Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 20, 2010



LAPLACE — Greg McMahon feels the love when he walks through LaPlace these days.

Truth be told, the New Orleans Saints’ special teams coach been feeling it for awhile — after the team’s thrilling comeback in Miami against the Dolphins, after its decisive Monday night victory over New England, after the team’s 13-0 start, and after Garrett Hartley’s kick split the uprights to deliver pandemonium to the Superdome and an NFC Championship to New Orleans.

But since February 7, 2010, he’s REALLY feeling the love.

“We love sharing it with everyone,” said McMahon, who lives in LaPlace, of the team’s thrilling Super Bowl win. “It means so much to everyone. It’s a great thing.”

When Saints training camp officially kicks off on July 30, McMahon will begin his fifth season with the team, his third as special teams coordinator.

McMahon was a teammate of Saints’ head coach Sean Payton in college, McMahon a defensive back, Payton a quarterback at Eastern Illinois. There, McMahon won a Division II national championship in 1978.

Together, they’d win a Super Bowl championship. And McMahon’s special teams unit was in the middle of it all.

Consider Hartley, who began the season serving a four-game suspension for the use of Adderall, an NFL banned stimulant the kicker said was intended to help him stay awake while driving from Dallas to New Orleans.

Hartley was inactive until week 12 of the regular season, as he watched veteran John Carney handle the placekicking duties. But McMahon kept his second year kicker focused, knowing his foot would most likely be needed.

In week 12, the Saints made the switch. He made 9-of-11 field goals down the regular season stretch, but his last meaningful kick was a late miss against Tampa Bay that would cost the team a win.

“He had to overcome adversity,” said McMahon. “After Tampa, he was very disappointed.”

But Hartley was anything but in the playoffs. He was a perfect 5-for-5, including the iconic NFC championship game-winner against Minnesota, and three from over 40 yards in the Super Bowl (an NFL record).

“Overcoming what he did, it’s a tribute to Garrett and also the leadership we have in our locker room. It’s a positive atmosphere, guys pick each other up while pushing one another to perform. Nobody’s tearing you down.”

The return game saw many highlights as well, such as Reggie Bush’s electric touchdown on a punt return in the Divisional playoffs against Arizona and key returns by Courtney Roby and Pierre Thomas that set up scores in the NFC championship.

And then, of course, there was ‘that’ play in the Super Bowl — the one many believe was the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history.

“It’s a testament to all 11 guys on the field to execute that play call and come up with it,” said McMahon of “Ambush,” the Saints’ onside kick call to begin the second half of Super Bowl XLIV. “It was a tremendous call by Coach Payton. Our philosophy is to be aggressive, and when we make a call like that at a critical time, the players believe in it and do the job.”

The Saints had poor fortune in the kicking game in 2007 and 2008, as placekickers Olindo Mare and Martin Gramatica struggled in part due to injuries.

But fans can now count all aspects the special teams unit as a strength of the squad, led by two young, outstanding pieces in Hartley and punter Thomas Morestead.

“(Saints general manager) Mickey Loomis has done such an excellent job identifying these players,” said McMahon. “It certainly makes me excited about our future.”

All of this is burned into the minds of Saints fans all over, not the least of which ones in the River Region. McMahon has lived in LaPlace with his family since 2006, and his youngest son, Sam, is a sophomore at St. Charles Catholic and plays defensive back on the football team.

“He’s got a bright future,” said St. Charles coach Frank Monica. “He’s very instinctive, hard nosed … he’s definitely a true Comet.”

McMahon says he truly enjoys the region.

“The whole River Region has been great for our family,” he said. “We love our neighbors. St. Joan of Arc, St. Charles Catholic, everyone’s been wonderful. We love sharing this success with the community.

“These are the best sports fans in the world,” said McMahon. “The Who Dat Nation. We knew what this meant to them, no question. And we fed off those fans all season. To see how it turned out, it’s been unbelievable.”