Vicodin case could have dire consequences for Saints
Saints' Sean Payton is at center of case involving stolen Vicodin tablets
Thoughts on where retirees Walter Jones, Jeff Feagles rank historically
Roethlisberger postscript; minicamp weekend; Ten Things I Think I Think
We begin this morning with a headache of headaches for the New Orleans Saints, a story the team has fervently denied, but one that isn't going away unless the Drug Enforcement Administration makes it go away.
The story involves the dispensation and alleged theft of 130 Vicodin tablets from the Saints' drug locker at the team's offices and training facility in New Orleans over a four-month period early in 2009. A lawsuit filed by discharged former Saints' security director Geoffrey Santini, a former FBI agent, describes the recipients of the Vicodin as "Senior Staff Member A'' and "Senior Staff Member B.'' On Saturday, profootballtalk.com reported that coach Sean Payton is Senior Staff Member A, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt is Senior Staff Member B.
I've read the 13-page lawsuit, filed Friday in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com reported that Santini sought a $2 million settlement to not file the suit last week and the Saints didn't respond. I'm told the Saints turned over all evidence in the case to the DEA in June and have been waiting for a decision in the case ever since. On Friday, the Saints said the lawsuit had no merit, and that Santini, in effect, had shopped the lawsuit to them before filing it. On Saturday, after the profootballtalk.com report, Payton said, "I have never abused or stolen Vicodin or any other medication.''
The allegations in Santini's suit, in essence, include these: Vitt had a medical problem that required the use of pain-killers and he was being prescribed Vicodin to help him deal with the condition; Payton didn't have a medical condition that required pain-killers but was using them. Additionally, Santini said Saints general manager Mickey Loomis covered up Payton's use of Vicodin while trying to protect Vitt from being prosecuted for stealing additional Vicodin.
Every NFL team has to account for the prescription drugs it dispenses. The training staff keeps medication under lock and key and distributes it only after a team doctor prescribes it. Apparently, Vitt was being prescribed Vicodin -- it's possible that Payton, at some point, may have been taking it as prescribed, too. The lawsuit makes it clear that from January to April 2009, a theft of approximately 110 Vicodin tablets occurred from the drug locker. Santini's suit says Loomis directed a hidden camera to be installed in the trainer's room, so any further theft of Vicodin could be captured on video.
On the morning of April 30, 2009, according to the suit, Santini was informed that eight pills were missing from a Vicodin bottle of 100 pills. The videotape showed Senior Staff Member B -- Vitt -- using the keys from trainer Scottie Patton's office to open the drug locker and take eight pills from a bottle of Vicodin.
When Santini told Loomis about the theft, the suit alleges, Loomis told Santini and the trainers "to keep all of this confidential ... Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the video needed to be copied for use during the NFL audit. GM Loomis stated, 'No, this is not a criminal investigation.' Plaintiff told Loomis the event should be reported and without copying the video it would eventually be overwritten by the recording equipment and erased. Loomis told the Plaintiff to 'let it go,' in effect instructing the Plaintiff to allow the destruction of evidence of a felony. Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the crime should be reported, and he [Loomis] stated 'this is not a criminal investigation.'' GM Loomis left plaintiff's office and plaintiff made a copy of the video onto a video cassette.''
After "SSMB'' was caught taking 12 pills the next day, the bottle was moved to a more secure location. The following day SSMB was taped unsuccessfully trying to gain access to the pills. Santini alleges that Patton, in a meeting two weeks later, was going to adjust the dispensing logs "to reflect that SSMB had received all of the missing Vicodin, such that the totals on the monthly recap sheets would match the total dispensed.'' The suit says that in a meeting the next day, assistant trainer Kevin Mangum told Santini of the directive to adjust the logs, adding, "I think, I think it came from Mickey.''
Payton's involvement in the case seems almost tangential. Most of the accusations concern Vitt allegedly stealing the Vicodin and Santini describing Loomis trying to cover it up. On page six of the suit, Santini asks Mangum, referring to Payton, "How are they going to explain [SSMA]?''
"He's stopped,'' Mangum said, according to the suit. "Somebody has talked to him.''
On June 22, the suit alleges, Patton told Santini he would not change the logs, and a day later, Loomis told Santini the logs would not be changed before being turned in to the NFL for an annual audit. "Later in the conversation, GM Loomis stated that [SSMB] admitted to him that [SSMB] had stolen all of the pills,'' the suit says.
Later, the suit says, "Subsequent conversations ensued between plaintiff and GM Loomis concerning upcoming discussions with the DEA about the situation and the need to keep [SSMA]'s name out of the conversation.''
There you have it. The consequences could be dire for several people -- Loomis, if he's found to have covered up a felony theft of prescription medication; Vitt, if he's found guilty of stealing Vicodin; the trainers, if they're found culpable; and Payton, if he's found to have taken Vicodin without a prescription. Of course, the consequences could be just as dire for Santini if counter-claims by the Saints reveal the story he has told is exaggerated or invented.
"Mickey is adamant he did nothing wrong,'' said a source close to the Saints. "Sean is beside himself -- he swears this is a trumped-up charge.''
Every New Orleans fan this morning -- as well as a nation charmed by the improbable story of the Super Bowl Saints -- has to hope that's true.
Walter Jones walks away.
With Walter Jones retiring last week, the book has closed on the top tackles whose careers began and ended in the last 20 years. I'd put Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and Jones atop that list. Ogden, at 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, was the first great basketball player of a left tackle, with the reach to keep the best pass rushers from the quarterback. Jones, 6-5 and 325, was a powerful athlete, rarely beaten to the outside and strong enough to power-run with the best tackles in recent history. A score of top offensive minds, most notably Mike Holmgren and Howard Mudd, thought Jones was the best tackle they'd ever seen.
It'll be interesting when Jones and Ogden get discussed for Canton in the next few years. When it comes to ranking the best over the past 20 years, I'd put those two in a close race ahead of Orlando Pace and Willie Roaf, with Tony Boselli fifth because of his shortened but meteoric career. Measuring the five against each other is difficult, but here's how they compare in terms of seasons played, durability (games missed due to injury), Pro Bowl appearances and first-team Associated Press all-pro awards.
As a point of comparison: The last offensive tackle to make the Hall of Fame, Gary Zimmerman, missed 12 games in a 12-year NFL career, playing 184 games, with seven Pro Bowls and three AP all-pro nods.
Now the Seahawks hand the left-tackle job to Russell Okung, who has the temperament, skills and strength to be a great one. He'll always be compared to Jones, which will be both unfair and good for the kid.
We shouldn't forget about Jeff Feagles retiring, either.
Look up the retiring punter's bio and the thing that jumps out is this: the number 22. From 1988, when he entered the league as a free-agent punter making $52,000 with Raymond Berry's Patriots (Steve Grogan and Russ Francis were teammates), Feagles played every game for 22 consecutive seasons. That's 352 straight games played, an NFL record. I don't care if you're a snapper or a ballboy; to never have a tweaked hamstring or suffered a bum back in 22 years and to play every game is amazing.
"The Favre streak is insane,'' Feagles said last night, referring to Favre's NFL record 285 consecutive starts. "He's the iron man of football. I'm just the lonely kicker. But I'm proud I was able to go to work for my team every Sunday.'' Late in his 20s, Feagles began a regimen of stretching (professionals stretched him three days a week for an hour; he eschewed yoga) and used chiropractors to stay in shape -- and he never got too far out of shape during the offseason.
Feagles won't go down as the longest punter ever (his 41.6-yard average is 110th all-time), but he should go down as the best directional punter of all time. His hang times are famous -- he once had a documented 5.83 hang time on a practice punt, the highest I've ever heard of -- and he practiced by putting a garbage can downfield and trying to land the ball in it.
"I'm not the strongest,'' Feagles said. "But I can put it where I want it.''
Shouldn't that be the mantra for young punters today? This is a field-position game, and Feagles so often controlled it by kicking it away from foes and pinning teams back. His 554 punts inside the 20 are 173 more than any other punter since the stat has been kept.
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