Tom Payton used to be a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan.
The 55-year-old Dennis Township resident started following the team in 1969 and his loyalty grew even stronger when his younger brother joined the Eagles' coaching staff in 1997.
But now that Sean Payton, 46, is headed to the Super Bowl as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Tom's allegiance has changed. All of his Eagles gear is in the back of his closet. Now he wears black-and-gold jerseys and sweatshirts adorned with the fleur-de-lis.
"I have an Eagles jacket that was signed by (former Eagles running back Duce Staley) and a couple of old Eagles sweatshirts in mothballs," Tom Payton said. "I only wear Saints garb now. Oh, I still watch and follow the Eagles, but I'm a big, big Saints fan because of my brother."
He'll be wearing his Saints stuff with pride this weekend, when he will join his family in Miami to watch the Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Tom Payton, who manages a Sleepy's mattress store in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township, and his wife, Annette, are flying to Florida on Thursday morning. They are scheduled to meet with Sean and their two sisters, Molly and Patrice, that night for dinner at Morton's Steakhouse in Miami.
On Sunday, they will reconvene in a luxury box at Miami's Sun Life Stadium to see if their brother can guide the Saints to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
"The families of the players and coaches are actually staying at the same hotel with them," Tom said. "But Thursday night will be our only chance to see Sean before the game because he doesn't want any distractions. After that, I won't get to see him until after the game.
"I'm a little scared of the game because everyone thinks the Colts are going to win. But even if they do, that won't take anything away from what Sean has done for the franchise the last four years. It wasn't too long ago that fans were wearing (paper) bags on their heads and calling the team the 'Aints.' And now they're in the Super Bowl."
Up until recently, Tom would have much rather seen the Eagles win a championship. Although he spent his childhood in San Mateo, Calif., the Payton family moved to Delaware County, Pa., in the late 1960s, when they also spent their summers in Ocean City.
When the family moved to Chicago in 1977, Tom Payton stayed in the area but would visit once a year around Christmas. Invariably, his trips would include a game of one-on-one basketball against Sean, who is 10 years is junior.
"We were always super, super competitive," Tom said with a laugh. "When he was a senior in college, I came to visit and he and I went at it on the outside court again. He was in great shape and I wasn't, but I wouldn't give in. I eventually won by one point, but right after the game was over, I went over and started (getting sick) in my father's bushes."
The two brothers grew even closer in 1997, when Sean was hired by then-Eagles coach Ray Rhodes as the team's quarterbacks coach. For the next two seasons, Sean shared an office at Veterans Stadium with then-Eagles offensive coordinator Jon Gruden and worked with Eagles quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Bobby Hoying and Rodney Peete.
Sean's stint in Philadelphia ended in 1999, when Andy Reid took over as coach. He joined the New York Giants' coaching staff in '99, moved to Dallas in 2002, then became the Saints coach in 2006. Tom remained an Eagles' fan throughout but soon grew tired of seeing his favorite team come up short. He split his loyalty between the Eagles and Saints in '06 but rooted for New Orleans when the teams met in the 2006 playoffs and has remained in Sean's corner.
"I still watch and follow the Eagles, but I don't live for them like I used to," Tom said. "I shouldn't say I've given up on the Eagles, but it's the 'same old, same old' with them. They tease you all season long and get your hopes up and then they let you down.
"I guess I'm a casual Eagles fan and an avid Saints fan. Let me put it this way. If the Eagles ever went to the Super Bowl, do you think (Eagles owner) Jeffrey Lurie would give me two tickets to the game in a box? No, I don't think so either."
While Tom and Annette are watching the Super Bowl in person, other family members will be glued to the TV.
That group includes the couple's four grown children, plus Annette's elderly mother, Etta Misticoni, who lives with the family.
When the camera flashes on Sean, Etta Misticoni will take notice.
"She's in her 80s and has Alzheimer's," Tom said. "But she always points out Sean when they show him on TV. Back in the late 90's, when Sean was just getting ready to work with the Eagles, Sean came to her house for dinner. We're Irish, but he's a big Italian food fan. She made the spaghetti by hand and Sean told her it was the best meal he'd ever had."
Contact David Weinberg: