METAIRIE, La. — Finally, Saints coach Sean Payton gets to do what he loves the most.
Nearly 19 months after he coached his last game, Payton will be back on the sideline when New Orleans plays the Kansas City Chiefs in an exhibition opener tonight at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
It won’t come close to matching the intensity of his last game, a pulsating, excruciating 36-32 loss at San Francisco in the divisional round of the 2011 playoffs. But the dome should be rocking for his return from an unprecedented year-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal.
“Just getting back to being out on the field in practice and having a chance to coach in a regular game, that part of it is exciting,” Payton said. “The fans have been great. They get excited about our team, especially at the start of the season after everything that went on a year ago. I know our players are excited to play.”
Much has changed since Payton walked off the field at Candlestick Park on Jan. 14, 2012, ruing a heartbreaking end to the Saints’ season. In a game with four lead changes in the last 4:02, the 49ers won on a 14-yard touchdown reception with 9 seconds left. New Orleans, which was 9-0 at home, would have played host to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game the following week.