METAIRIE, La. — Six months ago, when Jonathan Vilma was in the middle of his troubles with the league for what it claimed was a leading role in an alleged bounty program, the Saints’ linebacker never questioned he’d be playing football in November.
“A lot of people didn’t think that way, but I did,” Vilma said Friday. “Never a doubt.”
Sunday, when New Orleans hosts Atlanta for a noon game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Vilma will play in his fourth game after coming off the physically unable to perform list.
And while he’s healthy – “Yes. So when you see Vitt, tell him to play me. Tell him to keep playing me,” Vilma said – he’s also not mentally worn out from this offseason of absurdity that included suspensions, European travel for a complex knee procedure and multiple court appearances related to his defamation suit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I would if I was trying to juggle two things and put on two hats,” Vilma said. “But like I said, when it’s here from Tuesday noon to Sunday game day, it’s all about football. Fortunately I have a good enough lawyer that I don’t have to worry about whatever nuances or developments are going on with the NFL and all that stuff. He’ll handle that and fill me in on Monday and Tuesday.”
Vilma can feel the tide turning in the public’s opinion.
“People understand that even if you believe there was a bounty or believe I did it, you at least realize that Goodell overstepped his boundaries,” Vilma said. “He stepped too far. I can live with that for now because I still have the defamation suit, the suspension thing is still pending. He had to recuse himself. So that will all take care of itself later on.”
Vilma originally was suspended for the entirety of the 2012 season, but a three-member panel overturned the NFL’s ruling the Friday before the season opener, questioning the exact reasons the league suspended Vilma, defensive end Will Smith (four games), linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games).
The move opened the door for the four players to return to the field. And while Goodell re-issued the suspensions, shortening Fujita’s to one game and Hargrove to seven, their appeals have kept them on the field until they meet with Goodell.
The commissioner recused himself from the case in late October, naming former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to replace him. But those appeals hearings have been postponed because of Hurricane Sandy. They’re expected to take place sometime in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Vilma remains a part of the Saints team, playing in three games so far and notching eight tackles and a pass-defensed in limited playing time.
Right now, that’s what he’s worrying about. Come Monday, it’ll be back to learning what’s new in his case.
“Honestly, Peter (Ginsberg), my attorney, he’s been great and we have a really good relationship,” Vilma said. “He understands Monday, Tuesday is when you can talk about that stuff. Once I get into the week, there’s nothing else to talk about. If you’re not talking about football or wanting to come down and watch a game, I don’t want to listen.”