One thing I learned when I moved to New Orleans in 1987 was how devoted Saints fans are to their team. I was a man without an NFL home since the Raiders had jilted the Bay Area, so I signed on even though I’ve always refused to say Who Dat. My late friend Ashley Morris used to chide me about that, but I stuck to my guns.
The close connection between fans and team intensified in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. Owner Tom Benson flirted with moving the team to San Antonio but it didn’t happen. Instead, there was a Saints renaissance because of a new head coach, Sean Payton.
The Saints went from perennial wannabes to one of the best organizations in professional sports. He had a little help from his friends but Sean Payton was the driving force behind the Saints success.
It may sound corny but those of us who went through Katrina and its aftermath knew New Orleans was coming back from its brush with civic death when this happened:
The Saints went on to defeat the Falcons in that memorable home opener and went to the NFC Championship game on the strong right arm of Drew Brees and the mind of Sean Payton.
Sean Payton went on to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl win and many other thrilling moments over his 16 years with the team. Coach Payton retired yesterday.
I watched the epic 90 minute press conference. It was a Sean Payton we’ve only seen glimpses of in the past. It was the guy those who know him socially have always seen. He was warm, funny, and even nervous. He let his guard down and admitted that he’d googled techniques to prevent him from crying. Hence the ubiquitous water bottle.
I was touched to see the human side of the coach I’ve long respected:
I didn’t expect to be so moved by Sean Payton’s presser. A good guy in a profession full of assholes.
— Shecky (@Adrastosno) January 25, 2022
The sports media immediately started speculating not only about who would replace Payton but where he would coach next. Speculating is what they do best. I know what Ashley Morris would have said, FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCKS.
I had a different take on the press conference. I saw a man who was comfortable with his momentous decision and ready for the next act of his life. Sean Payton needs a break from the coaching grind: 2021 was one of the Saints most challenging seasons during his tenure.
I see an alternate path for Sean Payton. His press conference was a great audition for a move into broadcasting. I can see him as the next John Madden. He may not be as outrageously funny but like Madden, he’s a teacher at heart.
One of the many things I liked about Sean Payton as a coach was his preference for intelligent players. Assholes didn’t last long on the Saints unless they had a shred of decency underneath. Life’s too short to put up with morons and jerks.
Sean Payton’s success is proof positive that nice guys don’t always finish last. One of the most touching things about the retirement presser were the four pages of notes Sean scribbled, hoping not to forget anyone. He focused on the 2006 team and what they meant to New Orleans. That team reminded us that our city was worth fighting for.
Even if Payton coaches elsewhere, he’ll always be the post-K Saints coach. That’s special, y’all.
Patrick Sean Payton is Irish American. What else could he be with that name? Sláinte means health in Gaelic. It’s a common toast in the old country hence the post title.
Sláinte, Sean. Thanks for the memories.
I pondered what the perfect last word for this post would be, I passed on Irish and New Orleans songs in favor of this touching Neil Young tune:
Long may you run, Coach.