Payton, in his first year as a head coach, didn't just lead the New Orleans Saints to a 10-6 record, the NFC South championship and a first-round playoff bye. He helped revitalize a battered city's spirit.
With New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005, the Saints became nomads that year, winding up 3-13 under Jim Haslett. Payton, an assistant coach in Dallas, was hired to revive one of the NFL's historically unsuccessful franchises.
Payton and his team gave the city - indeed, the entire Gulf Coast - something it desperately needed: a reason to smile.
And hopes for the Saints' first Super Bowl appearance.
"It's just been the right mix of guys who believe in each other," said Payton, who ran away in the balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.
Payton received 44 votes in a season when there were a half-dozen outstanding coaching performances. Eric Mangini of the New York Jets, another first-year head coach, got three votes, while San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer, the 2004 winner, received two. Jeff Fisher of Tennessee got one.
WILLIAMS' FUNERAL: With an overflow crowd packing the Fort Worth, Texas, church, the Denver Broncos on Saturday filed past the open casket of Darrent Williams, the promising cornerback who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was among those at Great Commission Baptist Church, which is not far from where the 24-year-old Williams grew up.
More than an hour before the service, the line to get inside the 2,500-seat church stretched around the building.
Just before the service, Broncos players and staff members, accompanied by relatives and friends, entered through a side door and walked past the coffin. Many wiped away tears to say goodbye to "D' Will."
Among the honorary pallbearers were Broncos defensive backs Champ Bailey, a former University of Georgia player, and John Lynch.
Williams was killed and two other passengers wounded when at least 14 shots were fired into the stretch Hummer that left a New Year's Eve party at a nightclub. Williams was struck once in the neck.
Police have no suspects in the slaying in downtown Denver but did make an arrest Friday night of a man they want to question. Police won't say whether they know the motive for the slaying but have said there was an altercation at the club.
Also at the church was Ashley Lelie, a former Broncos receiver who feuded with management over his contract before being traded to Atlanta last summer.