Eat that, King Jerkface.

So at long last, Paul Tagliabue finally told us what we've known all along. This whole thing was mostly a crock of shit right from day one, and Joffrey Roger is a capricious, tyrannical megalomaniac who seized an opportunity (granted, one that the Saints organization handed him on a silver platter) to coerce into existence a foundation upon which to stage a dog-and-pony show for the sake of advancing the league's self-serving agenda with regard to the player safety issue, as well as cementing his own status as the unimpeachable lord and master of all his eyes survey. Unfortunately that specific language was stricken from the final draft, but the substance of the ruling made it clear anyway.

Greg Aiello and the league's lapdogs in the media can spin it all they want, but there's just no making sense of "Guilty on all counts! You're free to go."

Tagliabue can attempt to cover Roger's ass by claiming that the facts of the case are indisputable, that the evidence supports the conclusion that the Saints organization is guilty (of something) and that Roger's only mistake was being a bit too heavy-handed with the penalties. But that doesn't mean that the Saints were ever guilty of what Roger asserted they were guilty of. It doesn't mean that Roger's narrative was anything resembling an accurate representation of the "facts" established by the so-called "evidence." To the contrary, the substance of the ruling seems to strongly indicate that what the Saints were actually guilty of wasn't really anything like what Roger would have had us believe.

They can not-so-subtly attempt to frame it as the players basically getting off on what amounts to the Nuremberg Defense (not that any of these players, with the possible exception of Hargrove, ever employed that particular defense in the first place) and attempt to shift the bulk of the blame onto the players' superiors, who conveniently aren't in a position to defend themselves. But that directly contradicts Roger's initial assertion that the players "enthusiastically embraced" these nefarious shenanigans which so offended Roger's delicate sensibilities with regard to sportsmanship and gentlemanly honor among big dumb jocks who get paid millions of dollars to physically destroy one another for our amusement and the league's profit.

They can insist that the Saints organization "contaminated the process" by refusing to just admit to whatever charges Roger felt like dropping on 'em. But since when are simple denials capable of "contaminating" anything? It either happened the way you say it did or it didn't. You can either prove it or you can't. Even if the denials eventually prove to be outright lies, they still don't materially change anything with regard to whether or not it actually happened the way you say it did. They don't change The Truth of the matter, all they do is withhold from you the luxury of not having to prove anything. If you've got the goods, you don't need a confession.

What "contaminated the process" was the Saints' refusal to sacrifice their own reputations by conceding wildly-inaccurate details of the fairy tale Roger had concocted. But of course, Roger went ahead and spun the tale anyway, while further adding to the Saints' moustache-twirling villainy by throwing LIES(!!!) into the mix as well. Because the King may do as he wishes! And besides, it's for the good of The People. If the few must suffer unjustly for the good of the many, then so be it. Or something.

As we dumbass "conspiracy theorists" have suspected all along, this whole thing has been a shell game right from the start.

And make no mistake, this latest development was intended to be just another shuffle. Tagliabue was supposed to be just another shill, and his judgment was supposed to be just another play to squelch skepticism of the con among the marks. A strategically-orchestrated "win" to renew confidence in the "game" — the Kingdom — and entice the marks to keep dropping bills on the table. A desperate attempt to lend some illusion of propriety to the process. "See? It's all on the up and up."

But it didn't work, because we're already onto the con. We've been onto it for quite some time. We've already seen the nature of the alleged crimes adjusted and readjusted over and over again in a continued effort to get something — anything — to stick. We've already seen piece after piece of "evidence" discredited in all kinds of ways. We know that the bulk of the league's testimony comes from two disgruntled former employees, one being an admitted liar and the other being a batshit crazy person, and both of whom having personal motives for telling Roger precisely what he wants to hear. A third has insisted over and over again that the league has misrepresented his testimony.

We know full well that the fix was in right from the start. And every new development over the last nine months has only lent more and more credence to that notion. The difference this time is that the con man was unwittingly betrayed by his own shill. The King was overruled by his own hand-picked magistrate.

The gambit failed, because it finally exposed the underlying impropriety of the process and the gross inaccuracy of Roger's narrative in a way that can't be denied, disputed or deflected. It failed because it incontrovertibly exposed the King for a despot completely disinterested in fairness, justice and truth. It confirmed the charges as having been largely (if not completely) trumped up, and the "trial" and resulting judgment as a complete travesty. It validated the People's discontent and justified our contempt for the Throne.

And that, folks, should be considered nothing less than a genuine win. A righteous, vicious strike at the oppressive abuse of absolute power. At long last. Sic semper tyrannis, bitches. Sic semper motherfucking tyrannis.

Oh sure, the marks will still kneel before the throne and pledge fealty to the king. The shills will claim that the guilty escaped on technicalities, and weren't at all vindicated. They'll point to Tagliabue's efforts to cover Roger's ass as further "proof" that Roger was right all along. They'll assert that Tagliabue merely declared a mistrial, and a mistrial doesn't mean that the accused are innocent. It just means that the players were able to weasel out of this thing because Loomis, Payton et al "contaminated the process." (Whatever that's supposed to mean.) But at least Roger stuck it to the real bad guys in this whole thing and blew up the Saints' 2012 season, so any perceived "win" here is hollow at best, if not completely meaningless. Right, Prisco?

But fuck the marks and shills.

Outside of the omnipresent lunatic fringe, nobody ever really thought that the Saints were completely "innocent" here. What we've suspected all along is that the Saints were not guilty of the specific outlandish charges Roger trumped up and brought against them. We always figured that the Saints were probably guilty of something, but that they were also being railroaded. To those of us who have even the slightest grasp of nuance, the two are not mutually-exclusive.

But I don't think any of us expected that what they were actually guilty of would end up being something so very, very close to absolutely nothing. Honestly, that's the real shocker here.

To this day, they haven't established a single goddamn thing. They couldn't establish on-field misconduct. They couldn't establish that the Saints did anything on the football field that was any more violent than, well, football itself. They couldn't establish intent to injure. They couldn't even establish that any real money ever changed hands. Hell, they still can't even establish "conduct detrimental" beyond the extent to which "conduct detrimental" really means "anything Roger doesn't approve of."

As the smoke finally begins to clear once and for all, it turns out that all the Saints can really be proven guilty of is a bunch of meathead shit-talk. Of meaningless hyperbole. Of what amounts to little more than an office pool which might not even have involved any real money. Of playing pretend in an effort to get a bunch of big dumb jocks juiced up on testosterone before going out there and doing the very job the league pays them millions to do in the first place. OH THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!!

When all this started, even as a skeptical Saints fan, I genuinely accepted the assumption that, at the very least, surely the Saints had to have been guilty of a hell of a lot more than just that. But nope, all indications at this point are that it never was anything more than that. It was all a big fat bowl of pretend, both in the Saints lockerroom and in the league office.

I also grudgingly accepted the notion that Loomis, Payton and crew were genuinely deserving of blame (in whole or in part) because all this could have been avoided if they had just knocked it off like Roger told them to. But you know what? I've changed my mind on that. Because to hell with capitulating to the whims of an autocrat. To hell with playing by the king's rules when the rules are arbitrary and the enforcement haphazard.

Granted, it would have been a lot less painful if they had just done what they were told. After all, rejecting the capricious dictates of a tyrant comes at a price. And in this case, it was a steep price indeed. A price that a lot of Saints fans wish they hadn't been willing to pay. Hell, maybe if they'd had the slightest idea that the price was gonna be that steep in the first place, they'd have made different choices. But I find it hard to blame them for not anticipating that Roger was gonna go all Joffrey with it over so much nothing.

It's been a long, excruciating trip, for sure. And in a way, it's never gonna be over. The 2012 season is lost, and we're never getting it back. "Bounty" will forever be synonymous with the Fleur. The marks and shills will throw it in our faces until the end of time. And Saints fans' righteous anger will never, ever wane. (Nor should it.)

But in another, more accurate way, this thing really is damn near over. Finally. Loomis and Vitt have served their time, Sean Payton is just about done serving his time. Roger's done his worst, and while for now it still might not feel like it, we've survived. The worst of it has passed, and there's nothing more Roger can do to us now. Not over this, anyway. All that's left now is the (rest of the) crying. And I suspect Roger is in for a lot more of it from here on out than we are.

Meantime, to whatever extent this whole sordid affair eventually proves to have contributed to Roger's undoing, as far as I'm concerned it will have all been worth it. We were here long before King Jerkface, and we'll still be here long after he's gone. We may have failed to claim our vengeance while the wounds were still fresh, but let there be no doubt that we will have it eventually.

He'll get his, it's just a matter of time. "The process" may very well have already begun.

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