Tuesday, 29 March 2011 17:26

New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton Big Break Was Last NFL Strike

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Sean Payton's first appearance in the NFL came in 1987 as a replacement player during the  24-day player strike as the backup quarterback for coach Mike Ditka's Chicago "Spare: Bears. as they were referred to.

With such a long  stretch of labor peace, not many in the NFL noticed how the Saints coach got his first break. But with a lockout heading into its third week, Payton has bee asked about it more and more.

"It was my  first year out of college and I had just been cut from the Canadian Football League," recalled Payton. "It was an easy decision. It was an opportunity. I wanted to play and possibly get evaluated."

After a record-setting career at Eastern Illinois, Payton went from the Chicago Bruisers of the Arena Football League to a six- week stinct with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL to being the backup to Mike Hohensee on the Bears for three games. Payton completed 8 of 23 passes for 79 yards with one interception, for a passer rating of 27.3. He was sacked seven times.

His name comes right before Walter Payton in the team media guide's listing of all players in franchise history.

When Payton saw Ditka at the Super Bowl, he thanked him for helping him for getting on with his life's work.

"I wasn't good at playing and wanted to coach," said Payton. "It was probably one of my last stops. My memory is that we opened up and beat Philadelphia and Minnesota and lost the last game to the Saints, but I didn't see it as a significant thing."

The season wa shortened to 15 games, with replacement players, Eighty -five per cent of of the veterans did not cross the picket lines during the strike.

The replacement player teams were given mock names like New Orleans Saint Elsewheres, Chicago Spare Bears, San Francisco Phoney Niners, Washington Scabskins and and Seattle Sea-scabs.

The defending Super Bowl  champion New York Giants went 0-3 in replacement games, ultimately costing them a chance to make the playoffs and repeat their championship.

Coach Jim Mora's Saints (12-3) were runnersup to the 49ers (13-2) in the NFC West that season and lost to the Vikings 44-10 in the Superdome. French Quarter bistros and restaurants anticipated a large crowd in the Quarter after the game, but no one showed up.

The season ended with Super Bowl XXII when the Redskins defeated the Broncos.

Walter Payton played his his last NFL season as the NFL all-time rusher.

Payton said he didn't catch must grief from striking players at the time.

"No, we didn't," said Payton. "It was easy. It was not a big deal. It may have been for some people, but it wasn't going to affect what we were doing."

Most of the current Saints weren't aware that their coach was a replacement player unti it was brought up last week at the owners; meetings. It didn't seem to be an issue at that time..

That Payton was on the outside on the NFL looking  for a job -- and not one of the hundreds of NFL players who crossed the picket line, such as Joe Montana, Howie Long, Randy White, and Steve Largent -- likely will keep away some of the controversy.

While there is some chatter about sabot the use of replacement players, no one thinks the league will make that mistake again. It was a disaster the first time.

If this work stoppage is as long and hard-fought as the one in 1987,Payton could have some issues to deal with in his locker room because, no matter the circumstances, he was on the other side in '87. Just as he is now.

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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