Our cover guy on the September “People to Watch” issue 10 years ago was “what’s his name?” I say it that way because I recall having posed the question to myself back in 2006.
Usually whenever the Saints have gotten a new head coach, his name is branded in the community discussion at a level perhaps higher than that of the mayor or governor. But, if you’ll recall, in 2006 as we drifted toward autumn, many of us were still preoccupied with the business of recovery, not sure where Katrina had left our lives or future. The Saints head coach was important, but so, too, was the clerk at the FEMA office.
There was not much to excite us about Sean Payton, who had been an assistant coach at Dallas. In those days of misplaced priorities, I remember thinking that – just as we had seen Archie Manning’s son, Peyton, grow up locally, matriculate through Newman High School and have a successful college career – with the new Saints head coach we would face a new era of headlines saying “Payton’s Place” or other variations of the movie title.
Nor was there much excitement about the Saints new quarterback, who had left San Diego with a shoulder problem. While we scraped the mold from our walls, the Saints seemed like a new habitat for the nameless and the have-nots.
September 2006 turned out to be the stage for one of the greatest Saints games ever. Over 70,000 people packed the Dome as though to add thunder to the Monday Night Football TV audience. A miracle blocked punt by a little-known Saint named Steve Gleason set up the touchdown that began the Saints near-perfect win over Atlanta. The team would go on to make it to the playoffs. There they lost in the first round, but the fans who had suffered through the previous years were thrilled. Everyone would remember the names of Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Gleason.
“Payton is working methodically to rebuild a team,” the accompanying article by staffer Sue Strachan said. “One could say he’s rebuilding the city’s confidence as well.” That he did, and may there be others in this year’s class who will do the same.