Photo Courtesy: The Times Picayune
In business, in politics, and in life, we often hear of “the woman behind the man.” These are the women who are seen and not heard and who stare like deer in headlights at news conferences while their husbands come out of the closet. These are the women who could learn a thing or two from Beth Payton, the wife of Saints head coach Sean Payton.
You see Beth Payton is not the woman behind the man. She’s the woman next to the man when he needs someone by his side, in front of the man when he needs some guidance, and behind the man, only in those rare times when he questions his own leadership. I recently got an opportunity to chat with Beth Payton about everything from her storybook romance with the Saints’ head coach to her love for Saints football to the new passion in her life, helping the people of the Gulf Coast.
Beth Payton hails from the town of Morocco, Indiana; population 1,200. She met Coach Payton during his coaching tenure at Indiana State University. The coach proved he “had game” early on, convincing Beth to “give him the digits.” A few flirty phone calls eventually lead to a date, and before long, the two were married.
It didn’t take long for Beth to learn the sacrifices that came along with being the wife of a football coach. Just as she was preparing to settle down in Terre Haute, Indiana with Sean, he got the call to move to San Diego. The newlyweds shared a tiny apartment and survived off a meager income. Beth recalls getting into a fight with Sean outside of Bed Bath and Beyond.
“I was trying to get stuff to make our place look nice and he had no interest. It made me so mad.”
Beth says the tribulations and struggles she and Sean shared early on made their relationship stronger and made the couple better prepared to face the struggles they deal with today. 15 years and 7 moves later, Beth and Sean have put their “living check to check” days behind them. Still, the couple never forgot their humble beginnings. They’ve teamed up to create Payton’s Play it Forward foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money for charitable organizations along the Gulf Coast.
While Beth may have taken over the reigns of the non-profit, it never would have gotten off the ground without the help of an old friend by the name of Karen Hegner who the couple met during their days in Dallas with the Cowboys. It was Karen who pushed the couple to use their new status as the face of the Saints to make a Saintly gesture sure to impact thousands of families in need.
“I was on the phone with Karen talking about how our lives had changed and how it was changing for our children and she said ‘you need to use it as a positive because people do love your husband and people want to support you and help you.’”
Beth Payton hasn’t just poured herself into her husband’s nonprofit but she’s also his biggest and the team’s biggest fan on game day. In fact, it turns out that when it comes to the Saints, Beth’s got “Chick” written all over her.
“If you saw me on game day you wouldn’t recognize me. I’m always smiling and laughing but not on game day. I am a nervous wreck…I don’t miss a play and I don’t socialize. And I don’t go to games with anyone not rooting for the Saints. It’s so personal for us.”
(Atta girl, Beth. Atta girl.)
When you really think about it, Beth’s got one of the toughest gigs around. She’s the one charged with lifting Sean Payton’s spirits after a bad game or bringing him back down to earth after a really good one. No matter what happens on the field, the Coach knows Beth and his two kids will be much easier on him than that riotous crowd in the dome.
“Win or lose everyone goes back to the house and we hang out in the backyard. He’s still very cordial and friendly, but you can see behind his eyes if it’s been a bad game. But he uses his kids as an outlet. That’s really what pulls you through because you have that family that sees you through and pulls you through those bad times.”
Beth says she hopes New Orleans and the Saints are the family’s last stop. She plans to team up with other NFL teams to expand Payton’s Play it Forward Foundation. But the first step is pulling off the foundation’s big gala planned for October.
“I believe anything in life that’s worth while you gotta put a little blood sweat and tears into, because I believe the rewards will outweigh everything. That’s what makes it worth it. I want my family to see this. I want my kids to see this. That’s a drive for me as a mother.”