NEW ORLEANS — When Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006, he brought with him a winning culture.
It was a first for the one-time beleaguered franchise. So naturally, the news of Payton’s departure from the game is leaving fans with just about every emotion.
“I feel like I just left a funeral and I am headed to a wedding and my wife is in the hospital about to have a new baby,” said Saints superfan Leroy “Whistle Monsta” Mitchell, a fan known for his signature loud whistle and the large whistle helmet he wears each game. “Crazy emotions man.”
Payton’s numbers are up there with the best of them, more than 150 wins, including a Super Bowl just a few years after Hurricane Katrina. Mitchell held back tears when I asked him about the role the Saints and Payton played as the city aimed to rebuild from the storm.
“Katrina, with him coming here when nobody… I am not going to cry on television,” Mitchell said. “Drew did the same thing they just -- they believed in us, they took a chance.”
Saints superfan Ezell Knox aka "Soul Saint" is sad to see Payton exit, but after 16 years, including last season, a year filled with COVID, another storm and a narrow miss of the playoffs, he understands.
“After this season, after dealing with everything we dealt with the season, I respect Sean Payton’s decision and I understand,” Knox said. “He probably aged 10 years this last season.”
Saints fans are seeing Payton leave just a year after QB Drew Brees retired, Mitchell says replacing a steady force like Payton will be just as difficult.
“You know, it’s big shoes. We had our left shoe taken off with Drew Brees and it’s just empty and now you are taking off the right shoe now. We only have two feet,” Mitchell said.
It’s unclear what Payton will do next. He hasn’t ruled out coaching again at some point in the future, but one thing is for certain there will always be a special place in the heart of the Who Dat Nation for the man who bled black and gold for 16 years