- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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A bit of controversy this Friday about a comment by New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford in this New York Times story about the difficulty of trying to ensure that suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton isn't communicating with his team. The story, by good, responsible journalist Sam Borden, is a thoughtful look at the nature of Payton's suspension and the complex issues surrounding the enforcement of it. It's worth reading, and timely in New York with the Saints coming to town for a game Sunday.
Unfortunately, the part that's getting the attention is this part:
The Saints visit the Giants on Sunday, and in interviews this week, several Giants players questioned just how silent Payton has been this season. Punter Steve Weatherford expressed a common sentiment when he said, "Of course he will get his message to them somehow."
Weatherford added: "I'm not saying anything about Sean Payton as a person or anything, but I think any coach would do that. It's not like he's just going to sit at home and watch the games and not have any thoughts. His message will be heard."
Now, the reason this is even noteworthy in the first place is that the Giants have a real and well-documented habit of making pointed negative comments about their opponents in the weeks leading up to games. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride spoke during 49ers week about how San Franscisco's Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by grabbing hold of offensive linemen to clear room for the pass rush. And defensive end Justin Tuck has accused the offensive lines of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons of dirty play in weeks before the Giants faced them. Those are two examples that jump to mind, but it happens frequently enough that it's fair to believe the Giants do it as a purposeful tactic, in an effort to call attention to an issue they want the officials to notice on game day. Nothing illegal or even necessarily wrong about it, but it's part of the way they like to do business.
This, however, is different. This from Weatherford strikes me as a guy just talking, off the top of his head, the way you and your buddies might speculate about the Payton situation while you're at the bar on the night before the game. Weatherford isn't alleging anything. He's just delivering a "come on, think about it" kind of speculation that almost anyone who's wondered about the Saints/Payton situation has thought to himself at some point. Same kind of natural skepticism that likely led Sam and/or his New York Times editors to come up with the idea for this story in the first place.
So in summary, while the Giants do love to stir up doubt about opponents' tactics, I don't think this falls in line with the Gilbride and Tuck stuff I cited earlier. I think this is an interesting question -- how do you ensure that a suspended coach isn't really finding a way to coach the team from afar? -- but I don't see it as a calculated effort to undermine the Saints on Sunday. Maybe I'm wrong, but this as a controversy feels like a stretch.