The talk behind the scenes in Saints' quarters last week focused on of all things, a tiger.
In the ten days or so leading up to the highly anticipated 2008 regular season opener featuring the Saints and the Buccaneers, one storyline in particular seemed to keep popping up: that of the return to the 玩ing field for 14-year veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Galloway, according to multiple media reports, was rarely on the field for the Bucs during training camp as he was rehabilitating a groin injury. In fact, Galloway didn't 玩 in any of the Bucs' four preseason games after a groin and shoulder injury that kept him under wraps.
The groin injury, to a speedster such as Galloway, required delicate care and a physical over-exertion of the muscles could have led to a setback. And obviously, the goal was to have Galloway ready to go against the Saints in the opener.
In fact, sightings of Galloway on the practice fields were such a rare occurrence that some members of the Buccaneers labeled him "The White Tiger."
The reference was to the 300-pound white Bengal tigers that reside in Jungala, a new exhibit at Busch Gardens in Tampa. Apparently sightings of the white tigers are such a rare occurrence that Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden quipped, "I've seen them (the white tigers) twice at Busch Gardens…Of course, I've been there a hundred times."
It sounds like the white tigers at Busch Gardens follow suit with a lot of other big game cats in that they rarely come out of their dens and instead elect to coolly relax in their lairs and wait to pounce at feeding time.
However any 玩er that boasts the world-class speed that Galloway has seemingly earned the right to prepare at his own rate, said Gruden. "When you run 50 yards in 5.1 seconds, I don't know if he's going to go after that Jamaican guy (World Record holding sprinter Usain Bolt) in the 100 meters or what."
One needn't go far to realize the game changing plays that a 玩er of Galloway's caliber has had against the Saints in his five seasons with the Bucs. A breakdown of the game-by-game statistics illustrates how potent Galloway has been, as in eight games he has racked up 36 receptions for 688 yards for a 19.1 average and nine touchdowns.
Thus one could almost hear the audible sounds of salivation wafting across the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe it even sounded like a tiger's roar. Mix in the fact that the Saints' were starting three new starters from opening day '07, including rookie CB Tracy Porter, and the perception was the White Tiger was ready to once again roar, and it would be at the Black-and-Gold's expense.
Galloway, who had six receptions for 56 yards for a 9.3 average yesterday, wasn't afforded the opportunity to flex his bicep muscle as he is known to do following a touchdown reception.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton mentioned in his post-game press conference yesterday when asked about the importance of keeping Galloway from turning in the big 玩s he is known for, said "I thought our technique (in covering him) was good," Payton said. "We did a good job staying on top of the over routes and we kind of challenged him this week. We heard a lot of talk about this "white tiger" so we kind of challenged our guys on the back end and I thought they responded very well."
Which leads directly to the Saints' tiger of their own: WR Devery Henderson. Likening Henderson to a tiger isn't hard to do, either. In fact, it's quite easy. Henderson, from Opelousas, La., was a standout in both football and track for the LSU Tigers.
Henderson, who was a member of LSU's national championship indoor track and field team in 2001, owns the distinction of running the second-fastest 60-meter time in school history at 6.72 seconds and was also a state champion in the 100 and 200-meters with times of 10.3 and 21.1, respectively.
But Henderson is known these days as a bit of a big-play cat of his own, especially when it comes to 玩ing the Bucs. In six career games against Tampa, Henderson has recorded 10 receptions for 312 yards (31.2 average) with five touchdowns.
Henderson, the critics would point out, only had one reception in the Saints' 24-20 win over the Bucs on Sunday. But what a reception it was, as the Saints trailed for the second time in the game late in the third quarter, 13-10, and with the Bucs trying to build off the momentum of a Matt Bryant 33-yard field goal. Precious seconds remained in the third quarter and a general unease fell over the sold-out Superdome crowd.
The Bucs had flown down the field and corralled Saints kickoff man Pierre Thomas after only a 13 yard kickoff return to the New Orleans 15 yard-line and were looking to shut the Saints down and begin their next drive in the fourth quarter with advantageous field position around midfield.
However, an alert Drew Brees went into his bag of tricks and caught second-year defensive end Gaines Adams trying to guess the snap count and baited Adams into jumping into the neutral zone and, in essence gave the Saints a free 玩 when the ball was snapped and Adams was on his heels trying to get back onsides.
Brees coolly dropped back and waited a few seconds before throwing a high arching, beautiful spiral down the Saints' sideline to a streaking Henderson who hauled the pass in at the Bucs' 47 yard-line and raced untouched the remainder of the way for an 84-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 17-13 lead following Martin Gramatica's extra point. Not coincidentally the margin of four points would also prove to be the final difference when the final whistle of the game sounded.
Payton said after the game that the play was indicative of Brees' savvy and Henderson's big play ability. "The big play to Devery (Henderson) was with him not being the primary (read) and he (Brees) did a great job if he feels like the defense jumps a little bit and he has a free 玩.
"That is what happened on that play. If you look back at it, they were offsides and he (Brees) got the ball up in a place so Devery (Henderson) could make a play on it, the corner fell down and we got a touchdown. That was magnificent and he knew it was a free play because Tampa Bay was penalized. He does some of those things and gives you a ton of trust in calling 玩s."
Today Payton pointed at that specific play as one of the most pivotal plays in the seesaw affair. "It was a situation where a play-action pass was called initially and we used a hard count and got them to jump so it became a free 玩. Devery did a good job of climbing on top of Ronde Barber."
"He (Henderson) leveraged it really well and Ronde fell down and Drew knew in his mind that it was a free 玩 and he was going to find the vertical threat which is something that he's taught to do if he gets one."
In essence, Henderson pounced like a tiger, or at least a Bayou Bengal. Only Henderson, an extremely quiet man by nature, isn't one to start beating his chest, flex a muscle or even get in a customary sprinter's stance after a big 玩.
"Things open up for me, for whatever reason against this defense," said Henderson after the game. "Our coaches put me in a good position to get behind the defense at times and make a 玩."
"And, I know my quarterback and what he sees when a situation like that presents itself."
This Tiger's growl never sounded better.