ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Sean Payton majored in communications at Eastern Illinois back in the 1980s. His latest motivational tool had more to do with psychology than delivery.
Ahead of the Broncos’ trip to Buffalo for what turned out to be an instant classic, Payton had the grounds crew paint the Bills’ logo at the 50-yard line of both practice fields at Denver’s suburban headquarters.
“If I could put us 50 feet below sea level … I’d do it,” Payton said Saturday before jetting off to New York. “Every detail matters.”
And if every detail on the field matters …
“Then every detail matters around the field, in the facility, in the locker room, in the parking lot,” Payton said. “You just become maniacal with preparation.”
That’s why Payton had the “ Monday Night Football ” theme blasting through the speakers during the Broncos’ stretch ahead of Saturday’s workout.
That’s why Payton had his team stay in Buffalo four days and three nights — longer than the New England Patriots spent in Germany for their game against Indianapolis over the weekend.
Here’s the thing, Payton insisted the Bills logos had nothing to do with the Bills, per se.
“It’s nothing to do with the opponent, it’s more of us just getting in the mindset” of playing on the road, explained Payton. “This is the logo, and we’re on the field trying to simulate.”
Although fresh in Denver, this logo mojo is nothing new for Payton.
“I’ve done that for years. It was always to acclimate our players,” Payton said. “We used to do it all the time in New Orleans. Our equipment guys had it down pat. It’s all computer-generated. If I could have made it 48 degrees with a 10 mph wind, I would’ve done that, too.”
Alas, he can’t control the weather.
Payton said he was never asked about the opponents’ logos on the Saints’ practice fields, but this was the first time the opponent’s logo was painted at the Broncos’ suburban training complex.
“A lot of it has to do with just getting prepared to play on the road. You’ll see it the rest of the time I’m here, and anytime we’re playing an away game,” Payton said. “Then we don’t have to answer any more questions. It’ll just be the logo.”
That does beg another question or two right now, however.
1. Why didn’t Payton put opponents’ logos on his practice fields before now? Why wait for Week 10 and Denver’s fourth road game?
“I hadn’t gotten to it yet,” Payton said sheepishly. “It’s one of those things. It’s a good question. That’s the question. It’s like, ‘We always used to do this, let’s do it!’ I had forgotten. Anyway, that’s the truth, too. We had just never gotten to it.”
So, the stickler for details was too busy cleaning up the mess he inherited — remember how he complained about his predecessor over the summer? — or it just slipped his mind until he looked out onto the fields sometime last week and realized something was missing.
Ah, yes, the Bills’ logo!
Another example of his fastidious nature was Payton’s having the Broncos leave for Buffalo a day early, on Saturday, and return a day late, on Tuesday, an itinerary rooted in the sleep studies he commissioned early in his coaching career.
“It’s the first time for me working out the West to East,” Payton said. “I would say this: historically speaking, when I coached on the Eastern Time zone or Central Time zone, there were like three teams maybe — Seattle, San Francisco, Chargers, Raiders — where we’d go Friday night. You really gained sleep when you made that trip.”
And going the other way, Payton didn’t want to lose sleep by hopping on the plane right after the game, touching down in Denver just ahead of sunrise and starting preparation for next week’s game as the NFL’s version of “The Walking Dead.”
“The challenge when you went West was always the next week when you got home,” Payton said.
That 24—22 win Monday night when Wil Lutz kicked Week 10’s sixth walk-off field goal as time expired surely made spending an extra night in Buffalo worthwhile for the Broncos (4-5) who have won three in a row for the first time since starting 3-0 in 2021.
The Broncos’ next two games are at home before they hit head to Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit in December, meaning the grounds crew will be busy painting and washing away the logos of the Texans, Chargers and Lions.
They won’t have the theme music, however.
That “Monday Night Football” ditty was part psychology and part playlist for Payton.
“I’m 59. Monday Night Football wasn’t only the game you got to see, but as a kid, your parents wouldn’t let you stay up for the second half unless you know — I had to take a nap,” Payton said. “The other thing is, it was the only time we all saw highlights. We didn’t really have a grasp as to the other games until you had that two-minute highlight at halftime.”
Nowadays, even the highlight shows can seem dated with any big play all over social media almost instantaneously.
“I can remember being able to stay up for the halftime highlights and then having to go to bed,” Payton said. “Monday Night Football — that was huge.”
Still is, as the Broncos and Bills showed us once more.