In 1997, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was tired of offensive coordinator Jon Gruden's flirtations with the Oakland Raiders' head-coaching job and instructed me to find a young coach the organization could groom to become the next offensive coordinator.
We brought in several candidates for interviews, but offensive line coach Bill Callahan strongly recommended someone who had just taken a job at the University of Maryland and whose furniture was headed for College Park. The minor detail of moving didn't stop Sean Payton from driving to Philadelphia, interviewing with the Eagles and accepting his first professional football coaching position, which required a rerouting of his furniture.
Unconventional thinking allowed Payton to chase his dream of being in the NFL. Instead of worrying about the details of his furniture, he saw the opportunity to do "mighty things" and jumped at the chance to be the Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
Payton has never been conventional when it comes to football. He played for the Chicago Bears as a strike player in 1987 after a great college career at Eastern Illinois. He spent time in the Arena League, playing because he loved the game, and went into coaching because he loved the game. Still, he has never lost sight of what he is -- an unconventional problem solver.
Working in the basement of the old and cramped Veterans Stadium, Payton didn't have a formal office. All he had was a cell phone, a briefcase he moved from place to place and an insatiable appetite to learn football from both Gruden and Callahan.
When Gruden left for Oakland in 1998, Payton stayed on with Philadelphia, but not in the offensive coordinator role, rather remaining quarterbacks coach. Payton kept learning his craft, kept smiling and kept building his resume, which today places him in history among the greatest coaches in the NFL with that one special title -- a Super Bowl winner.
Payton learned his craft from Gruden, Callahan, Bill Parcells and many others, but he never tried to copy their approach or methods, as he was his own man. That uniqueness is rare today in coaching, where some believe they must be a carbon copy of successful coaches. However, for Payton, keeping his own identity is what made him a Super Bowl winner with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Payton knew it would take unconventional thinking to achieve greatness and was willing to follow Teddy Roosevelt's advice from a speech called The Strenuous Life: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
Payton dared to be great Sunday, and he was great.
Super Bowl edition of weekend's best
» It was going to take a Peyton Manning-like performance to beat Peyton Manning, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees saved his best for the last game. Brees was magnificent once he got comfortable with the speed of the Indianapolis Colts' defense. His accuracy was amazing, and his patience was even better.
» Saints cornerback Tracy Porter has a lifetime meal ticket in the Big Easy. His incredible play on the 74-yard interception return for a touchdown was the product of preparation, timing and knowing when to take a chance. Porter made game-altering plays in two consecutive games. He picked off a Brett Favre pass to force overtime in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago.
» Kicker Garrett Hartley got the Saints to the Super Bowl with his winning kick in the NFC title game, but his three field goals Sunday were as important. Three conversions from 40-plus yards were huge, because had he missed, he would have given the Colts great field position. Hartley was the unsung hero of the game.
» Colts coach Jim Caldwell will wake up in the middle of the night for the rest of his life regretting sending kicker Matt Stover out to attempt a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Stover hadn't made a kick beyond 50 yards since 2006. That miss changed the game.
» Indianapolis allowed just 32 yards and one first down in the first quarter. It also forced two punts. Then for the next three quarters, it allowed 19 first downs, 300 yards and never forced another punt. More importantly, the Colts allowed 31 points over the last three quarters.
» Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon had a great playoff run, but his drop of a key third-down pass was critical and allowed the Saints to dominate the second quarter. Had he caught the ball, there was room to run. That one hurt.
» The Colts had 13 third downs in the game and converted six of them, but they failed to move the chains on a third-and-1 play late in the second quarter, which allowed the Saints to kick a field goal before the half. Porter's interception return for a touchdown came on a third-and-5 play in the fourth quarter. The Colts were tied for the best third-down percentage in the NFL during the regular season, but their misses cost them Sunday.
We might have seen the last of …
» LaDainian Tomlinson playing for the Chargers.
» Matt Stover kicking.
» The salary-cap era in the NFL. In the next few weeks, the landscape of free agency is about to change. Dramatically.
If I were …
» Any team picking in the top 10 of the draft and needing a quarterback, I would be worried about the current college crop. What makes it hard for those teams to reach the Super Bowl in the pass-friendly NFL is the need for a top-flight passer, and this draft might not provide one.
» Peyton Manning, I wouldn't listen to the criticism, as he doesn't deserve it. Yes, it was a mistake on the throw that Porter picked off, but Reggie Wayne was as much to blame. Wayne struggled to come out of his cut, and he must cross the face of the defensive back in that situation.
The advertising age
The hardest thing about attending a Super Bowl is you miss all the commercials. I have often thought that fans at the game should be entertained during breaks in the action with commercials, but stadium rules prohibit it because of infringement rights. Nonetheless, my favorite was the E-Trade babies.
Three-step dots ...
» If you have business with anyone from New Orleans, it might be best to wait until the end of the week to call. The town that knows how to celebrate better than any other will be busy for the next few days. ...
» I don't know much about ratings, but Super Bowl XLIV was the most-watched program in television history. I can't wait to watch it again on NFL Network on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. It was a great game that will get even better with time. ...
» New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn't crazy for going for it on fourth down in November against the Colts, as evidenced by the Saints' unconventional thinking in the Super Bowl. New Orleans proved once again that Belichick had the right idea but failed in the execution. ...
» Congratulations to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010. I'm very happy for all the new members, but I'm really happy for Dick LeBeau. He has made an impact on and off the field to this great game, and it is wonderful to see all his hard work rewarded. ...
» What makes me laugh and really think before we get ready to evaluate the next crop of college prospects is that both Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice were once thought to be too slow to play in the league, and their draft stock dropped. Smith slid to 17th in 1990 and was the second running back picked. Rice fell to 16th in 1985 and was the third receiver taken. ...
» Saints safety Chris Reis amazingly recovered the onside kick after a struggle like none other I've seen. He fought hard in that pileup to secure the ball and will be a great trivia question in years to come. ...
» I worked with former Saints personnel executive Bob Whitman while with the San Francisco 49ers, and we both enjoyed a win in Super Bowl XIX. Whitman has since passed, but I'm sure he's looking down, smiling on his beloved Saints and even happier for his hometown. ...
» I already miss football.