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|"When he got on stage at the after-party with all his players, all I saw was his face and I thought, 'That's the Sean I remember,'" said Patrice Payton, the coach's sister.|
The Lombardi Trophy, in all of its sticky and smeared glory, was at the New Orleans Saints' after-party Sunday night when the winning coach tried to coax his 12-year-old daughter to give it a smooch.
"Ew, no, Dad," Meghan Payton said, not knowing where the trophy had been.
Patrice Payton, older sister of Saints coach Sean Payton, howls as she tells the story, her memories of Miami and the weekend of a lifetime bubbling forth like so much Dom Perignon just hours after she touched down in Chicago and returned home to Evanston.
"If you could possibly guess what it would be like, it was 100 times better," she said. "I had been to the Super Bowl when Sean was with the Giants, and that was fun, but this was so much better, probably the best moment I'll ever have after the birth of my daughter. I can't imagine anything more touching than this. It was the perfect time."
The family -- Patrice; her daughter, Bridget; brother Tom and his wife, Annette, from New Jersey; and sister Molly, her husband, John, and their two little boys from San Diego -- all converged in Florida for Sean's crowning moment.
"Just to see his face drained of all the stress afterward, that was the best," said Patrice, a fifth- and sixth-grade special education teacher in Skokie who is nine years older than Sean. "When he got on stage at the after-party with all his players, all I saw was his face, and I thought, 'That's the Sean I remember.' Not on the sideline grimacing and biting his nails, but relaxed and with that big toothy smile.
"He gave up a lot to get that, and at that moment, it was all worth it. That was the moment he had waited his whole life for, and to see it come to fruition was amazing. In the suite afterward, we all sobbed and held each other. Both of our parents have passed away, but at that moment, I really felt like we were all there together."
He gave up a lot to get that, and at that moment, it was all worth it. That was the moment he had waited his whole life for, and to see it come to fruition was amazing.” -- Patrice Payton on her brother
Saints coach Sean Payton
They are the moments the cameras don't see, couldn't even if they were there, like when time was ticking down, a Saints victory imminent, and Patrice looked at Sean's 9-year-old son, Connor, and saw her brother.
"He's brilliant about football and he was talking with his mom about different plays, and it was amazing," she said. "He's the spitting image of Sean at that age. And I looked over at him and thought, 'Oh my God, it's uncanny. It's Sean.'"
She remembered her brother and their father, Thomas, who did not live to see his son as an NFL coach, using silverware to diagram plays when the helmet was bigger than Sean and, later, sitting in the stands with her dad at Eastern Illinois and watching Sean at quarterback.
"I remember he said to me, 'You know, Patrice, he's living my dreams. I would have loved to be the kind of player he is. He's a thinker and an amazing player. Just look at the stands screaming; isn't it fabulous?' He's come such a long way."
They laughed that day at the memory of their move to Chicago from Philadelphia.
"Sean was at a really tough age, 13 or 14, and he just hated it," Patrice recalled. "My parents felt badly for him, just sitting in his room, not wanting to go out, missing all his friends. I just graduated from college, and we were trying to think of what we could do to make his life easier. So my parents bought him a unicycle, thinking it would give him a challenge to master it and keep him busy that summer until school started.
"Within an hour, he was riding it around the block."
The Paytons are like many grown siblings, their individual lives occupying them more than they'd like, too busy to call as often as they should, reunions too infrequent and, when they do occur, not always quite reaching the level of a Hallmark commercial. But Miami was their commercial.
Sunday was Patrice's birthday, and Sean and his wife, Beth, gave her a pair of gold fleur-de-lis earrings. There was the after-party that occupied an entire floor at the team hotel, and Bridget, a sophomore at Colorado State, freaking out that she was so close to Kenny Chesney. And look, there's Jimmy Buffett. They passed the trophy around and around, so much heavier than anyone thought, and posed for pictures with it.
"I didn't even realize what time it was," Patrice said. "I was fading but I said, 'No, don't fade. This is a moment you won't forget.'"
Sean had a private room, and it was there that he settled back and told his stories, one after another to accommodate each new wave of visitors as friends from seemingly every stage of his life wandered in and out.
Patrice has heard from friends of her mother and has received texts from guys she dated before she was married. She can't imagine what's happening to her brother and sister-in-law, except she knows as he gets whisked to a "Late Show with David Letterman" taping that he is enjoying every minute of it.
"It really is the American dream," she said. "You work hard, and it takes time to get to where you want to be."
And if you're really lucky, your baby brother takes you along for the ride.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.