January 18, 2006. I know where I was? How ‘bout you? Sixteen years ago earlier this month I was a college senior (and, ahem, student body president) at a very exclusive institution, spending part of my between-semester break painting our seminary’s lounge. It was quiet, all-by-my-lonesome work. But only months after Special K (Hurricane Katrina), it was the work I needed. Stroke by stroke, leaving a fresh mark, my solitude broken only by the sound of a crackling radio. “I'm excited about this opportunity. I know it's a challenge and we're going to roll our sleeves up.” On January 18, 2006, that’s what the radio was telling me, as I lined up my next blue stripe and listened to Sean Payton’s introductory press conference. How long ago was that? Measure it this way: there’s no YouTube video to prove it even happened. Just an AP story — you know, the content with the words and all. It wasn’t even the biggest press conference of my painting career. A week before, January 11, 2006, Tom Benson and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stood arm-in-arm at the Saints facility, welcoming the franchise finally home after the season sojourning in the desert. If you, like me, were just listening along, allow my grandfather to paint another pre-YouTube picture: Beneath a golden mantle of January sunshine, under a banner telling us our town's football team was "Marching in to Win and Help Rebuild Our Community," Paul Tagliabue welcomed Tom Benson back home Wednesday. It was also the presser (and YouTube would back me up on this, honest) that Benson declared his intentions for the Atlanta Falcons: “We gonna kick their hump-humps.” And just like that, there went my straight blue line, blitzed out of place by some good ol’ Benson rhetorical boogie. “I hope that in some small way the effort of this team in 2006 and beyond will represent this city and this region well.” A week later, Payton is still talking, and I’m still listening. The 42-year-old offensive coordinator for Bill Parcells, passed over by the Packers, relieved of play calling duties by Jim Fassel, ready to dance with the last gal standing. And after sixteen years the dance finally has ended, even as the feeling of embrace endures. This time, I heard the news of the press conference at St. Charles Parish Prison (Nelson Coleman Correctional Center, to be exact). I was visiting, I might add, not picking out a bed. From seminary lounge to parish prison. Life comes at you fast, as the kids say — these days, on their TikToks, not their radios. I’ll always vividly remember both press conferences, both moments, both places — Sean Payton stretching arms out and touching two different points of my life, a presence for sixteen years of precious football and life memories. Sixteen years later and Payton is at a different point, too. The Dennis the Menace in a visor has turned into Kevin James on the Netflix. Again: life don’t meander. If Drew was Breesus — perfect, focused, haloed, like us in all things but arm strength — Payton was something like Elijah. The wild-eyed Old Testament prophet was a miracle worker in his own right, but he was also brash, always a step ahead, always ready to win and always ready to remind you of the score. Brees would never make a choking gesture to a fumbling running back (what would Wrangler Jeans or Jimmy John’s submarines think?), but Payton would. And then, just as naturally, sign the player to the team a few years later. Brees would never get suspended for a year (what would Quaker Oats or Waitr say?), but Payton could. And then make a movie out of it. Brees would never play “The Circle of Life” when bounty boy Gregg Williams returned with another team for a Superdome stampede or wear a Roger Goodell clown shirt when the refs forgot that flag or mimic the Vikings skol cheer when the game was all but over, but Payton did. And then, with a smirk, deny doing anything at all. It’s good when the choir boy and the cutup are best friends — and class valedictorians. It was good when we had Drew-and-Sean, hyphenated always together, harbingers of our Saints springtime sixteen years ago. Both needed each other (turns out post-Brees life was not as rejuvenating a challenge as we kept saying last offseason, huh?). More importantly, we needed them both. And now it’s time for Sean to move on, his flaming ride approaching. Swinging low, sweet chariot. Thanks for it all, Coach. We know you’ll keep marching on. Thanks for helping us with ours. -30- Before you click immediately over to Netflix for the movie premier, ask yourself again: “Am I really ready for all this?”I also clearly remember where I was when the kangaroo court rendered its Bountygate decision (walking through the St. Clement rectory, housekeeper with the ironing board out), but it’s still surreal. Or, more precisely, suppressed. Ask yourself that same question before clicking on this one.