Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans weeks apart in 2006. Neither sprinted there. Payton had lost out on the head-coaching position in Green Bay ("I wanted to cry," says Payton, a Midwesterner) while Brees and his surgically repaired shoulder had been nudged aside in San Diego, where the Chargers decided to build around Philip Rivers.
Four years later, each has not only a Super Bowl ring but also a New York Times bestseller. In their enjoyably touching books about their respective journeys to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, there's a common theme: Payton and Brees depict their arrivals in post-Katrina New Orleans as providential.
The coach's Home Team, written with Ellis Henican, has some hilarious flourishes. Payton recalls his interview process in 2004 with Oakland's Al Davis, who for dinner brought in McDonald's cheeseburgers and KFC coleslaw. "He was a sloppy eater," writes Payton. (He turned Davis down to remain in Dallas as an assistant.) More soberly, Payton details his transition to a city devastated by the nation's worst natural disaster. He had to cobble together a staff knowing that "there weren't a lot of experienced NFL coaches just itching to come to New Orleans." He also had to remake a team for which losing had been a birthright.
Payton's most important signing was that of Brees, whose Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity, written with Chris Fabry, chronicles the quarterback's winding path from an operating table (he took seven scope holes and 11 anchors in his throwing shoulder after an injury in 2005) to Super Bowl MVP. Brees talks of learning from the setbacks in his life—a torn ACL in high school, a tough loss to Notre Dame while at Purdue, even a clumsy first meeting with his future wife, Brittany. In somber tones he discusses losing his mother, Mina, to suicide during training camp before the Saints' championship run and acknowledges that the two had barely spoken during the previous eight years. Among those at her funeral was Payton. In time, both men would realize that as much as their victories helped heal New Orleans, the strength of New Orleanians helped heal them too.