CHICAGO, Ill. – Sean Payton doesn’t have a gold jacket, yet.
The former Saints head coach and Naperville native is a Hall of Famer, though – at least in Chicago.
Winning in the Big Easy was hard before Payton pulled into town for his first head coaching job, just months after Hurricane Katrina hit. One victory that he’ll never forget was September 25, 2006 – the night the Super Dome reopened and the city of New Orleans rebirth began.
“None of us – players, coaches, front office employees – could have prepared ourselves for what that night was going to be like.”
Fans flocked in from all over the Gulf Coast. Streets were packed for the historic occasion.
“I was a little concerned with traffic because this was also the first time any one of us drove to the Super Dome. We’re approaching two hours and there’s no Drew Brees. He’s supposed to have been at the stadium. I check in with security and they’re like ‘he’s stuck in traffic.’ I’m like, ‘Stuck in traffic!'” He got caught on Highway 10 in bumper to bumper. Some troopers were able to locate where he was at and help him get to the stadium. It gets worse though. He’s driving one of those old, not Range Rovers, Land Rovers – like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom that has the rack on the top that you would go out on the tundra to find Zebra or Elk,” joked Payton. “He’s pulling into the parking garage – it’s a concrete parking garage – but his rack on top is too tall.
“Literally, he gets stuck. His car gets stuck in the entrance to the parking garage. We’re past the two hours now. I’m already going to fine him. He opens the doors. He hands the keys to the one guy and says, ‘Hey, can you have someone help me?’ Here he comes, walking down the hall and I’m sitting at the doorway to the locker room. I said, ‘Nice of you to join us.’
“I think the car is still stuck there.”
Brees and Payton forged a special relationship as QB and coach. It culminated in the organization’s first Super Bowl championship, giving fans a title they’d waited 43 years for.
“That was the fun part, just seeing the look on their faces afterwards. Even on the journey, when we were playing. You’d come home from the game and there’d be 5,000 people at the airport at 2 in the morning just wanting to get a glimpse of the team as they drove their cars back home late Sunday night or early Monday morning. There had been a lot of long years – a lot of long seasons. We see it in today’s game. There’s some really, really good football cities that are just waiting for their team. Whether it’s Cleveland. Whether it’s Detroit. Those are good football fans. At some point, that will happen. It happened in New Orleans and the culture switched. Then, we kept it switched. That’s kind of the neat part about it.”
Payton just took the Broncos job, joining Russell Wilson in Denver. However, there is another AFC West quarterback that he’s always admired from afar.
“In the 2017 Draft, we had a lot of players that we liked. It stood out for whatever reason. We had two picks in the first round. We had worked out Patrick Mahomes. He was the best quarterback I’d seen, 20 some-odd years coaching. His visit we had with him on campus was that good.
“I think he’s special. I think he’s got a lot of everything you’re looking for. He can move well enough. He can throw well enough. He’s exceptionally smart in reading the defenses but also setting the protections.
“I remember on my report I said ‘the only thing I don’t like is the squeaky voice,” Payton laughed. “If that’s the only thing you don’t like, then you probably have a good player.”