The Lombardo Trophy: An interview with Sean Payton

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Sean Payton. He looks forlorn through the cafe’s window, slumped over a steaming cup of black coffee like a visored profile in a Hopper painting.

He’s got a good reason to look so sad. Just last week, the NFL threw the book at him, Encyclopedia Britannica style. He’s banned from coaching for an entire year.

Sean contacted me, actually, said he wanted to talk. He said he’d sit down for an interview if I gave him advice on who to hire for the Saints job next year. I told him to meet me at 1:30 at Cafe Med.

It’s 1:15.

The Lombardo Trophy: You’re here early.

Sean Payton: Not much else to do.

LT: Right. First question: If you put 10k down on a table, who wins it, Jonathan Vilma or Boba Fett?

SP: Jonathan, hands down.

LT: But Boba Fett has blasters.

SP: Put it this way: would you rather be Han Solo about to be frozen in carbonite or Brett Favre about to take a piledriver from Vilma? You come out of only one of those intact.

LT: You’ve got some experience with that sort of thing. How much do you think Jimmy Graham got for your left knee?

SP: Are you kidding me? No way Drew allows a hit to be taken out on me like that.

LT: Funny you mention Brees. Do you really expect the public to believe that both you and your captain knew nothing about a bounty program going on in your locker room?

SP: Look, I know we in the NFL talk all the time about people in the locker room being your family. But sometimes you get blindsided. I mean, would you expect one of your sons to betray you like that?

LT: I don’t have a son. How old do you think I am, Sean?

SP: Good point. Sixteen-year-olds generally don’t have kids.

LT: So you’re calling what happened a betrayal?

SP: Did I say betrayal? I meant honest mistake.

LT: You’re getting good at this backtracking thing.

SP: Hey man, I learned from the best. I actually consulted with Chancellor Birgeneau — great guy — for help on my apology. But I can’t compete with him, you know, that Occupy bit was the Mona Lisa of apologies. Impeccable timing. Thanksgiving? I mean, the symbolism is perfect. And what did I get?

LT: The fourth anniversary of Bhutan becoming a democracy, I believe.

SP: Exactly. I got squat.

LT: So, looking back, anything you wish you could have done differently?

SP: Look, we all would like to say we would go back and do things differently, but in this case it’s just not worth it. Football, it’s not like elections. No Etch-a-Sketches involved.

LT: What is football like?

SP: Like a fifty-ton sledgehammer hitting you in the temple every Sunday. At least, that’s what Favre told me.

The conversation pauses. “Rolling in the Deep” comes on over the cafe’s tinny speakers and Sean quietly hums the first few bars. Then he breaks the silence:

“So, you said you’d give me some advice if I answered your questions. Who do you think I should hire?”

“Diego Maradona,” I say. “Because after a year of him, the NFL will be begging you to come back.”

Sean’s eyes widen for a moment, then return to their normal size. He stands up, shakes my hand and thanks me for my advice. He has his fingers on the door handle and is about to leave when he pauses, turns, and walks back to me at the table.

“That’s the best damn idea I’ve ever heard,” he says.