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Payton’s Place

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The first family of the Saints organization is happy to give back to the city they call home

You could say it’s been a wild year for anyone associated with the champion New Orleans Saints.

No one knows that better than Beth Payton. As wife of head coach Sean Payton, she has had a front-row seat to all the mayhem of an exhilarating Super Bowl–winning season. From the incredible lead-up to the win in Miami to the glitz of the ESPY Awards in Hollywood to seeing her husband release a New York Times best-selling book, it’s been a surreal year. But Payton says the most incredible part of it has been the response of the amazing fans in New Orleans. They send letters. They drop off gifts. They tell heartrending stories of what this past season and the Saints mean to them and their beloved city.

“When you read a personal letter or receive something that someone has handmade for you and people come up to you on the street and you see yourself touching someone’s life,” she trails off. “That happens to us all the time. And that’s the most amazing thing to me.”

That love is a two-way street and the Paytons are committed to giving back to the region that has so embraced them. In 2006, they started Payton’s Play It Forward Foundation to raise funds and awareness for organizations working with families and children. On October 1, the foundation holds its biggest fundraiser—the Black and Gold Tie Gala.

The event will be held at the Superdome and includes an all-star lineup, ranging from Coach Payton, prominent members of the Saints, band Better Than Ezra and country music artist Sammy Kershaw. It will feature both silent and live auctions, food and entertainment and an inside peak at what the players go through on game day. Sean will give VIPs a tour with a pre-game locker room pep talk and a chance to walk through the tunnel onto the field as fireworks shoot skyward. And, of course, people will get to take a picture with the other big Saints celebrity, the Lombardi trophy.

“We want people to have a unique experience,” Payton says.

The foundation hopes to sell roughly 1,500 tickets. They keep it limited to keep it intimate. “Sean is very big on wanting it to feel like he can touch every person in the room,” she says. “He wants to be able to mingle with everybody.”
So far, organizers have raised more than $200,000 in sponsorships for the gala, but the overall fundraising goal is much higher. “We’re going for $1 million this time. It’s a very ambitious goal, but if we can raise that then the amount of people we can touch with that will be unbelievable.”

Proceeds from the event will primarily go to three main charities that help Gulf Coast families: Feed the Children, the Dr. Phil Foundation and ProtectOurCoastline.org. The foundation also funds smaller grants for other local outreach groups. “We want to help any small organizations that are just keeping their heads above water and trying to help families within the community.”

That’s especially important now as groups try to help those affected by the Gulf oil spill. The foundation and Feed the Children recently sent seven semi trucks to Plaquemines Parish to distribute food and essentials to struggling families.
While the Paytons came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, they got an unfortunate taste of what it’s like to be displaced from home. Their house on the Northshore was tainted with toxic Chinese drywall, forcing the couple, their daughter, Meghan, and their son, Connor, out of the home for 10 months. All the drywall had to be ripped out and replaced. “When you lose your home, your haven—that is a painful process,” she says. “There is no one helping you. You are on your own. We were in the fortunate situation in that we could do it ourselves, but 99 percent of people aren’t. I know people went through that in Katrina.”

Despite any trials and setbacks, Payton says the journey over the past four years has been incredible. Two moments stick out: the realization in Miami that the Saints had just won the Super Bowl and the outpouring of euphoria at the victory parade in New Orleans.
“[When we won] you couldn’t even see the next person in front of you because the confetti was everywhere. Just looking out from up on the podium and the sea of coaches, players, their wives, the organization and everybody that has been on this journey with us—we’re all family,” she says. “That was a great experience.”

Then there was the thrill of watching thousands of people wave and cheer along the streets of New Orleans at the parade. And the horror of watching her husband commit the cardinal sin of Carnival—stepping off the float—to bask in the crowd with the Lombardi trophy. He told her it was calm chaos. No shoving or pushing. Just Lombardi love.

“I just didn’t know how people were going to react to that,” she says. But the parade was when it all clicked. “That was our moment of This is why we are here. It was one of those really unbelievable experiences. It just solidified every decision we made along this journey.”

And it’s a journey Beth Payton don’t want to see end. They’ve lived in Illinois, New York, Philadelphia and Dallas over the last 18 years, but they have finally found home.

“We’re going into our fifth football season. This is the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere. As the wife of a coach, you’re always worried about if you are going to have to sell your home, where your kids are going to be in school next year,” she says. “I think about this journey that we’ve been on, and I feel like this is our home. And that’s the first time I have ever said that. I think that is where this journey has brought us.”

For more information about the 2010 Black and Gold Gala, visit paytonsplayitforwardfoundation.com.