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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Associated Press)<br>
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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Associated Press)

Saints head coach Sean Payton. (Associated Press)<br>

Saints head coach Sean Payton. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: Fans better hope Benson's gamble pays off soon

Last Modified: Wednesday, January 02, 2013 7:15 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

The Saints now reportedly have the NFL’s highest paid coach to go along with the highest paid quarterback.

If not, they are very close.

Not bad for a team that didn’t make the playoffs this season and has never won a road postseason game.

Yet, their they are, the richest men in their professions.

The Saints rewarded both head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees not for what they have won lately, but rather what they have done for the franchise.

In particular, how they not only saved a team but a city.

What would New Orleans look like had owner Tom Benson taken his team’s talents to San Antonio, like many think he was going to do before Katrina hit town.

The Superdome itself might not even be standing. Or worse, it could be abandoned and looking a lot like the Houston Astrodome.

The eighth wonder of the world is now a wonder how it remains standing in Houston.

So for that, maybe the two are worth the cash. After all, it isn’t our money.

But now, the two really are under the gun. If they thought there was pressure to win before, now it is multiplied about as much as their tax bracket.

It is true that money can’t buy you happiness, but it should buy you a few wins in the world of sports.

Now the cash machine duo will be expected to lead the Saints back to the Super Bowl. It really comes down to that. When you ask for the big bucks, you have to expect even bigger expectations are going to follow.

And, after suffering through the bounty scandal, a 7-9 season and a host of other off-field issues, Saints fans want to return to where they were not so long ago: among the NFL elite.

When it comes to rubbing elbows with other pro football franchises that win, the Saints are new money. One Super Bowl title doesn’t get you a table with the big boys, but at least it gets you in the front door.

But when Benson decided to pay both Payton and Brees, he told the NFL establishment that he was never willing to go to the days when the Saints were terrible and the fans wore bags over their heads to hide the shame.

He liked being important. He liked being in the room with the big boys. So he spent his money like a sailor on shore leave, hoping it does lead to more wins and does lead his franchise and city back to football’s promised land.

Don’t think for a minute that everybody else wasn’t watching.

All the other quarterbacks were anxious to see just what one Super Bowl title was worth on the open market. Eli Manning has two and doesn’t make what Brees makes. Same with Tom Brady who has three.

Then there are the other coaches, watching to see what Payton finished with. There are those out there now making less who have won more.

And the other owners, they watched as both Brees and Payton played chicken with Benson and won. This, despite the fact they never really tested the open market.

The pressure to re-sign the two didn’t come from the outside world but rather Benson’s own belief that he needed the two to keep himself important in New Orleans.

Without Payton and Brees the Saints are ... well, a lot closer to the Kansas City Chiefs than any New Orleans fan would dare to admit, or even want to think about.

So Benson kept the pressure off himself and put it back on the two who broke the bank.

It has been five years since the Saints won their Super Bowl. Few fans allow a team to play that long on credit.

Now, Saints fans have to hope Benson’s bucks pay off before the club hits its own fiscal cliff.

•••

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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