One of Mickey Loomis' best friends, Cortez Kennedy, was sitting in a model's chair in Alpine, Utah, of all places, Monday afternoon, while a sculptor worked on his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust. The session lasted for four hours, and Kennedy kept busy by scanning the web and reading ... and then he saw the report that Loomis was being investigated for wiretapping the visiting coaches' booth at the Superdome from 2002 through 2004. Immediately he texted Loomis.
"What a bunch of liars!'' Kennedy texted.
On Tuesday, Kennedy, whose friendship with Loomis goes back to when he played and Loomis scouted for the Seattle Seahawks, explained why he feels that way.
"I've been with Mickey on game days since 2002,'' Kennedy said. "For a while I was an intern, learning the business, and I would be in the Saints' coaching booth for a while, but most of the time I was with him, in his booth, where he watched the games. I was watching how Mickey and [director of college scouting] Rick Reiprish [who began sitting in the box in 2004] do their jobs during the games, taking notes and keeping track of penalties and how far downfield passes go, things like that. Sometimes he'd be listening to the game through an earpiece. I knew that because at halftime or when he'd go to the bathroom, I'd pick up the earpiece and listen, and it'd be the game broadcast.
"Never once did I hear him talk about what was going on in the coaching booth with the other team. Never did I hear any evidence that we knew what was being said there. To me, the real outrage is, what advantage would it be for Mickey to hear it? He wouldn't have the time to get that information to our sidelines in time for it to have anything to do with the play on the field.
"I have been in that box for years, and I just couldn't believe it when I heard it. Shocking. No way it's true.''
ESPN reported on its Outside the Lines program Monday that the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana learned Friday that an electronic eavesdropping device was installed that allowed a line from Loomis' booth to hear what was being said in the visiting coaches booth. ESPN also reported that it didn't know if the listening device was ever used, and that it apparently was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and the Superdome was refurbished in time for the 2006 season.
What I find is the most interesting aspect of the story is the Saints' reaction to it.
Two years ago, when there were allegations of improper Vicodin use by Saints coach Sean Payton and assistant coach Joe Vitt, the team responded quietly and mostly off the record that the charges of Payton's abuse were untrue. When the bounty scandal broke March 2, the team had a mild, mealy-mouthed statement from owner Tom Benson. When severe sanctions were imposed on the team -- including Payton being suspended for a year and Loomis for eight games -- there was another lukewarm statement from the team. With franchise centerpiece Drew Brees in a prolonged contract dispute and boycotting team workouts, more silence from the team, and from the negotiator, Loomis. On the verge of sanctions that will result in the likely suspension of middle linebacker and defensive leader Jonathan Vilma, no reaction. Crickets.
But when this story broke Monday, the Saints reacted venomously. "The report is 1,000 percent false,'' spokesman Greg Bensel seethed in an email. "The team and Mickey are seeking all legal recourse regarding these false allegations.'' Bensel sent additional emails with denials from Reiprish, Kennedy and from the coach at the time of the alleged wiretapping, Jim Haslett, who said he never spoke to Loomis about having information from the visiting coaches' booth.
Covering the league for the last 28 years, I've seen the differences in each franchise. The Saints are almost a team to themselves in many ways; that's how insular they are. They don't concern themselves with what the rest of the league thinks of them. That's why if there's a negative report on one of the networks about one of their players or coaches, they shrug their collective shoulders. It doesn't matter to them. What matters to them is what the locals think, and the locals are as loyal as any local fandom of any team in any American sport.
The PR czar, Bensel, is a born-and-bred New Orleans guy who, I'm convinced, would turn down any PR job in the world, regardless of the salary, because he wouldn't want to live anywhere else or work for any other organization. I've never seen a reaction from him -- he's a don't-worry, be-happy type -- like this. He was wounded by it like no other story has wounded him.
And so that's why the reaction -- the strongest one I recall by this franchise about any story in the Tom Benson Era -- is meaningful to me. Could it be that Loomis is fighting for his professional life? Could it be that he knows this is true, but because the statute of limitations (five years) for prosecution of an offense like this has expired he wants to fight to be sure he is not only cleared on a technicality but cleared so he'll be able to resume his career without this scar on his record? Could it be that Kennedy, his good friend, is saying things because he's Loomis' good friend. All possible. Time will tell. (Though in the case of Kennedy, who I've known for 15 years, I can't see him falling on his sword if he knows the story's real. He's just not that kind of person -- at least from my dealings with him.)
I'm told this morning the league is going to investigate the story, which is to be expected. But I also didn't get the feeling today that the league views this with anywhere near the gravitas of the New England Spygate incident, or the Saints' bounty scandal. The reason: There's no evidence, yet, that the Saints either used the device if it was installed, or benefited from it. Now, if it was installed, and that can be proven, that's serious enough, and some sanction should be forthcoming. But I think there also has to be evidence that it was used for the sanction to be serious. If there's evidence, and we have seen nothing of it yet, Loomis is in big trouble. If not, Loomis should be in the clear.
Now for your email:
THIS IS A SMART EMAIL. "I think with all of the running-back holdouts who don't like being franchise-tagged (Ray Rice, Matt Forte), we now know the real losers of the 2011 CBA: running backs. Think about it: Let's say you are a 22-year-old first round pick. Your salary is "slotted" based on your draft position, no matter how special you may be. So you play out your four-year deal, and then the franchise can exercise the option for a 5th year. Now you're a 27-year-old RB. If you are still productive, the team can franchise you. After that, you're a 28-year-old free agent RB with 6 years and, let's say, 1,500 carries under your belt (250 carries a year for six years). What team is going to give a 28-year-old RB with 1,500-plus carries a long-term contract? After your four-year rookie deal, you are basically playing consecutive seasons on one-year deals (which means very little security in the event of a serious injury).''-- From Stan Diamond, of Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Great job, Stan. Smart and cogent, and I agree with every word.
ON THE VALUE OF LUKE KUECHLY. "Your discussion of Luke Kuechly having high value as a coverage linebacker got me thinking. With how much talk there has been of teams trying to get more athletic, pass-catching tight ends involved in their offenses, does the perception of that trend affect the way teams view potential new linebackers, whether rookie or free agent? Even though Kuechly is consistently labeled a 'tackling machine' does his ability to drop in coverage provide the most significant difference between him and someone like Dont'a Hightower?''-- From Ian, of Kansas City
Interesting point. Last year, I remember being in Green Bay, and Aaron Rodgers making the point to me about what a coverage nightmare Jermichael Finley was. His size, speed and athleticism made it impossible for the usual pass-coverage linebacker to cover him, and in some cases, he was even a mismatch for a big safety. That's why Kuechly has the kind of value he does. He might be the kind of coverage 'backer who can play the athletic tight end, while most linebackers who drop in coverage don't have the chance to. Can't wait to see that in training camp this year, wherever Kuechly goes. If he goes to Kansas City, I'll be watching to see if Romeo Crennel tries to use him on Antonio Gates when the Chiefs and Chargers meet.
GOOD QUESTION ABOUT THE WIDEOUTS IN THIS DRAFT. "In your article you write that Cleveland and St. Louis are desperate for a 'franchise wide receiver.' That seems like a true statement but is there one in this draft? I have not read where a single analyst says there is. They either don't say or they say there is not. It seems that both Cleveland and St. Louis do not have a single position they cannot upgrade or enhance. If they have a chance to draft special impact players, shouldn't they do that regardless of what position they play?''-- From Joe, of Charlotte
That's why St. Louis would seriously consider Fletcher Cox at No. 6 -- the Rams had the 31st-rated rush defense a year ago, and if they feel Cox can impact their defensive front more than Blackmon helps their receiving corps, they'll take Cox. But I view the Rams' desire to help Sam Bradford to be so prominent now that I'd be surprised if they didn't go Blackmon.
ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT THE RUNNING BACK POSITION. "Interesting Stat of the Week. What if you look at the data a different way? To me, it says, if you have an absolute stud QB, (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Ben Roethlisberger) you don't need a great running game because they can win the game on their arm alone. But if you look at San Francisco (Alex Smith) and Baltimore (Joe Flacco), a great running back can actually cover up a relatively "weak" QB. Just a thought and I'd be curious to see a full list of the 32 teams and their records vs RB rank. Sorry, I can't help it. I love data analysis and this one just jumped out at me, even though it's a small data set.''-- From Carl C., of Mountain View, Calif.
Very good point, one that would argue for the Browns to take Richardson -- because Colt McCoy is weak. But why is McCoy struggling? Could it be because he's throwing to a crew of receivers over the last two years who are either the worst in the league or very close to the bottom? Richardson is a wonderful player, and the Browns will be better right away if they draft him. But if the receiver group doesn't improve markedly, McCoy's never going to have a chance.