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Barry Hirstius

Young Saints and “The Boonk Gang” Make Football FUN AGAIN for Sean Payton

Using cuss words on radio interviews. Running down the sidelines in celebration of a touchdown. Chewing out referees (and even opposing head coaches) until they're completely embarrassed and apologetic.

For Saints head coach Sean Payton, those are just a few of the traits that he's been exhibiting during the current run of success for New Orleans, that have demonstrated something that's never been more evident in all of his years coaching the team:

Football is FUN AGAIN.

That's in part to having a team this year in 2017 which is one of the NFL's youngest; and it's their energy, vigor, and passion for the sport in general that have completely rejuvenated Sean Payton after 3 consecutive losing seasons that had put him perilously close to the NFL head coaching "hot seat" when this season had started.

9 games later, the Saints are now (7-2) and lead the NFC South division heading into this weekend's contest with the visiting Washington Redskins. 

The 53-year old Payton, who now has led the Saints to 100 regular season victories during his time in NOLA, had his most public displays of emotion 2 weeks ago at home against Tampa Bay.

Photo courtesy of Bill Feig, The Associated Press

It was in that game where he not only ran down the sidelines and followed rookie RB Alvin Kamara on his way to a TD, but also was caught by TV camera appearing to have some unflattering words that he was directing towards Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter; following the incident in which Tampa WR Mike Evans hit Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore from behind during an altercation that also involved QB Jameis Winston.

“I was kind of fired up,” Payton told the media in his post-game press conference afterwards. “Today, I was just fired up.”

That's overstating the obvious.

Yesterday in an interview with head writer John DeShazier, Payton said that although he's already been running the show since 2006, he feels as if he's still got plenty of years to give towards getting the Saints back to the upper echelon of the NFL, and no doubt inspired by the influx of young talent in the past 2 Drafts.

“I feel like it is early in my career,” he said. “I have been with a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. I just feel like it’s such a team game that it is hard to look at individual numbers like that."

"(After the Tampa Bay game) they gave me a hard time. There are so many guys that are involved in winning a game and I think it’s a privilege to be able to coach and work with guys, (and) work with young players, too.”

Clearly it's been the infusion of youth that's made this team a unique and special one, which has not only reignited Payton's passion for coaching the team, but has resurrected the entire Saints franchise and looks to have made New Orleans a Playoff contender once again.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, New Orleans Advocate

The Saints have at this very moment, a total of 9 players who are currently in the starting line-up that are either rookies or 2nd year players.

And that's not even counting players in reserve roles such as safety Vonn Bell or rookie defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who has made his presence felt as a pass rusher in key situations.

And it's a handful of those players — specifically on defense — who have playfully taken to calling themselves "The Boonk Gang", that have contributed to Sean Payton's renewed passion.

Beginning with the Detroit game and now every week since, a few members of the defense have made it a point after each turnover or big play (or when they've done something that they know has made a profound impact on the outcome of the game), to gather together as a group and make a picture-worthy pose that can be taken as a snapshot for members of the media.

And though it could be misinterpreted as trying to "show up" or embarrass an opponent, the honest truth is that it's done good-naturedly and it's meant more so for the Saints fans themselves — so that even they too can get some enjoyment out of the moment, as well.

(Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

The "Boonk Gang" nickname is inspired by the online pseudonym of South Florida resident John Robert Hill, who gained much online notoriety for posting footage of himself performing stunts and committing various crimes on Instagram.

And with the relatively young Saints defense's recent penchant for forcing turnovers or "stealing the ball away" from opposing offenses, the nickname is wholly appropriate and has stuck ever since.

Payton obviously doesn't have a problem with such outward displays of enthusiasm, especially since he's nearly matched "The Boonk Gang" in enthusiasm in his own right.

As veteran Saints right tackle Zach Strief told DeShazier yesterday, part of the reason for Sean Payton's new zest for coaching again stems from his ability to adapt to the changing times in the NFL and in the world around him.

“I think that the thing to me that has always stood out, is I feel like he has continued to grow and learn and change,” said Strief, a 7th-round draft pick back in 2006 now in his 12th year with the franchise.

“I think the hardest thing for coaches, a lot of times, is to change what they do and believe in. And I think that Sean has been very open to that his whole career."

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

For Payton, the Saints team, and the entire "Who Dat Nation" fan-base, it's been a most-welcome change indeed.

And if "The Boonk Gang" can provide Payton and the Saints with even more excitement than they already have up to this point, it's unlikely that any one will be offended by it.

Football is FUN AGAIN for Sean Payton.

And that's a good thing.........


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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