It may be more than 1,100 miles from the Superdome to Lambeau Field, but there are ties that bring the combatants in Thursdayâ€™s kickoff to the NFL season much closer.
In fact, it wasnâ€™t that long ago that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was wearing New Orleans Saints gear, and Saints coach Sean Payton was nearly the head coach of the Packers.
McCarthy was the Saintsâ€™ offensive coordinator for five seasons under Jim Haslett, calling the offensive plays as the team won its first-ever playoff game in 2000.
McCarthy left New Orleans after the 2004 season to accept a similar position with the San Francisco 49ers under new head coach Mike Nolan.
Which brings us to the end of the 2005 season, when the Saints parted ways with Haslett one day after the end of the Katrina season that produced just three victories. The Packers were also looking for a replacement for Mike Sherman, who, like Haslett, lasted six years.
Payton, who agreed to a three-year contract extension on Monday with the Saints, was in the mix for both the Saints and the Packers job. Two days after Haslett was fired, Payton was in San Antonio for a preliminary interview with Saints officials. The next day, he was in Green Bay to meet with Packers brass.
McCarthy would interview a few days later â€“ one of seven people total to get an interview from Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
The following week, Payton was in New Orleans for a second interview â€“ though, according to the account in his book, â€œHome Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life,â€ he was holding out hope for the Packers job.
â€œI really thought there was a good chance I was getting the Packersâ€™ job,â€ Payton wrote. â€œWithout a doubt, Green Bay is where I wanted to go. Knowing the tradition. Coming from the Midwest. Growing up around all that. And (wife) Beth too - I knew she could see herself in Green Bay, despite those winters that never end.â€
In his Warehouse District hotel room prior to a dinner that night, Payton had a voice mail message on his cell phone.
â€œThe cell phone began to vibrate,â€ Payton wrote. â€œI had a message from (area code) 920, Ted Thompson, the Packers GM. Ted got right to the point. â€˜Hey,â€™ he said, â€˜the process has gone well. We've decided to go in a different direction, and I wanted to let you know as soon as possible.â€™
â€œI wanted to cry. I appreciated the heads-up. But damn!â€
McCarthy was named Packers head coach on Jan. 12. Six days later, Payton was named coach of the Saints.
Coincidentally, the two coaches who interviewed for the same job five years and eight months ago have exactly the same number of wins (53, including playoffs) and Super Bowl rings (one) in their head coaching careers.
Head-to-head, McCarthy and Payton have faced off twice â€“ in the second game of their head coaching careers, and again two years later on a Monday night in the Superdome.
Payton and the Saints have gotten the best of both matchups, both of which are noteworthy. The 2006 win at Lambeau is the franchiseâ€™s only victory in the stadium, and in the 2008 matchup, New Orleans tied a franchise record for points in a game (51).
One of the quirks of the Saints-Packers series is that until 1989, New Orleans had never been to Lambeau Field. In fact, Thursday night will mark only the Saintsâ€™ fourth visit to the storied facility.
The first seven times the Saints traveled to play the Packers, the game was at Milwaukee County Stadium. And even after the 1989 game, it would be another 16 years before New Orleans would return to Lambeau.
In spite of the Saintsâ€™ current two-game winning streak, Green Bay leads the overall series 14-7 â€“ 6-1 in Milwaukee, 2-1 in Green Bay and 6-5 in New Orleans.
The Payton-McCarthy path is far from the only bind between the franchises.
* Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is the grandson of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
* Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers coached the Saintsâ€™ defensive backs for six years (1986-91) under Jim Mora.
* Packers offensive line coach James Campen, running backs coach Jerry Fontenot and offensive quality control assistant Joel Hilgenberg all played for the Saints.
* The Saints and Packers are the only two franchises in the NFL with their own Halls of Fame.
MONDAY INJURY/PRACTICE REPORT:
K Garrett Hartley (Hip) Did Not Participate
WR Adrian Arrington (Knee) Did Not Participate
WR Lance Moore (Groin) Did Not Participate
DT Tom Johnson (Calf) Limited Participation
CB Davon House (Ankle) Out
LB Frank Zombo (Shoulder) Out
TE Jermichael Finley (Ankle) Limited Participation
DE Mike Neal (Knee) Limited Participation
TE Ryan Taylor (Hip) Full Participation
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