The only Saints fans who can truly appreciate Sean Payton were born before 1990.
With the exception of the Jim Mora era, and even that relatively halcyon period had a low ceiling, the Saints were synonymous with losing and paper bags.
To enthusiastically follow and hope for success for the franchise was an act of masochism. And amazingly enough many people across the expanded 504 area code did so.
And it would take almost 40 years for that era to finally come marching in is a treatment to the generations of Saints fans who weathered far more stormy seasons than sunny ones.
And it would be Sean Payton who would lead that parade.
The rebirth of the franchise came after the infamous Katrina season when Tom Benson’s decision to level what existed for the past six years: a culture of close calls and countless excuses.
The foundation of the renewed Saints was an upstart assistant coach from the Dallas Cowboys.
Sean Payton had previously turned down a head coaching opportunity in Oakland because at the end of the day regardless of his title he’d end up essentially being nothing more than another W-2 on Al Davis’s payroll.
In the downtrodden ruin of New Orleans, Payton would have near carte blanche capacity to mold the franchise into something it never was: an offensive juggernaut.
The old formula of defense plus field goals equals wins would be discarded for lighting up the scoreboard like the 4th of July.
And thanks to Nick Saban’s greatest folly as a coach, Payton would land the essential piece to fulfill his vision: Drew Brees.
Together the coach-quarterback tandem would eclipse statistical records, win games, lock up division titles, play in three conference championship games, and most significantly bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans.
And I think ultimately that relationship marked the shelf life of Payton’s tenure in New Orleans; after a season of four quarterbacks Payton wasn’t interested in the grind after #9 hung up his cleats.
To borrow a phrase Payton used to describe his exasperation watching a player consistently flounder on the field, he had seen enough.
Perhaps this would’ve been a very different story had the Kansas City Chiefs not traded up to snatch Patrick Mahomes just as the Saints were about to pull the trigger on the second generation sports prodigy.
The unhappy challenge of truly filling Brees’ spot in the huddle will need to be shouldered by someone else.
And Payton’s successor on the sideline will inherit a better stocked cupboard of talent and culture than he did in 2006.
One day there’s going to be a statue of Drew Brees outside the Superdome (and why not, Nick Foles has one in Philly). Sean Payton’s memorial is already on site, hanging from the stadium’s rafters above the terrace section.
All of those NFC South divisional banners plus the NFC Championship and Super Bowl XLIV are Payton’s.
Hell, Payton can claim the Season Ticket Sell Out banner as well since under his direction, the Saints did not just win a title but won games consistently.
Drew Brees and Reggie Bush (along with FEMA) may have sold out the Superdome in 2006, but it was Sean Payton that engineered a team that kept fans renewing their season tickets.
Yes Payton’s departure Tuesday was an unpleasant surprise for Who Dats though he and Airline Drive had tried to soften the blow with hints leading up to the afternoon press conference.
That Payton leaves Airline Drive as the greatest coach in franchise history is without question.
But he was more than a guy wearing a headset stalking the sideline. He represented the fans in ways few coaches in the NFL would ever dare.
And that includes trolling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, from strategically hinted t-shirts that may have contained imagery portraying Goodell with a clown nose to relaxing on national tv with products that were not official league sponsors.
Payton was our Andy Dufresne to Goodell’s Warden Norton.
And like the Tim Robbins character from The Shawshank Redemption, is no longer under the thumb of a vindictive commissioner and his black and white striped “screws” that conveniently don’t see certain things.
Like brazen pass interference in conference championship games or helmet targeting on a running back in a divisional.
Thanks for giving it your all Coach Payton and we wish you a happy retirement in Dallas, and not Arlington.