“There is a little bit of a propaganda battle to how we travel — the hotels we’re staying in, what the wives are getting, the flowers, the cameras, the billboards — and that’s one thing we felt like we needed to win prior to even playing the game,” Payton said in an interview today. “By the end of the week, the scene was the fleur-de-lis everywhere.”
Payton said in his new book “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life,” that he got off to a rocky start with Ornstein, who called the team in 2006 to discourage Payton from drafting running back Reggie Bush. That conversation ended when the newly hired coach hung up on Ornstein with an expletive.
The two men became friends and by the time the Saints reached the Super Bowl, Payton had Ornstein “running Miami special ops,” as the coach and co-author Ellis Henican writes in the book.
“The psych-out began with a huge Saints billboard just outside the airport, a solid black background with a giant gold fleur-de-lis. The unwritten message: ‘Miami is Saints Country.’”
Corner by Corner
Ornstein said there were about 20 billboards, placed along the routes most likely to be traveled by the Colts’ buses after consultation with local police. He was hoping they’d annoy Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who’d just won a record fourth Most Valuable Player award.
“I brought my billboard guy with me and I said, “I want that sign, that corner, that corner, that corner,” Ornstein said. “As a result, wherever Peyton was, he saw the fleur-de- lis. By Wednesday, he’s starting to get a little sick of us.”
Pamela Humphrey, a spokeswoman for the Colts, declined to comment on Payton and Ornstein’s statements. Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, didn’t immediately return an e-mail and a phone call seeking comment.
Ornstein said this psychological warfare is a technique he’s perfected en route to helping teams including the Baltimore Ravens win six Super Bowl titles. It includes making sure the Saints players and their families received extravagant gifts such as cell phones and cameras during the week leading up to the game, and had an opportunity to show them to the Colts.
Saints players even got logoed bathrobes with their names on the back and their numbers on the sleeve.
“Here’s our guys with their camcorders that have ‘New Orleans Saints Super Bowl 44” on them, all filming the Colts guys,” he said in an interview. “Well the Colts had just checked into their hotel and they had a Super Bowl hat and a Super Bowl t-shirt and it just didn’t cut it.”
Orenstein’s final coup came during the game itself, when he convinced an acquaintance with access to the stadium public address system to play a Saints favorite, “Halftime (Stand up and Get Crunk)” by the Ying Yang Twins, when the team took a fourth-quarter lead.
“The Crunk song was two Super Bowl tickets to the guy who does the songs,” Ornstein said.
Payton writes that he knew from experience that Ornstein’s campaign could be effective. When Payton reached the Super Bowl as an assistant with the New York Giants, players kept grumbling that their opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, were getting treated better than them.
At one point last season, Payton writes, he told Ornstein that if the Saints reached the title game, he had to find the guy who handled the Ravens’ Super Bowl.
“I was the guy,” Ornstein said.
Payton said he doesn’t know all the details of what Ornstein did that week, just that every detail was designed to bolster the players’ confidence and maybe rattle the Colts just a little bit.
“The Super Bowl is full of distractions,” Payton said. “One of the things we tried to do was create an environment where not only the players, but the wives, the girlfriends, all felt it was done in a first-class manner.”