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Saints’ coaches address the ‘elephant’ in the church

New Orleans Saints assistant coaches Terry Malone and Joe Lombardi came to St. Rita Church in New Orleans March 10 to talk to a Morning of Men’s Spirituality about how they try to weave their Catholic faith into their lives, marriages and jobs, but first, they had to address the “elephant” in the church.

“Bounty-gate” – the name given to the incentive program under which Saints’ defensive players were given cash rewards if they forced a player to the sidelines with a hard hit – was on everyone’s mind.

“I’ve been asked to address the last person in this room – the one sitting right here in the middle of the aisle today – and that’s the white elephant that has become this bounty-gate,” said Malone, tight ends coach for the Saints.

Malone said he struggled to decide what to say “because there’s a big difference in how I feel and what I want to say about this situation and what I really should say.” He said he felt better when he read the recent statement by quarterback Drew Brees, who said he had no knowledge of the “real existence” of the program.

“What you have to understand and what you have to believe in is that this organization we built with the Saints is built with men of integrity, with men of character, with men who really love working here,” Malone said. “And when something like this happens, it hurts us to the core. Quite frankly, it makes me really mad.

“I’m just going to tell you this – we have a strong foundation, we have men of character and integrity, and men who are going to be able to weather the storm. I guarantee this will make us a stronger team, a stronger organization and more committed than ever to bring a Super Bowl back to the city.”

In his talk, Lombardi, the Saints’ quarterbacks coach, touched on the bounty program tangentially.

“In my opinion, I’m tolerant of people’s failings, of people sins, because I know we’re all sinners,” Lombardi said. “But I’m not tolerant of someone looking me in the eye and telling me that wrong is right.”

Treasure your wife

About 200 men attended the spirituality session, and they heard Malone express the importance of husbands treating their wives with the utmost respect.

“First and foremost, be a great husband,” Malone said.

He told the story about being in the hospital as his wife Ann had just delivered their first child, Kara, in 1989. Malone told his father, “I want to give this baby everything she wants.”

“My dad told me, ‘Son, all you need to do for Kara is to love and respect her mother,’” Malone said. “That message has been with me ever since. The true measure of a man’s success is seen in the eyes of his wife.

“Do you play the blame game? You know, ‘She spent too much money.’ Do you keep score in your marriage? ‘I’ve done two things today and I haven’t gotten anything back.’ Do you neglect to affirm your partner? Are you abusive, either physically or psychologically? After 22 years of marriage, the blame game has no limits, keeping score never adds up and the spoken word can cut deeper than a knife.”

Lombardi’s ‘fundamentals’

Lombardi tied together the traits he values in a quarterback – hard working, tough, coachable, fundamentally strong, a good leader – with the traits important in the life of an authentic Catholic.

“What are the fundamentals of our faith? The sacraments, the Eucharist, confession, prayer, adoration, saying the rosary,” Lombardi said. “When I’m doing my daily prayer, my daily rosary, making it to eucharistic adoration, everything is in order. When my relationship with my wife is not as good as it should be, it’s because my fundamentals are out of order. I have to get back to saying my prayers and to eucharistic adoration.”

Vince had one request

Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, drew a laugh when he told the gathering about an encounter his grandfather had with a priest at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Lombardi, who had just joined the Redskins as head coach, was a daily communicant and was just getting to know the city.

“The Mass was at 7:30, and after Mass, my grandfather was speaking with the priest, who obviously knew who he was,” Lombardi said. “My grandfather told him, ‘You know what, if you moved this Mass to 7 o’clock, that would really help my schedule.’”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarion

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