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Payton, Saints still marching in the moment

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; LOS ANGELES – The sterling silver Lombardi trophy shone for a few moments on that February night before it was wheeled through and caressed by a crowd of Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. It was passed from CBS’ Jim ...

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Old 07-16-2010, 11:18 PM   #1
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LOS ANGELES – The sterling silver Lombardi trophy shone for a few moments on that February night before it was wheeled through and caressed by a crowd of Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. It was passed from CBS’ Jim Nantz to team owner Tom Benson, from coach Sean Payton to MVP Drew Brees(notes).

In the postgame locker room, players took turns hugging it, touching it, kissing it. Payton even slept with it for the hour and a half he ended up in bed that night. The trophy was the star of the Saints’ victory parade, and a week later, it made five passes through Mardi Gras.

The trophy has gotten better access than some Saints do at certain places – it’s been on stage and backstage with Kenny Chesney, Pat Green and Better than Ezra. It’s also been in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and dive bars, where people crowded in front of old TVs to cheer together on that February night. Now, it’s on a tour of Louisiana so that no one has to drive too far to get a picture with the state’s biggest celebrity.

“It’s kind of become a little bit like Lord Stanley – those stories you hear about the Stanley Cup,” Payton said Monday in one of a whirlwind of interviews he conducted from the lobby of the swanky W Hotel in Hollywood. “But I think it’s fun. I think it’s amazing, people’s response to it when they see and touch it. You can’t get enough of it … this sense that they were going to enjoy it more than you could ever imagine.”

But now it’s time, the experts say, to put that trophy away, to lock it behind polished glass in the team’s facilities. The 2010 season nears and the Saints must march forward, lest they be caught in the trap of so many Super Bowl champions who have become intoxicated with their own accomplishments and carried a wicked hangover into the next season.

Still, if there’s any city that’s equipped to handle a hangover, it’s New Orleans.

To Payton, the old adage that a championship team must put last season in storage has become something of a cliché.

“There are some things that you never put behind you,” Payton said while promoting his new book, “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life,” which debuted at No. 8 on The New York Times’ bestseller list. “You get on to the next challenge, and that’s where we’re at. I think we have a strong locker room, and a young team that really thirsts for more and understands that it’s a unique time for all of us to win and be successful.

“It’s something that we fully embrace.”

Payton knows how difficult it can be to repeat a successful season – he experienced it firsthand in 2007. The ’05 Saints suffered through a 3-13 season before tallying a 10-6 mark and a berth in the NFC championship game the following year.

Payton encouraged that team to forget about its successes, orchestrating a New Orleans-style burial of some of its trophies and awards.

It didn’t work – the Saints went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

There were two problems with the 2007 tactic. First, the Saints weren’t yet built for long-term success. And second, they hadn’t accomplished their ultimate goal. Now they have. “And we’re not burying anything,” Payton said.

This offseason has been pretty smooth, especially considering the turnover that normally accompanies a championship. The Saints didn’t lose a single coach and lost only one key contributor on defense, linebacker Scott Fujita(notes).

Payton has changed the tempo of his team's offseason activities to give them a rest after the long season.

Yes, they parted ways with defensive ends Charles Grant(notes) and Bobby McCray(notes), but free-agent acquisition Alex Brown(notes) will pair nicely with Will Smith(notes) to bring the pressure. On offense, they lost running back Mike Bell(notes), but Payton is high on former undrafted free agent Lynell Hamilton(notes). The team also traded tackle Jamaal Brown, who missed the Super Bowl run due to injury.

So as the preseason looms, it’s time for Payton and Co. to move forward – to hang the pictures on the walls so that they are out of the way but not forgotten.

“There’s some closure in regards to getting on to the next season,” Payton said. “Look, human nature tends to relax with success, so I think you have to address that. But the members of that team, the coaching staff, the organization, they’ll walk together forever.

“I think you want to write another chapter and move on to a new season to see if you can do something that, honestly, has been very difficult for teams to do.”

The Saints take the first step toward that new season when training camp opens in two weeks. All the challenges that came along with having won the Super Bowl – the interviews, the team’s Vicodin case – are about to take a backseat to the challenges that come along with defending it.

Payton already made some adjustments to his offseason schedule, changing the tempo of practices, delaying the start of minicamps and keeping his players out of pads as much as possible. Payton, who writes in his book that he prefers being an underdog, also will be defending a title for the first time, but it won’t be an unfamiliar position. He learned how to handle taking every team’s best shot as his squad started last season 13-0. And he learned how to handle the pressure of playing as the favorite when his team went into the playoffs as the No.1 seed.

Not that, according to Payton, much of that even matters.

“The only thing looming over our team is the upcoming challenges of training camp and the regular season. Those challenges lie ahead,” said Payton, his championship ring sparkling as he gestures. “The other things, we’ve been able to handle them pretty well.”

The celebrations, minicamps, training camp, an upcoming trip to the White House to meet President Obama, – all these are taken in stride. Payton just hopes his team continues to live in – rather than forget about – the moment; that they focus on each challenge, and embrace each opportunity.

Like the opportunity, perhaps, to hoist another shining championship trophy and lift the spirits of Louisianans once again.

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Old 07-19-2010, 02:15 PM   #2
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Re: Payton, Saints still marching in the moment

Training camp is just around the corner. I can't wait.
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