Wayne Colman was torn about which team to root for Saturday night.
The 67-year-old Ventnor native played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1968-69 NFL seasons and still considers himself a fan of the team. But he spent the bulk of his nine-year NFL career with the New Orleans Saints, who faced the Eagles in a wild-card playoff game Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I'm on the fence about the game," Colman said Thursday in a phone interview. "I'd kind of like to see the Eagles win because of (coach) Chip Kelly. I've been very impressed with him. But my loyalty has always been with the Saints because I spent so much time there. I guess you could say I'm pulling for both teams."
Colman wasn't the only South Jersey resident with ties to both the Eagles and Saints.
Tom Payton, 59, grew up as an Eagles fan in Newtown Square, Pa., outside Philadelphia and became an even bigger supporter when his younger brother joined the team's coaching staff in 1996. But now that Sean Payton is the Saints head coach, Tom backs his brother.
His Cape May Court House home is crammed with Saints memorabilia. Tom Payton, who could not be reached for comment this week, even named his dog "Saint."
Colman grew up with saltwater in his veins. A former football standout at Atlantic City High School and Temple University, he was born in a tiny hospital in Ventnor not far from the beach.
He landed a job with the Eagles as a rookie free agent in 1968 and played in all 14 games as a backup linebacker and a key member of their special teams. Among his teammates that season was fellow rookie linebacker Tim Rossovich, who became famous for off-the-field antics such as eating glass, setting himself on fire and jumping naked onto a birthday cake.
"Tim mellowed out as he got older," Colman said with a laugh. "But he did some pretty crazy stuff back then."
The following season, Colman became a starter in place of outside linebacker Harold Wells, who missed the beginning of the season in a contract dispute. Colman got his first career interception and was playing well, but after the first four games, the Eagles acquired veteran linebacker Ron Porter from Baltimore. Colman was released.
He headed for New Orleans and joined former Eagles Mike Morgan and Joe Scarpati. His special-teams coach with the Saints was Eddie Khayat, who later became the Eagles' head coach.
"The funny part about that was that when I first got to New Orleans, I was staying in a hotel and I got a phone call from Baltimore," Colman said. "The Colts wanted to sign me to take Ron Porter's place. But I had already signed a contract with the Saints."
He played for New Orleans from 1969-76 as an outside linebacker and contributor on special teams. One of his highlights came on Nov. 8, 1970. He was part of the field-goal unit when Saints place-kicker Tom Dempsey booted a 63-yarder to beat Detroit. That stood as the NFL record until Denver's Matt Prater kicked a 64-yarder this season.
He also had fond off-the-field memories of his time in New Orleans with his wife, Tonagee, and children Wayne Jr., Doug and Tiffany.
Doug, who later played linebacker in the NFL with the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns, was initially recruited as a small child.
"We wanted Wayne Jr. to attend a private school in New Orleans (the Sam Barthe School)," Colman said. "When I went to take Wayne to get enrolled, I took Douglas with me. The principal looked at Douglas and asked, 'Does he play football?' I said, 'He's only 3 years old.' The principal said, 'That's OK. We have a team for 3-year-olds.'"
Wayne Colman's NFL career ended during the 1976 season. After missing most of the 1975 campaign with a broken arm, he returned in 1976 to find himself demoted to backup status.
After playing special teams for seven games, he decided to retire.
"I came real close to suffering a serious injury while running down on kickoffs a few times, and I decided I was getting too old for that," Colman said. "Tonagee and I thought about staying in New Orleans and opening a gym, but we wanted to be close to family. I guess once you get that sand in your shoes, it's tough to leave. A week after we got back, I got a call from Ocean City High School offering me a job as a physical education teacher and track coach."
Colman, who also coached football at Ocean City before retiring in 2003, doesn't have any souvenirs from his Eagles days but has a pair of Saints jerseys. He got one from the Saints in 1996, when he attended a game against the Giants when Doug was a rookie linebacker. The Saints equipment manager presented the elder Colman with one.
He got another one in the mail a few years ago.
"I got a call from a guy who said he found one of my game jerseys at an auction or something, and he wound up sending it to me," Colman said. "I sent him a box of saltwater taffy."
He didn't plan on wearing either jersey Saturday night so as not to show favoritism while watching the game.
Like Colman, Tom Payton planned to watch the game from home.
Sean Payton said in a phone interview last week that he had offered his brother tickets to the game but that Tom instead would be "watching from afar" because of the bitter-cold temperatures.
But Tom Payton still planned to support his brother. He told CBS Channel 3 in Philadelphia last week that he would be covered from head to toe in Saints garb.
"It's crushing me that the Saints are playing the Eagles," Payton said. "I'd rather they play somebody else. I grew up watching the Eagles. But I'm a Saints fan now."
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