METAIRIE, La. – Philip Marshall and Alex Luhrman were enjoying cocktail hour at a local establishment two nights ago an idea popped into their heads – someone should fly a plane above the New Orleans Saints facility towing a “Free Payton” banner.
On Wednesday, their brainstorming came to fruition.
Marshall, a 54-year-old United Airlines pilot based in California who grew up a Saints fans and attended the very first game, flew a small private plane from St. Tammany Parish to Metairie carrying a banner with big block letters spelling FREE PAYTON behind it.
It took 21 days but fans finally had their say about Sean Payton’s year-long suspension during training camp.
“It’s pretty sweet,” starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “It kind of caught us off guard. I was over there taking a knee after our repos and I seen it kind of just flying around. That’s kind of neat.
“You’ve got a city that’s going to back their coach and their players.”
The plane circled the two practice fields more than eight times before heading east towards downtown and back to St. Tammany Parish.
Marshall said air traffic control at Armstrong International Airport was “very accommodating” and dubbed his plane Who Dat 1.
The plane almost didn’t make it to its primary destination, Marshall said, after the plane ran hot. He piloted the plane through a rain storm to cool the engine down.
Seconds after the plane left the airspace, Saints safety Roman Harper turned to fans, jokingly saying he bought the banner. Quarterback Drew Brees, meanwhile, made it clear that there was a possibility the players would get together for just such an act.
“If there’s a team something that we want to do, yes, I’ll always chip in,” Brees said, before adding, “(and) not what people would probably twist that to mean. If it’s a legal and funny thing like that, then yeah, I’d do it.”
The duo started a website called FreePayton.org, on which it says the group “will be initiating our indefinite air campaign in support of Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints who have been wrongfully persecuted by the National Football League.”
Marshall and Luhrman paid a total of $2,100, a cost that included aviation fuel and the banner, for the three-hour flight. And they’re hoping it’s not the last time the $700-an-hour banner flies. They'll be posting buzz updates on Twitter @PaytonAir
Already they’ve received queries about flying the banner over NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s home in New York, to which Marshall responded, “We can do that.”