Gazzolo: Saints fans are the real losers in all of this

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

The least the NFL can do now is offer up one giant I’m sorry.

Officials at the very least owe that to the Saints, their fans and the host city of the NFL’s next big Super Bowl party.

It probably won’t be accepted, but the offer should be there.

Ten months of confusion, suspensions,

lawsuits, finger-pointing and losses is all that is left in the wake of

what was “Bountygate.”

Former NFL commish Paul Tagliabue freed the four suspended players who actually didn’t miss a game this season over the issue.

He did find that three of those players did engage in conduct detrimental to the league, whatever that means.

At the end of the day, the players will play, the fines will be forgiven and the game will move forward.

Seems a little too easy of an ending.

Tagliabue did say the evidence was solid against all parties involved and that the real blame sits at the doorstep of the

Saints’ front office and coaching staff.

Ironically, those groups don’t have a union and never fought their punishments. They were good little NFL employees and took

their punishments.

Heck, head coach Sean Payton, the

hardest of all parties hit by the league with a season-long suspension

(aside from former

assistant Gregg Williams who was suspended indefinitely), benefits

by being declared a free agent and can either sign a new

contract with New Orleans or test the open market.

While most believe he will be back with the Saints, he might want to reconsider after watching New Orleans give up 52 points

to the New York Giants on Sunday.

If all the proof the NFL claims it has on the Saints is true, they might want to reconsider a return to the bounty days. At

least they tackled somebody back then.

This group looks like it’s getting bonus money for not tackling.

What is really confusing is that the NFL is trying to play both sides of this issue even today. Tagliabue’s ruling basically

says that the league caught the Saints and have more than enough evidence and power to hand out the punishment it did. Yet

he also says there was not enough proof to hold the players accountable for much of the action.

Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. Either the entire Saints organization, players included, were at fault or not.

It sure looks and smells like the league just swept its garbage under the Supderdome rug in time for the playoffs.

Clearly the NFL did not want this hanging over its head when the big game hits the Big Easy in less than two months. That

would be a public-relations nightmare.

So, enter Tagliabue, who seems to make it all go away in a matter of minutes.

All this after trying to make the

Saints scapegoats for all the league’s woes when it comes to former

players and injury lawsuits.

The league wanted to find somebody to blame and make an example of

and the Saints were the patsies.

But unlike the coaches and front office, the players fought back and started to win some appeals in court. The mighty NFL

was forced to regroup, lick its wounds and press on. The issue never went away.

And now, the players have won. The NFL looks to have cried uncle while not admitting defeat.

No harm, no foul.

Yet the harm has been done.

The Saints’ season was lost before it started, and the club figured to be in the playoff hunt has but five wins.

So, when its all over, the players

still played, Sean Payton will get paid, and the NFL will claim it was

right but compassionate.

As for the Saints fans, they seem to be the real losers, having to suffer through this year’s mess on and off the field.

Yes, the league sure does owe them an apology.

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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com