NEW ORLEANS — It is easy to think the worst humbling of Sean Payton’s career came six years ago, when the Bountygate scandal erupted and he was suspended for a year, exiled to Dallas to coach his son’s football team. And to listen to Payton now — the defiance, the supreme self-confidence — it is easy to see how that affected him.
He takes great delight in being a marionette master now, going so far this past week as to coach up fans of his Saints, who will pack the Superdome tight on Sunday with the NFC championship on the line against the Rams.
“What’s important for our fan base is understanding when that crowd noise needs to begin differently this week than normal weeks,” Payton said. “That crowd noise needs to begin prior to 15 seconds [on the play clock]. It needs to begin just as that last play finished. You get 65-70 snaps of that crowd noise earlier than normal, and louder than normal … it’s difficult.”
He said all this with a straight face.
Drew Brees might be the most popular man in all of Louisiana, but Payton is right behind him. Just the hint that the Cowboys might think about making a play for him dominated a news cycle in the Bayou. He has become a local treasure in the French Quarter, and should he win two more games in the next three weeks, he will be a shoo-in for Canton.
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Which makes it all the more remarkable to remember the time in his career when Payton was really humbled, when he was publicly shamed. Payton was the offensive coordinator for the 2000 Giants, who made a beautiful late-season dash for the Super Bowl. He was the man calling the plays during the 41-0 crushing of the Vikings in that season’s NFC Championship, which was one of the two or three greatest moments in the history of old Giants Stadium.