Earlier in the week, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, announced that he was “stepping away” from coaching for the 2022 NFL season and possibly the foreseeable future. This, of course, comes just one year after Drew Brees announced his retirement from the New Orleans Saints.
In sports, one could argue what Walter Payton, Michael Jordan or Kobe and Magic mean to their respective cities; however, in New Orleans, what Brees and Payton accomplished on and off the football field, together is simply astonishing. 144 wins by a coach-QB duo is second most in NFL history, only to Brady and Belichick. The duo’s 152 wins is the most in franchise history and nearly twice as much as second place Jim Mora with 93. Payton holds five 12-win seasons, seven NFC South Titles, Super Bowl XLIV champion, 2006 AP Coach of the Year, and had a top five offense in the NFL 11 times.
I could sit here and type stat after stat, accolade after accolade but none of those are first to come to mind when I think about NFL Coach, Sean Payton. Although we are all worried about what the future of this team holds, take a minute to breathe, appreciate and give thanks to one of the greatest New Orleans Saints to ever do it.
To understand what all Sean has done, we have to go back and remember what this team was prior to being coached by Sean Payton. This team was one of the worst in the history of sports, not just the NFL. A team that didn’t see its first playoff appearance until 20 years after the franchise was founded in 1967. Up until 2006, the Saints had a mere five playoff appearances and only one playoff win in their 39 years of existence.
A franchise deprived of talent, having only seven players in franchise history make more than four Pro Bowls and only three players earn All-Pro honors more than once. The team never established a culture, nor did it have the homegrown players to make the foundation of the Saints we know now.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the entire gulf region, hitting the city of New Orleans the hardest. Questions began to arise of the team potentially moving, but then we took a risk and hired some guy from Dallas and threw him in an almost impossible situation. What did he do? The Saints stayed in New Orleans, doubled their win total from the year prior, secured a spot in the playoffs, won a home playoff game and made it to the NFC title game, all in 2006. For the first time in a long time, Saints fans in the city of New Orleans and beyond had a reason to be excited, a reason to have hope and a reason to be optimistic about the future of the city and their team.
Just 3 years later, the Saints made the playoffs once again and had a run for the ages, knocking off Warner, Farve, and Peyton Manning. Sean Payton calls one of the gutsiest plays we’ve ever seen an “ambush,” something we will tell our grandkids about, something that will continue to live on in NFL history. To quote the great Jim Henderson we went and “Partied with the Lombardi!” This win would not have happened without Sean Payton. We’ve become spoiled, watching him coach our team and do things that have never been done at such a level or with so much consistency. At the end of the day, what Sean has done for this team is immeasurable and what he means to our city and our fans will live on across the city of New Orleans. Sean, you’ve given New Orleans hope, happiness, and in a sense, rebirth of ourselves, our team, and our city. The impact you’ve had, both on and off the field cannot be put into words.
To put it simply, Sean… thank you.