ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.-
A special guest joined Wednesday's weekly conference call when reporters covering the Buffalo Bills chatted with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
As Payton finished discussing the most notable elements on the Bills defense, the newcomer to the conference call jumped in.
"Sean, this is Doug Marrone with the Bronx Times," the voice said.
There was silence for about a second and a half.
Then Payton, clearly surprised yet giddy with excitement from hearing the voice of his good friend and former coaching partner, replied, "Man, they let anybody in that room."
The strong bond between Marrone and Payton was quite evident from their brief phone-line exchange.
"I'm telling you what, I knew it wasn't someone imitating him," Payton said. "It was good to hear his voice. He's someone I consider a very close friend and I'm very proud of and excited for."
They'll see each other in person on the field of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, when the Bills and Saints play. There surely will be smiles, handshakes, and maybe hugs. And then comes kickoff and they won't even notice one another.
"Once you get started, that's kind of all out the window," Payton said.
For Marrone, it's a homecoming of sorts. Born and raised in New York, the Bills' first-year head coach spent three seasons - from 2006 to 2008 - with the Saints as their offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Payton hired him away from the New York Jets, where he had spent the previous four seasons as offensive line coach.
"When Doug came here right after (Hurricane) Katrina it was a challenge getting a staff and putting one together," Payton said. "We weren't winning a lot of jump balls on hiring."
Marrone turned out to be a key hire for the Saints, even though he was coaching Syracuse University when the Saints won the Super Bowl following the 2009 season.
"He was a big part of what we did and in building the foundation for what became our Super Bowl team," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
Marrone surely was proud of his former team when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. He did not, however, attend the game in Miami. A recruiting trip took priority.
"Sean and Mickey (Loomis, the general manager) and the guys there made me feel part of it more than I probably was," Marrone said. "They called me, they invited me to come to the Super Bowl; they said 'We miss you, you're part of this.'"
But that was then and this is now. Marrone is intent on rebuilding the Bills. They come into the game with a 3-4 record, looking to win back-to-back road games for the first time in four years.
Few stadiums are more inhospitable for a visiting team than the Superdome. The noise and passionate fans can be overbearing.
"When we were at home, we had everything going for us," Marrone said of his three seasons with the Saints.
Which is why he isn't thinking about reunions or seeing familiar faces with his former team.
"It's my responsibility to get the coaches ready and the team ready and let's go play a game - and not worry about where I've been," Marrone said.
Marrone did have one request/demand for Payton during Wednesday's conference call, and it dealt with phone calls.
"Pick up," Marrone said. "716 is Buffalo. I'm the only person you know (there)."