METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton grew up in Philadelphia.
Payton was raised in nearby Newtown Square until he was in junior high, when his family moved to Naperville, Ill. Years later, Payton's first NFL job was as quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1997-98.
During those years, he worked under head coach Ray Rhodes and alongside several successful coaches like Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh, Bill Callahan, David Shaw and current Saints assistant Joe Vitt.
“To have a chance to begin an NFL career there was exciting. It seemed like so long ago,” said Payton, who said he still has a lot of family and friends in the area. “All of my elementary education, older brother and sister both graduated high school in Newtown Square. The first pro football game [he attended] was at the Vet. The first baseball game was at the Vet. The first college game was Army-Navy, the stadium that no longer exists. The Flyers winning back to back Stanley Cups, all of those things were a part of my childhood.
“The sports fans are amazing there, very passionate and a real die-hard fan base. That presents challenges when you play, especially in the playoffs.”
Payton is very familiar with the intensity of that Philly fan base, having also spent time as an assistant coach with the NFC rival New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys for seven years before coming to New Orleans.
Payton had a great passage in his 2010 book, “Home Team,” where he recalled giving players a vivid and accurate description of what they would encounter during their first trip to Philadelphia as the visiting team in 2009.
He said he gained credibility with the players by correctly predicting that the fourth team bus would be pelted by eggs -- two of which he insisted came from a boy who was probably about 9 years old.
“Going into Philadelphia is the antithesis of going to a place like Green Bay with all their bratwurst hospitality,” Payton wrote in the book. “The Philadelphia welcome to a visiting football fan is more like: 'We really don't [expletive] want to see you on game day.' It's even worse for an away team that has come to Philly for a game.”
Payton recalled telling players, “These people are masters at being miserable. These are the people who boo Santa Claus.”
Payton didn't spice up his description quite as much this week while discussing the Philly atmosphere with the media. But make no mistake -- he'll once again let his players know what they should expect from one of the NFL's most notoriously hostile crowds.
“It's a playoff atmosphere, so [that's an issue] regardless of what stadium you'd be in,” Payton said this week. “But these are passionate fans that love their football team. It'll be loud. It's a hostile environment and a very difficult place to play. I think their fan base does a great job of certainly pulling for their team. It's a challenge, especially this time of the year when you're in the postseason.”
Payton humor: Payton also had some fun in several of his answers during Wednesday's media gathering. At one point, Payton was told that Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been referred to as “a younger Sean Payton” -- even though Payton is actually one month younger.
“First off, I feel like you are piling it on. I just turned 50 [this past Sunday]. I take offense to that,” Payton said, before complimenting the rookie NFL coach who indeed brings an innovative offensive style that's reminiscent of Payton. “Obviously, the system he is familiar with and what he was very successful with at Oregon, he has applied to his talent in Philadelphia. I think the first sign of good coaching is taking the pieces you have and building a system around that, and I think he has done that extremely well.”
Later while joking about the new sweat suits that have been ordered for the Saints' playoff road trip to Philadelphia, Payton referenced Kelly again.
Someone asked Payton if his sweat suit would be smaller than in the past since he has gotten in such good physical shape over the past year.
“Mine's smaller,” Payton said. “It's smaller than Chip's, I know that.”
Good to know: Some interesting details -- as usual -- from the folks at ESPN Stats & Information heading into the wild-card weekend:
Six of the last eight Super Bowl champions have played on wild-card weekend, including the last three in a row. (The last team to win with a first-round playoff bye was the 2009 Saints).
Remember when New Orleans lost that playoff stunner at Seattle after the 2010 season, when the Saints were 11-5 and the Seahawks were 7-9? Well, the Saints weren't alone. That was one of four times when two wild-card round opponents were separated by at least four games. And the team with the worse record won all four of them. … Worth noting since the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers host the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Worth a click:
ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the right call in choosing Lovie Smith as their next head coach. I think he certainly has a chance to win quickly with the talent on that defense.
Heading into Saturday night's matchup that will feature Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis Jr. and Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, ESPN.com's Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan had an interesting look at the clash between their fathers years ago in Philadelphia.
Always a fun read to ring in the New Year -- Hall of Fame columnist Peter Finney's crystal-ball look at the next 12 months. A good mix of serious predictions (Saints win at Philly but lose at Seattle) and farcical ones (Payton gets suspended eight games by Roger Goodell for chewing Juicy Fruit on the sidelines -- “Cavities are bigger than all of us.”)
Former Saint Steve Gleason (@TeamGleason), who has become a worldwide inspiration during his battle against ALS, will be live-tweeting with his eyes as part of NBC's Sunday night broadcast. Here's a glimpse of how that works.