NFL’s return led by Naperville Central’s own

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Finally. After a long offseason lockout and four dreadful weeks of exhibition football, I can’t wait for tonight’s NFL season opener featuring the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints at the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. I am so ready for some football.

One of my summer reading projects was to tackle Saints coach Sean Payton’s book, which was written after New Orleans’ improbable championship season. Payton graduated from Naperville Central, but the last I checked with my Naperville Central correspondent, boys water polo coach Bill Salentine, there is no display case at the school honoring Payton’s achievement. I figured it would be pretty cool if the school had a few items from Payton on permanent display, say his trademark visor from the Big Game or even a notebook with plenty of photos and articles from the championship game.

How many Chicago area natives have gone on to win Super Bowls as coaches? The only other one is East Leyden’s Mike Shanahan, who won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos in the late 1990s.

Payton returned to Naperville Central in 2009 for the season opening football game against Neuqua Valley. Footage of his speech was used in the opening of the Kenny Chesney-produced “Boys of Fall” documentary, which aired on ESPN a year ago. Earlier this week, Payton’s contract was extended with Saints.

Not surprisingly, the first chapter from Payton’s first book is about Naperville.

That’s where it all started for the former Naperville Central quarterback. Payton’s book is titled “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life.” The book was written with Newsday columnist Ellis Henican. A portion of its sales are going to Payton’s foundation at

The first chapter is entitled “Football Dreams.” In the first three paragraphs, Payton writes: “I come from Naperville, Illinois, an old farming community that became a prosperous outer suburb of Chicago. The area is know for its high-tech office parks, its educated workforce and its excellent public schools. It is tidy and overwhelmingly white. Naperville has a river, the DuPage. It isn’t quite the Mississippi.

Both my parents grew up around Scranton, Pennsylvania, anthracite coal country, although I was actually born in San Mateo, California. I was the third of four children with two sisters and a brother. My dad worked in insurance. He moved the family a couple of times. But Naperville is where I went to junior high and high school. It’s where I learned to love the game of football.

I went out for the team at Naperville Central High. Go Redskins — excuse me, Redhawks! No one would call me an instant standout. I mostly sat on the bench until my senior year. But I knew every diagram in the playbook, and I loved to analyze game films when I went home at night. Our coach, J.R. Bishop, liked my intensity. My senior year, he made me his starting quarterback. Coach Bishop had a brilliant football mind, especially for the passing offense. For years he ran passing clinics for high school players around the Midwest. To this day, Coach Bishop comes to our training camp every August to be part of our team. Outside of my parents, he was definitely my biggest influence growing up. He told me I had the talent and the smarts to be a successful quarterback, and he said it with such conviction, I couldn’t help but believe him. He trusted me enough to let me call my own plays when we were way ahead late in the game. That’s rare in high school. The Redskins were quite a force in the DuPage Valley Conference in the fall of 1981. Our team made it to the play-offs that year. I made enough of an impression that I won a football scholarship to Eastern Illinois University.”

A successful coach always has advisers. Payton discovered an entertaining one with Joey Imparato, a high school classmate.

“Joey was a high school classmate of mine, a street kid from Chicago. As teenagers, we’d played poker at his house. His parents were divorced. We all thought his stepfather was in the mob. I have no idea if that was true,” Payton writes.

Payton wrote about Imparato’s weekly inspirational rants that are left on Payton’s cell phone every Thursday. Before playing winless Detroit in 2008, Payton played one of Imparato’s sometimes expletive-filled speeches by placing a microphone at a team meeting in front of his speaker phone. The Saints won at Detroit, 42-7.

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