METAIRIE, La. — Not long after the sun rose over New Orleans one training-camp morning, Sean Payton was a realtor showing off the best property in his luxe inventory. His inventory: the massively refurbished Saints training facility. There’s the ice box in the end zone, a remade long trailer where 20 or so players at a time can get refreshed in 32-degree chill to escape the 98-degree heat-index temps outside. There’s the $3-million team meeting room with Saints-logoed plush chairs and a $600,000 video screen in front of the room, the screen Payton debuted at the start of camp with an electrifying snakes-chasing-iguanas BBC video. There’s the revamped indoor facility with the gigantic mural of the Saints’ all-time team taking up one wall. There’s the plush locker room than isn’t quite LSU-pullout-beds-nice, but extremely cushy, with an important feature for the muggy Louisiana summers and autumns: fans and individuals dehumidifiers at each locker. There’s the sleeping room, where eight coaches can bunk up for the night or for an afternoon nap, complete with privacy curtains and all the power outlets they’d need. There’s the trainers’ room that has every creature comfort of the richy-rich new places in Dallas and Minnesota. GM Mickey Loomis and Payton put in the asks because they wanted to have a place the equal of any team in the league, and the late Tom Benson (first) and now owner Gayle Benson have written the checks. They get it. And now the Saints, orphans of Katrina 14 years ago, have a jewel that quite frankly is stunning to see.
It’s the kind of jewel, and this is the kind of team, that I believe could make Payton a Saints lifer. Could,I mean. This is his 14th season in Louisiana (13, if you subtract the year he was suspended over Bountygate), and all along we’ve assumed one day Jerry Jones would come calling with a rich trade offer and silly money, and the Saints would let Payton walk. He’d be an attractive free-agent coach—he’s won 126 games in 13 years, and his offense has the kind of John Nash “Beautiful Mind” cutting-edge feel that owners love. And maybe one day Jones or someone entices him. But the way Payton showed off this place for us, with such pride and excitement, I started to think he could grow old here, and be very happy.
Payton, before showing it off to me and NBC crewmates Annie Koeblitz and Nicole Granito early one camp morning, paused in the end zone of the practice field to consider all of it—the field and the adjacent team offices.
“In 2005,” he said, “during Katrina, our building was taken over by FEMA. The Apache helicopters you saw in the rescue missions took off and landed right on this football field. Across the street, over at the [Triple-A] baseball stadium, was the makeshift morgue. When we got here in ’06, there were tarps on the walls [inside], and you just knew a fresh coat of paint wasn’t going to be all that was needed. Now, wait till you see. It’s completely different.”