Scooter Hobbs column: Payton’s earned his rest

Published 12:12 pm Wednesday, January 26, 2022

First it was Drew Brees, and now …

Hard as it was to fathom, as much you tried not to think about it, you always knew there would come a time when Brees would have to retire from the Saints.

But …

Email newsletter signup

Frankly, it never occurred to me that the Saints would ever have to take the field without Sean Payton as their head coach.

So this is going to really take some getting used to.

The two of them, Brees and Payton, will likely forever be joined at the hip in our minds and memories.

Louisiana’s very own Butch and Sundance.

Maybe they just set the table. Maybe the standards Payton established will continue in his absence.

But it must not be as easy as Payton made it look for 16 years. Certainly a touch act to follow.

Before Payton, the comically hapless Saints had to settle for one brief spurt of being kind of decent and mostly competitive under Jim Mora.

Even that era never produced a single playoff victory — that one (and only one) came by accident under Jim Haslett in 2000.

Mostly they were so hilariously bad that you figured NFL Films sent reinforcements to the Big Easy every week just to stockpile the carnage for its slapstick-blooper reels.

The fans put up with it by being delightfully zany, seemingly oblivious to heartache, and thankful for small victories between a lot diddly-poo.

And then Payton (and Brees) showed up to a broken city still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Katrina.

A fan base that never had a problem having nutty fun, suddenly had to learn that winning could be part of that equation.

It even came to be expected. As long as Payton was pulling the levers, you knew the Saints always a chance, suddenly expected to be in the Super Bowl hunt every year.

It changed everything.

And it wasn’t just that Payton and the Saints won.

With Payton’s offensive mind — and, yes, Brees — there wasn’t a team more fun to watch.

The TV sideline shots of Payton were always reassuring. You got the feeling that your coach had something up his sleeve, that he was smarter than the guy on the other sideline. Or at least more clever.

This, from a Midwestern stranger who came to embrace and keyed into the Big Easy asylum like he’d been born and raised on Esplanade.

Yes, it will take some getting used to someone else.

During his farewell address, Payton praised his Saints fan base because “It’s not a wine-and-cheese crowd — the tickets are a major part of their budget,” so you can probably still scratch the annual rumor that that the Dallas Cowboys have lured him away from the Big Easy.

But it doesn’t sound like he’s done with coaching. Just not this next season. And probably never again in New Orleans.

So my everlasting memory of the Payton Saints will not be of the Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Colts — although that was certainly something that had never occurred to me I’d ever be covering.

It came two weeks earlier when the Saints beat the Vikings in the Superdome just to get to Miami for the final, unthinkable prize.

And the part that is burned into my mind wasn’t the Brett Favre interception, it wasn’t the winning field goal, it wasn’t Reggie Bush’s victory lap with a baseball bat. It wasn’t even in the Dome itself.

It was probably a good two hours afterwards, work done, when a sports writer buddy and I eased out of the Dome parking lot onto Poydras Street, which was still, some two hours after the game, also a parking lot.

It was hopeless gridlock all the way to the Mississippi River. Nothing moving. And nothing was going to move anytime soon. But every horn from every car in the city was blaring at rock-concert levels.

And nobody cared one bit. Don’t ask me how, but you could tell — the ceaseless horn-blasting wasn’t from traffic frustration, it was just unabashed glee, nothing but smiles just to be part of it, and those Who Dats didn’t care if they ever got home.

To go 9-8 this season with everything the 2021 season threw at him might have been his best coaching job, certainly his most resourceful. But it obviously took a toll.

He needs to step away. Let him rest and remember the good times.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at