Sean Payton peered up at the walls when recently standing in the New Orleans Saints’ indoor practice facility.
He saw a picture honoring the Super Bowl on one wall, and another picture of Steve Gleason blocking a punt. Each image was selected to serve as a reminder of what is being worked for every day on the practice field.
Something was missing.
There was nothing honoring the man who made those moments and the ones yet to come possible. Without him, the walls wouldn’t be there. There would be no practice facility on Airline Drive, Payton might be working in another city, and the Saints wouldn’t be the same Saints.
So after pitching the idea of to General Manager Mickey Loomis, Payton had the team make a picture of owner Tom Benson to hang on the walls. The image of Benson holding the Lombardi Trophy after the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV was revealed Saturday overlooking the practice field.
“The guy who has meant the most to our organization and our success is Mr. Benson,” Payton said. “No one deservers that more. It is a simple but important gesture. We could not have had the success that we have enjoyed without Mr. Benson.”
Upon taking over ownership of the Saints on May 31, 1985, Benson proclaimed that his goal was to bring a Super Bowl title to New Orleans. It was simultaneously a lofty proclamation, considering the state of the franchise before he took over, and one that probably took longer to come to fruition than the owner would have liked.
The goal, which was achieved after the 2009 season, was the crescendo of what he spent the previous two-plus decades building. Under Benson, New Orleans has a 246-233 record, made the playoffs 10 times and won a Super Bowl.
Before Benson took over, in all other years, the Saints posted a 78-176-5 record. They never made the playoffs.
There have been different degrees of success during Benson’s tenure, with the current era bringing annual Super Bowl aspirations. One big piece of that equation was Benson’s decision to bring in Loomis as the general manager in 2002. That was followed by hiring Payton before the 2006 season.
Benson, also owner of the New Orleans Pelicans, recently saw his other team make the playoffs. If Anthony Davis continues to grow and the team attracts the right coach, it won’t be long before the basketball team is facing the same kind of annual expectations.
That’s what Benson wants.
“He has one goal every year: to win a championship for our fans,” Payton said. “I think putting that image of him up there reminds us daily of what we are working for.”
The players agree. When quarterback Drew Brees looks up at the image, he said he sees a “self-made man who has achieved the highest level of success both on and off the field.”
Brees is also reminded of what can be achieved through hard work, dedication and determination.
“He instills a championship mentality in everything he does. We now will have a constant reminder each and every time we step on the practice field of the man who has meant so much and given so much to everyone in the organization, the Gulf South region, and especially the city of New Orleans,” Brees said.
“As a football team, each year we set out to attain our goal of winning a championship through hard work, dedication and determination. And there is no better reminder of reaching that goal than Mr. Benson holding the Lombardi Trophy.”
The picture will be on the wall, but the Saints didn’t need to look hard to spot Benson before his image was overlooking the practice field. The 87-year-old keeps a steady presence at the team’s facility and still reports to his office at team headquarters every day.
At the March owners meetings in Arizona, Benson reiterated his desire to win another Super Bowl and said he was excited with the moves the Saints made on both sides of the ball to that point. Payton said the owner has not lowered his standards of success over the years.
Payton said he meets with Benson every day after lunch and joked that he enjoys stealing candy from the dish on Benson’s desk. Payton said putting the image up was important to him, and it resonates with everyone in the organization.
“This is a great gesture by coach Payton to honor a man that has played such a big part in not only my success individually, but also the success achieved by the organization as a whole,” Brees said. “Mr. Benson played an important role in my decision to come to New Orleans and join the Saints, and I treasure the relationship I have had with him over the past nine years and look forward to tightening that bond in the years to come.”