In its first ever Super Bowl appearance, Payton and quarterback Drew Brees led the team of destiny to a win for the city it represents. The Saints, at least for one season, were 'America's Team'. They were on top of the world.
Now, amidst one of the biggest scandals in recent NFL memory, 'Bountygate' has turned that world upside down.
The NFL had gotten wind of a bounty system in place in New Orleans, which led to suspensions for four members of the Saints' organization, including head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season.
The entire Saints organization has had its name dragged through the mud for a month now, and to get back to its previous glory, here are five steps the Saints must follow to get back to where they once were.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, as well as Assistant Coach Joe Vitt and General Manager Mickey Loomis, have filed appeals of their suspensions and their cases will be heard on Tuesday.
The NFL is clearly trying to make an example of the Saints, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has already made each franchise sign a contract against operating a bounty system. Even if their suspensions are reduced, which appears unlikely, it won't do much for the team's predicament.
If the suspensions are indeed reduced, the biggest mistake the Saints, and especially Payton, could make is formally taking it as a victory. If they come out and act as if it is completely behind them and they are proud with the result, they will have a permanent stain on that golden fleur-de-lis.
The Saints, regardless of the suspension results, need to continue to admit their mistakes and remain humbled. As long as the team can do and say the right thing, it will help get it under the massive black cloud it stands under.
The apparent ring-leader behind the entire bounty system in New Orleans, former-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has received an indefinite suspension from Commissioner Roger Goodell. He may not have any contact with his new team, the St. Louis Rams, for the entire 2012 season and his status will be re-evaluated after the season's end.
Since Williams is now the defensive coordinator of the Rams, the Saints have been handed a golden opportunity to distance themselves from their blitz-happy former coach. They must embrace their new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, and display their content that they have brought in a new and cleaner regime.
The Saints, after failing to reach a long-term deal with their franchise quarterback Drew Brees, were forced to use the franchise tag to keep the single-season passing yards leader.
If the Saints want to emerge from Bountygate stronger than ever, they will need a happy Drew Brees. Brees has already expressed his frustrations with receiving the franchise tag and the Saints must do everything in their power to lock Brees down for the foreseeable future.
Drew Brees has become the true "Saint" of the team and has been able to rally his team better than anyone in the game. This team needs Drew Brees and it knows it, so they must give him the deal he wants and move forward with their guy.
The man who has been singled out on at least one occasion for putting up his own money for a bounty, Jonathan Vilma, could already be facing a suspension for his role in Bountygate. Vilma was reported to have placed a $10,000 bounty on the head of Brett Favre to be awarded to any player who knocked Favre out of the NFC Championship Game prior to Super Bowl XLIV.
Since the news broke about Vilma's role, the Saints have signed inside linebacker and former Falcon Curtis Lofton to a long-term contract. With that type of deal, the Saints clearly have committed to Lofton as an integral part of their new defense under Steve Spagnuolo.
With Lofton there and Vilma making a nice paycheck, the Saints would be wise to not only free up some cap-room, but also to rid themselves of another scar on the defense and the organization.
The Saints have already come out and said that they do not plan on releasing Vilma, but that still remains to be seen. The Saints should come to their senses and move on with Lofton, and without Jonathan Vilma.
Head coach Sean Payton has always looked up to his mentor and friend, Bill Parcells, and constantly consults him for advice. Now, the Saints are in an interesting position as they face losing their head coach for the season due to his suspension.
Provided that Payton's suspension isn't reduced, the Saints will need someone to step into the head coaching spot for the 2012 season. While they could promote an assistant like Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. to interim head coach, the Saints have been linked to the Big Tuna as possibly stepping in to help out his friend Sean Payton.
Hiring Bill Parcells is the best thing the Saints could do in this situation. Parcells has succeeded everywhere he has gone and is one of the most respected men in the game. He could help transition the team back into the right light and help them get back on track.
Also, as a personal friend of Sean Payton's, Parcells would likely hand back the job gladly, no matter how much success he were to achieve as interim coach. This is why Payton would love to have his mentor step in, aside from any success.
Bill Parcells is the right man for the job, and if it can happen, the Saints should jump at the opportunity.