Sean Payton, coronavirus patient, self-quarantined in his house in New Orleans on Sunday night, ordered a cheesesteak for delivery from a favorite eatery. “I am blessed for many reasons,” the Saints coach said over the phone just after the food arrived. He sounded chipper. “Unfortunately, this disease hasn’t cost me my appetite.”
The delivery people know to leave food at the doorstep. They know Payton is that guy you don’t want to come in contact with. He’s the guy a week into Covid-19. He knows he’s lucky, because he has no underlying illnesses, he’s 56, he’d been working out daily (until this), and he can afford, at this time of year, to nap and take care of himself and let the virus run its course. He’s been almost exclusively in the house for eight days—leaving only to be tested last Monday—and plans to sequester himself for at least another week.
He’s the only NFL coach, or top NFL official, to test positive for coronavirus. Yet. Ominously, he knows that might not last. “When all is said and done, a third of every group in the country might get it,” Payton said. “And we’ve got to be careful about spreading it, of course. [Saints offensive coordinator] Pete Carmichael has diabetes, so we’ve got to be careful about him, and everyone really.”
Payton has no idea how he contracted it. Three weeks ago, he’d just left the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, teeming with 2,500 NFL people and media in close contact. The next weekend, he went to New York to see a couple of Broadway plays. Crowded theaters. Then he golfed with friends in Naples, Fla. “Then, last Friday [10 days ago] I was talking with Bill Parcells. He had a horse, Three Technique, running in a race in Arkansas on Saturday. Bill wasn’t planning to go, but I like the races. I said I’ll go. So I went to the race. Back home, on Sunday, just a week ago today, I felt cruddy, a little feverish and just weak. Had the chills. Woke up Monday with the chills. Achy. I called our team doc, described the symptoms. It’s not flu season down here, so he thought there was an 85 percent chance I had [coronavirus]. I went over to a hospital, drove up the little ramp there, and they came out to test me. They had all their protective gear on. I rolled down my window. Just like you’ve seen—they did nostril one, then they did nostril two. That was it. On Thursday, he texted me. ‘Tested positive. Call me.’ I wasn’t nervous about it, because I was feeling good.”
Payton feels better, but still weak. Today, he’ll join his NFL Competition Committee peers on a teleconference to discuss potential rules changes. He finds himself empathizing with so many people now that he’s seen and felt what the virus can do.
“Look, I feel well. I’ll get better, and we’ll go on, and we’ll have the draft in some way, shape or form,” Payton said. “That’s not what’s important right now. What’s important is our health-care workers, our doctors and nurses, on the front lines of this thing. We’ve got to take care of them.
“For now, this is our life, and we’ve got to be prepared for it. Some basic stuff in all of our lives is going to be threatened. We’ve all got to exercise a little more social responsibility. We all felt invincible at some point in our lives, as young people do now. But think of the person you might be affecting.”
Payton, when he feels up to it, plans to figure which cause affected by the virus he can help through his Play It Forward Foundation. Consuming media these days, he’s found himself thinking, How can I help? It’s a good question for all of us these days.