Welcome back to the most wonderful time of the year, bitches! Hope you're ready to put pretty much everything else on the back burner for the next six months.

By all accounts, the Saints have had themselves one hell of a positive offseason. For example, they're one of a dwindling handful of NFL teams who managed to make it through the last six months without any of their players murdering anyone. So we've got that going for us. High five? Gotta love that high-character locker room! Word on the street is that (so far) even John Jenkins has been obtaining his biscuits through legal and nonviolent means. There's been a stunning lack of contract disputes, looming suspensions, internal investigations and daily hatchet jobs from the Legitimate Media™. The buzzword all summer has been (a return to) "normalcy" and optimism seems particularly high as the countdown to August 11* begins in earnest.

(*I'm of course referring to the triumphant return of Breaking Bad for what's sure to be an absolutely mindblowing final eight episodes. Yeah, science! But I suppose we ought to save that for our next tee vee show themed post.)

Meantime, it's that magical time of the year when a brand new group of training camp beasts fill our hearts with hopes for the future, and soon thereafter begin filling up spots on injured reserve. When Garrett Hartley finally unveils the six fabulous outfits he'll be wearing at this year's Southern Decadence. (Here's hoping they effectively hide his thunder.) It's the time when we amuse ourselves by denying the futility of various bizarre experiments, such as Will Smith attempting to play outside linebacker, Saints safeties attempting to cover Jimmy Graham (or Michael Higgins, for that matter) and Charles Brown attempting to stay healthy. Good luck with aaaall that, fellas.

It's gonna be big fun, of course. And now that Roger, in all his benevolence, has mercifully paroled Our Fearless Leader, we're all pretty sure that everything's gonna be back to "normal" and the 2009-2011 party is gonna pick back up right where it left off, right?

That's how it's currently being sold, anyway. If you've been paying attention over the summer, you might have picked up on a number of pointed "not since 2009…" style references coming from various members of the team. And hey, it's great that they're so confident and optimistic. Wouldn't want it any other way.

But at the risk of coming off like I've got a bit of a stick up my bunghole and being a huge downer about it all (sorry, Ralph, I realize that's usually your thing this time of year) I'm not so sure.

The more I think about it, the more it's beginning to feel like this thing isn't so much of a continuation as it is a full-blown reboot. More of a rebuilding project than a mere "reloading." Less of a seamless resumption after an unplanned hiatus and more like something along the lines of a new start. #anustart

Phrasing? Maybe that's not quite the best choice of words, it's coming across a lot more negative (not to mention inadvertently gay) than I really intend to be. Let me try again…

Right now it feels to me like The Great Intermission Of 2012 will eventually be looked back upon as "halftime" of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees Era. And now, as Tobias might put it, we're entering the back end. 2013 marks the start of the third quarter, and it's anyone's guess as to how the halftime adjustments are gonna work out.

Now don't get me wrong here, it's not like they're down two scores or anything. After all, they were 7-9 last season, not 3-13. And there's always money in Drew Brees's banana stand (brought to you by Jimmy John's™. #spon) At least until… well, until there isn't.

So hey, who knows, maybe they come out and run Ambush, and everything comes up Lucky Pierre from that point forward. Fingers crossed. (With any luck, the Falcons will sign Hank Baskett's Face between now and then, because it's not as if white balls are a foregone conclusion. It was nothing short of a miracle that it worked the first time.)

But it just feels like the backside is gonna be a lot different. Probably because it's gonna have to be. Because while they might not be in too bad a shape right at the moment, the wind certainly has changed direction. The last two first-half drives both ended in the red zone but didn't result in any points. And just for good measure, half the roster and close to half the coaching staff have turned over.

It really is a whole new ball game at this point. It would be easier to list the things that are still the same as they were in January of 2012 than to list the things that are radically different.

For all the talk of the "return to normalcy" — and to whatever extent that's an actual thing, I'm sure it's more appealing than the alternative — I'm just not sure the extent to which it is in fact an actual thing. 2009 is long gone, and it ain't ever coming back. Hell, same goes for 2011, for that matter.

"Normal" just doesn't really exist at this point, and it hasn't for a good long time now. The New Normal is yet to be established, that particular project begins in a few days. But in the meantime, the page is mostly blank, and this season is shaping up to be every bit the exercise in navigating "uncharted waters" last season was. Just sayin'.

For his part, and it's to his credit, Sean Payton seems to agree. He's stated publicly that he's approaching this season like it's his first, like it's 2006 all over again. And that seems wise, given that he probably hasn't even seen half the guys running around Airline these days naked yet (or even in cutoffs.) Because chances are 2012 pretty much changed everything. No sense in trying to go back and pick up where you left off because that just ain't happening. It's not exactly starting over from scratch, but it's probably pretty close to that.

So we here at moosedenied are choosing to take a cue from Coach Payton and approach the season in that way as well. As the beginning of the Payton/Brees Era Mark 2. The start of a whole new project.

And part of that approach is doing our level best to keep our expectations somewhat reasonable, at least for as long as we're capable of doing that. Which is sure to disappoint a sizeable subset of our intrepid readers who choose to subject themselves to this here blog precisely because of our usual over-the-top unrealistically-optimistic rah-rah homerism. Aw hell, who am I kidding? We'll probably be right back to that kind of thing in our very next post.

But in the meantime, we've also resolved to acknowledge the near-certainty that at this point we're in the back half of the Payton/Brees Era as a whole. It's going into its eighth year, and that's already a long time, especially by NFL standards. There doesn't seem to be any indication right at the moment that the end is nigh or anything like that. But even just ten years is quite the rare accomplishment, especially these days. Belichick, Coughlin and (for some reason) Marvin Lewis are the only current head coaches who are even at 10+ with the same team. Peyton Manning went 14 with Indy and Tom Brady is going into year 14 with New England, but neither of those guys had already played 5 years with another team. And as far as the Saints are concerned? Jim Mora went 10 and part of an eleventh. Ditto for Archie. Bobby only went 7.

I'm not trying to be a downer with all that. To the contrary, the only reason I mention it is because over the last seven years, so often it's felt like this thing is gonna go on forever. Still does sometimes. And when you feel like you've got an unlimited supply of something, it's incredibly easy to take it for granted. But the truth is that we'll be incredibly fortunate to get another 7 years out of these guys. Incredibly fortunate. Hell, we'll be fortunate if we're not trying to run them out of town long before then.

I mean, it's not like we weren't trying to run Mora out of town long before Diddly-Poo. That was year 11, week 4, and somehow he even managed to hold on for another month after that. But just about everybody had already long since concluded that "it's time." It was just time. And while they went on to tank completely in '96, the die had pretty much already been cast going in. And that was coming off 8-8, 7-9 and 7-9 over the previous three seasons. Records that used to have Saints fans dancing in the streets. They hadn't yet completely fallen apart, but it had become obvious that it wasn't getting any better. Thanks in large part to the Dome Patrol which had since been dismantled, Mora had raised the bar to the point where more-or-less .500 was no longer acceptable — not after 11-5 and 12-4 — and things soured all around… Real. Fuckin'. Quick.

The point of all that is just that this thing could be over in the proverbial blink of an eye. Sean Payton and Drew Brees have raised the bar higher than Jim Mora and the Dome Patrol ever did, and the funny thing about sports (and people in general) is that that's not gonna buy him or the team any slack. To the contrary, at this point the bar has been set so high that it's just a matter of time until 9-7/10-6 or even one-and-done in the playoffs is no longer deemed acceptable. At which point, the switch is gonna flip and it's all gonna go sour. And it's gonna be goddamn sudden.

(Don't believe me? Just watch what happens if by some chance the Saints fail to post double digits in the win column this fall.)

And I refuse to let myself make the same mistake in my 40s as I did in my 20s. I'm not gonna wake up one morning and realize "Shit. It's pretty much over, isn't it? When did that happen? And why? Surely Mike Ditka Les Miles can get this thing back on track!" No sir, not this guy. Not this time. I'm not waiting until the bowl is almost empty before realizing that, while the first bite might have been the best bite by far, the rest of it was pretty damn good too. Even the lukewarm stuff at the bottom.

Because the great thing about this here Golden Age Of Saints Football, for however long it has left to last, is that even the lows are higher than the highs we grew up with. It'd be a shame to let even a little bit of it go underappreciated.

Sheesh, sorry to get all preachy and shit. Not sure how that happened. I blame Roger. I'll try to snap out of it and work myself back into more of a KILL KILL KILL FUCK EM ALL PAYTON'S REVENGE TOUR #WEGOTTHIS type frenzy as soon as possible. Couple preseason games ought to do the trick. Until then, please bear with me.

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