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BISHER: Payton a winner on crutches

Well, I went to see a Falcons game Sunday, and after a long and cantankerous afternoon with the New Orleans Saints, it all came down to one play. That was it: One play, fourth down and a foot. Some insisted it was six inches, but what's another six inches in a football game. It's all Georgia Dome turf, but the thing is -- Mit was on the Falcons' side of the field. In overtime. No rebuttal.

Their own 30-yard line, or just a foot short of it. Six inches, a foot, whatever. By the time Michael Turner came to rest, under a truckload of Saints, made no difference. Saints ball. John Kasay comes on to kick the field goal, Saints win, 26-23.

You remember Kasay. He was a Georgia Bulldog 20 or so years ago. Then a Carolina Panther until this season, now a Saint. A "Who Dat," as all those yowling N'awlins pedestrians were crying out as they rolled out of Georgia Dome, full of glee and other spirits, no doubt.

In case it eluded your attention, the fellow on the crutches had won a decision over our man with white hair. Sean Payton over Mike Smith. Amazingly, it seemed to escape the attention of the Atlanta delegation in the press box that the man on the crutches across the field was Payton, the Saints coach. Payton had gotten in the way of some sideline action four weeks ago in a game with Tampa Bay. Two weeks ago, Payton relegated himself to an upstairs booth last week against St. Louis, and the Saints lost to the sad St. Louis Rams.

No booth this time. He got fitted for crutches, and you may have noticed that he used one of them trying to get the attention of one official Sunday. To no avail. He had, obviously, gotten rather adept with those sticks, for he was up and down the sideline in the Georgia Dome with admirable agility. Not bad for a coach with a torn ligament and a broken left knee, courtesy of the Bucs.

Now about that 4th-and-one call (or six inches, if you insist), it was Mike's Smith's decision. Gutsy call, especially on your own 30-yard line. Everybody in the house of 70,000 could have called the play. They knew what it would be. It couldn't miss -- Mick Turner into the line. Six inches? Of course it couldn't miss.

But it did, and the die was cast. Say this for Mike, he never blinked. Never backed away. "I take full responsibility for it, my decision," he said. "My decision and mine alone."

He wasn't alone. The Falcons' locker room was full of support for their leader, a quite popular fellow with his soldiers and his fans. "Behind him all the way," that was the team theme, which they may come to rue as the season approaches its climax.

And in overtime. That meant all the Saints had to do was line up, call on Kasay and start the celebration. Careful on those crutches, Sean, me lad.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.