This isn’t the first time the Saints – America’s Bounty Hunters – have exposed the seamy underbelly of pro football. Or had you forgotten?
In 1998, when Mike Ditka was their coach, another disturbing story came out of the Big Easy. In training camp that year, a hazing episode left one New Orleans rookie with 13 stitches in his arm and another with an injured eye that sidelined him for five days.
What happened was this: About 25 Saints veterans lined up in a dormitory hallway and forced five rookies to run a gantlet … with pillowcases covering their heads. The rookies reportedly were punched, kicked, elbowed and – this still seems hard to believe – struck with bags of coins. Rookie defensive tackle Jeff Danish tore up his left arm when he tried to stop himself at the end of his run and blindly put his hand through a window.
Danish, a teammate of Donovan McNabb’s at Syracuse, kept practicing because, well, this is football and he wanted to make the team. Five days later, though, he had to leave a preseason game because his wounds reopened. The Saints wound up cutting him.
The incident got national attention when Danish spilled the beans to the New York Times. Typically, the team and the league tried to ignore it. The Saints, while calling the matter “dangerous and in violation of club policy,” said they couldn’t identify which veterans had been involved. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, meanwhile, said he found “no basis to take disciplinary action.”
“My worst street fight when I was a little kid wasn’t this bad,” Danish told the Times. “I thought the least the Saints could do was wait to release me after my wounds healed. I feel someone should be responsible.”
Then, as now, one of the “Animal House” aspects of pro football was dragged into the sunlight for all to see. Much of rookie hazing – carrying veterans’ pads, singing college fight songs at meals – is harmless stuff, of course, and the rooks put up with it good-naturedly. But it can get a little out of hand, just as cash bonuses to defensive players can get a little out of hand.
At any rate, for a franchise that has won only one Super Bowl, the Saints sure have caused a lot of commotion.