be excited too. I know, the games are played on the field, and that doesn't happen until September. Yet despite the waiting game ahead of us, I couldn't help but notice a prevailing positive attitude on this caravan from our players and officials (most notably Coach Jim Haslett and General Manager Mickey Loomis) that quietly seemed to say: "We're ready."
As part of the caravan, I spent four days traveling by bus across the states of Louisiana and Mississippi with five of the most prominent players on our roster: Pro Bowl veterans Deuce McAllister, Michael Lewis and Fred McAfee, as well as young cornerstones Charles Grant and Donte' Stallworth. And with a bus trip that took us from New Orleans, to Alexandria, to Monroe, to Vicksburg, to Jackson, to Meridian, to Hattiesburg and finally (mercifully for our road-weary bodies) to Biloxi...well, let's just say we all spent more than a little time together in close proximity.
Now I make it a point not to pry into football matters where I'm not asked for my opinion (which is every issue outside of community outreach), and I make it a policy not to try and pick our players' brains about football, as they get enough of that from their coaches, the media and the fans. But simply by being on the bus and on this caravan, you couldn't help but soak up knowledge about where everyone's mind is -- call it learning through osmosis. And unless I totally lack intuition and insight, I would say it's safe to assume that our guys feel good with the 2005 season creeping up from a distance.
At a charitable stop in Vicksburg -- where, as a side note, our players were paraded through town in the back of black and gold pick-ups (an awesome hometown touch by the Vicksburg United Way) -- a fan sidled up to his hero, Deuce McAllister for an autograph and some small talk.
The conversation went something like this:
FAN: "Deuce you feeling good? Ready to go?"
DEUCE: "Feeling great"
FAN: "Awesome, we're looking for 1,400 yards."
DEUCE: "Let's hope you can add 400 more to that."
McAllister's statement wasn't boastful...just matter of fact. And he wasn't making a prediction, just exuding a quiet confidence that he's capable of topping his career-best mark of 1,641 rushing yards from 2003. Will he do it? Time will tell, but believing is always the first step.
Another great example came at a luncheon in a cafeteria located on Keesler Air Force Base. Getting to lunch a bit late after an autograph session ran long, it became apparent that in our delay, some bread became a stale. We were served a plate full of rock-hard dinner rolls by our server (let's call her Lunch Lady), and Coach Haslett -- always quick to bust someone's chops in a good-natured way -- was giving her a hard time. Taking her needling from Haslett from across the room, she held out her hands and motioned for the Coach to toss her a petrified dinner roll (presumable for replacement with fresh bread).
Haslett made like Aaron Brooks and spiraled the white-flour spheroid to Lunch Lady who promptly did her best Joe Horn impression with an all-hands grab that snatched the roll right from the air. Continuing her Horn emulation, she followed with an impromptu touchdown dance.
Impressed with the server's gamesmanship as much as the catch, Haslett called Lunch Lady over and whispered a few words in her ear while pointing to Stallworth at an adjacent table. Something was up, and moments later she left Haslett and walked up to Stallworth, carrying the bread in her hands like it was a football.
She set down the roll and held her hands out in front of Stallworth, as if to say "check out these hands." Stallworth, big-play speed demon that he is, was about to take a little friendly razzing.
"You saw that," Lunch Lady asked while waving her hands in front of Stallworth's deep-set eyes. "That's the way you catch with your hands."
The entire room howled, and Stallworth -- with a sheepish grin -- acknowledged that he had been the unlikely victim of a one-two punchline from Haslett and Lunch Lady. Though wordless, the grin spoke volumes. Always supremely gifted with athletic ability, Stallworth will be the first to tell you that he faced a learning curve in the NFL after leaving Tennessee as a junior to become a 2002 first-round pick of the Saints. But the fact that he could look at his early days and chuckle at his own expense showed just how confident (quietly, of course) Stallworth is as Haslett and company look for him to break out in 2005.
It went that way throughout the caravan. No one making outlandish predictions, but everyone talking with an understanding that this indeed could be a special year.
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