It’s the end of an era for the New Orleans Saints. Coach Sean Payton announced he was “stepping away” from the team in a 92-minute press conference Tuesday, after 16 years – 15 seasons – and a Super Bowl title.
Payton was non-committal about his future, saying he may like to try television, but more than anything that he was thankful to the Saints organization and the fan base.
Rumors already abound about Payton’s plans.
DraftKings had set odds on Sean Payton being named the Las Vegas Raiders coach at +2000. FanDuel has odds on the NFL Coach of the Year with the Bengals Zach Taylor the favorite at +175.
In-person sports betting was approved in Louisiana in 2020 and the state expects to launch online sports betting early in 2022.
Here are 10 reasons why Louisiana will always love Sean Payton.
That’s a clown shirt, bro
The Saints playoff history as of late is nothing but heartbreak, nothing more than when the Rams beat the Saints in the 2018 NFC Championship game thanks to an uncalled, egregious pass interference penalty (yes, we’re still mad) near the goal line.
The Saints, Payton and the NFL already had a contentious relationship dating back to the Bountygate Scandal of 2012 when Payton was suspended for the entire season for allegedly rewarding players for flagrant hits.
Payton was livid at the NFL after the game; and later, New Orleans was angry at the lack of any public response by the league.
In his end-of-season press conference a few days later, Payton wore a half-zip jacket with a bright teal shirt underneath and a wavy line poking above the zipper. Although never confirmed, it was believed that Payton was wearing a shirt made popular by Barstool Sports showing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in clown make-up and a clown nose.
The shirt summed up everyone’s feelings about the situation. It was pass interference!
I’ll have the roast falcon
Whitney Bank is a Louisiana institution and when it made a commercial to promote a new Visa card, it enlisted Payton as a pitchman.
The commercial sees Payton seated at a restaurant in full coaching gear (hey, I didn’t write the commercial). He scans the menu, which lists entrees such as the Sauteed Seahawk, Smothered Panther, Grilled Buffalo and BBQ Bear (all NFL team nicknames).
But in the end, there’s only one correct choice. Payton announces he will have the “Roasted Falcon” throwing shade at the Saints’ one true hated rival: the Atlanta Falcons.
Payton went 21-9 against the Falcons in his coaching career with the Saints.
It was an ambush
Saints fans know the story, we’re in the Super Bowl for the first time and the Colts look better and we look nervous. The Colts lead 10-6 at halftime, when Payton calls for “Ambush” a surprise onside kick angled toward the Saints sidelines (done that way on purpose).
Saints punter Thomas Morstead, a rookie, spun the ball like a top and it caught the Colts by surprise. In the wild scrum, Saints back-up safety Chris Reis came up with the ball. The Saints carried that momentum all the way to a 31-17 Super Bowl win.
Well, that and Tracy Porter’s Pick Six.
Sean Payton recently married a former Miss West Virginia, Skylene Montgomery, and looks happy, although he did note he was out of shape in Tuesday’s press conference.
Rumors have always run wild that the Saints used to hold training camp in West Virginia so Payton could be close to Montgomery. Before that, Louisiana gossip (yeah, we like to talk) used to center on the possible relationship between Payton and Tom Benson’s granddaughter Rita LeBlanc Benson. It is something to look back at the Super Bowl post-game footage and see Payton and Rita so close together.
Payton has two kids with his former wife Beth, who he met when he was a student at Eastern Illinois.
Worry about your meat
The Saints lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 regular season (lousy George Kittle) 48-46. The loss would cost the Saints a home-field advantage in the playoffs.
As the story goes, Payton was shopping for dinner after the loss and encountered a mouthy deli clerk at Whole Foods, who asked him why he went for two points early in the game.
Miffed, Payton walked off, only to return, telling WWL.com that he engaged the clerk telling him, “Hey, your steaks don’t look too good right now. Worry about your frickin’ meat.”
Worrying about your meat became a signature phrase in Louisiana meaning mind your own business.
NFL head coach press conferences are unwatchable for the most part. The coach, win or lose, gruffly answers some questions and looks like he’d rather be having a root canal with no novocain.
Payton had his moments with the media early in his career, but eventually realized the media was a direct conduit to Saints fans and the WhoDat Nation. He opened Tuesday’s press conference, and many of his post-season ones by saying he would answer every question until the media was done.
Can you imagine any other NFL coach saying that? Saying he will stay for as long as it takes? Payton was confident his message would get through and trusted the media to tell it.
It’s the little things that keep rivalries going, and Payton seemed always up for stoking opposing fans and players. The biggest moment came at the end of the Saints playoff game with the Vikings in 2018. The Saints battled back to take the lead and Payton mocked the fans by imitating their SKOL clap above their heads.
Karma came right back to bite the Saints…Minneapolis Miracle anyone? But Payton admitted to the maneuver calling it all “good playoff fun.”
Giving Gleason a ring
Steve Gleason is an iconic figure in Louisiana. The former Saints defensive back is known for blocking a Falcons punt in the first game back at the Caesar’s Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, a moment immortalized with a statue out front.
Gleason now lives with ALS and is almost entirely paralyzed, but has become an unforgettable figure in Louisiana of perseverance and hope. The Saints and Payton honored Gleason with his own Super Bowl ring at a surprise party in 2011, thanking him for his impact with the franchise.
Locker room party
When COVID-19 closed up NFL locker rooms after games, the players began broadcasting their parties after victories on Twitter and Instagram. The rare look at the joy inside only deepened the connection between fans and players.
And Payton was usually right in the middle of the dance mob. He danced with a broom after the Saints “swept” the Carolina Panthers (beating them three times in 2017) and one local artist even came up with a song “Hit the Sean Payton.” The dance craze was no Crunk, but it was Ok.
Payton was a quarterback at Eastern Illinois (Tony Romo broke many of his school records) and after school, he played Arena Football and in the Canadian Football League.
He was even a “Spare Bear” playing for the Chicago Bears during the NFL strike in 1987, and one of the teams the Bears played against was the Saints. The Saints won, 19-17. Payton never lost his love of professional football and carried it forward throughout his coaching career.