Tennessee Williams Festival: the Saints panel

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Bart Bartlett, Jeff Duncan, Ellis Henican and Fletcher Mackel at the Tennessee Williams Saints panel.
  • Bart Bartlett, Jeff Duncan, Ellis Henican and Fletcher Mackel at the Tennessee Williams Saints panel.
Maybe literature fans aren’t football fans: the Saturday afternoon Tennessee Williams Festival panel “Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Write Dem Books? Writing About the Saints” drew just a few dozen people to the Royal Sonesta Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. They missed a good panel, which included Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, ghostwriter of coach Sean Payton’s autobiography Home Team; Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan, author of From Bags to Riches; and Bert Bartlett, a blogger and author of A Tale of Two Seasons, Katrina and a Super Bowl. The panel was moderated by WDSU-TV sportscaster Fletcher Mackel.

Duncan said he’d been trying to sell a book about the Saints since 2006, with no luck until the team’s fortunes changed. He said he got through the first draft in two months; Henican’s book took five weeks. But it was Payton’s move to Dallas dominated the most of the panel's discussion; Henican said he thought Payton was so candid in his autobiography about his commitment to New Orleans that “he’s handed a lot of critics a club.” He also mentioned his family here, and reminisced about writing for the alternative paper Figaro (“It’s nice to be in a room where people know where Figaro is”).

Below the cut: the talk about Sean Payton's move to Dallas (including That Rumor), and the days after the storm when it seemed the Black and Gold were going to San Antonio ...

Mackel mentioned Payton being "thinskinned" about the Dallas move, but Henican scoffed and suggested that neither an NFL coach or a journalist has the luxury of being thinskinned: "I'm a newspaper columnist; I write shit about people all the time that they don't like." Duncan mentioned Payton's pique over the photos of his Dallas home that were published in the T-P, but said he told the coach "the spotlight never goes off when you're the coach of the New Orleans Saints. ... Sean will get over this at some point, but right now he's not a big fan of The Times-Picayune." Mackel said he thought Payton's move was "OK," but he also thought that journalists covering the fact were "OK too," and Duncan said he thought the fact that the Paytons were moving to Dallas was part of the problem: "New Orleanians hate Dallas. It's kind of the opposite of New Orleans."

A woman in the audience asked about the rumors in blogs and social media about "the real reason Sean Payton is moving to Dallas." Mackel and Duncan both dismissed the rumor [that Payton is or was having an affair] and called it "crazy rumors."

The Saints flirtation with San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina was the next topic, and Duncan said that he still ran into roadblocks when trying to write about it four years later: "The NFL is a powerful Goliath, and people are still scared to discuss what went on there." He added, "One version of the story is the Saints version," and called it "revisionist history. I certainly think the Saints are trying to burnish the legacy of Tom Benson."

"It's OK," Henican told him. "He can't fire you."

"Well, he thinks he can," said Duncan.

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