New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton understood how crisp his white and shining patent leather Jordan 11 retro low tops were.
He also understood he made a promise.
“I told Nickelodeon I would do it,” Payton said after the Saints’ 21-9 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. “I just saw the buckets. And yeah, we’re going to do that here in a few minutes.”
Cue the splash of green goo cascading over Payton as he sat on the floor in front of a Nickelodeon poster backdrop. Yes, the Super Bowl-winning coach got slimed.
“That was a no brainer,” defensive end Cameron Jordan, wearing a Dexter’s Laboratory sweater, said. “I’m more mad I couldn’t set him up for me to dump the bucket on him. But somebody had to get slimed and I’m glad it was him.”
Payton’s sliming capped off an entertaining debut NFL broadcast on Nickelodeon, an effort by Nick parent company ViacomCBS to engage new football fans.
Touchdowns prompted an explosion of virtual slime, a trademark SpongeBob smile stretched between the uprights during field goal and extra-point attempts, and Drew Brees’ accuracy was explained in audience-appropriate terms.
“He’s that kid at recess who never misses you in dodgeball,” former NFL receiver Nate Burleson, who served as color analyst, said on the broadcast.
Even as the Saints controlled the game and each team was low-scoring for most of the contest, Nickelodeon “Nick-ified” the contest with bright colors and nostalgia-inducing graphics. Fifteen-year-old Nickelodeon star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green joined Burleson and play-by-play analyst Noah Eagle in the Superdome booth as they explained the game to football beginners in terms that would best relate to their audience.
Take Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ touchdown dump to running back Latavius Murray, Brees staying poised even as the Bears’ vaunted pass rusher Khalil Mack swarmed. Burleson had already likened the collapsing pocket to a hide-and-seek game, when picking a crevice too small might cause panic as time elapses.
“Check out Khalil Mack right in his face,” Burleson said after Mack pressured Brees on the 6-yard touchdown. “That’s like a Mack truck literally running after you. … Imagine the composure of Drew Brees being in that pocket and then seeing one of the most feared defenders right in your face, Khalil Mack, and still having the calm to say: ‘All right, let’s not panic.’”
New spins continued from a comparison between the success of running back Alvin Kamara and Alvin Seville of “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” to a hearty celebration in SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom after Kamara gashed the Bears defense. In celebration of Kamara tearing up the defense, Nickelodeon animators teed up a clip of SpongeBob literally tearing himself apart.
Even penalties were fun. Some were explained by the child adaptation of Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon, Young Sheldon noting of defensive pass interference: “That’s a complicated rule. I like it.” Viewers learned that players and coaches call flags laundry.
“For all the kids out there listening,” Burleson added, “help your mom and dad with the laundry.”
The life lesson continued, from plays under review — always check your answers before turning in your test! — to first-down conversions building incremental progress necessary to score a touchdown just as homework moves you steadily toward a touchdown. No end zone arrival was devoid of slime.
Green also personalized players by sharing fun facts ranging from their favorite foods (tie between chocolate and vanilla ice cream for one) to their fears (6-foot-7 tight end Jimmy Graham, she noted with amusement, said he’s afraid of heights). The broadcast remained poised through an audible expletive from Bears receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, with Eagle noting that Patterson “obviously, uh, disagreed” with the call. Nick star Lex Lumpkin served as sideline reporter, with in-game reports and a postgame interview with Jordan.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who completed 19-of-29 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown, handily won Nickelodeon’s valuable player NVP award despite his team losing.
The Saints will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC divisional round.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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