New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to people on the sideline before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
Between Saints coach Sean Payton, Partiots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and CBS broadcast team member Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois well represented at Sunday's matchup between New England and New Orleans.
Eastern Illinois is located in Charleston, Illinois, and the Panthers play in 10,000-seat O'Brien Field. But at least three people who know that place well were under the same roof in the 73,000-seat Superdome.
Payton played quarterback for Eastern Illinois, his best season being his senior year in 1986, when he led the Panthers to an 11-2 record and the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs. He appeared in the NFL as player only briefly for the Chicago Bears in 1987 as a replacement player during the players' strike that season, then played in Europe before going into coaching.
Payton was an assistant under Bill Parcells in Dallas when Romo made the the Cowboys' roster as an undrafted rookie in 2003. After Payton left for his first head-coaching job in New Orleans in 2006, Romo emerged as the Cowboys' starter _ a job he held until he was injured last season and lost the job to then-rookie Dak Prescott.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during an NFL Divisional Round Playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 in Arlington, TX. The Packers won, 34-31. (Ric Tapia via AP)
While Garoppolo is not yet listed alongside Payton and Romo among notable alumni on Eastern Illinois' website, he is the most prolific QB in school history. He passed for a school record 5,050 yards and 53 TDs his senior season in 2013, becoming only the second QB in FCS history to eclipse 5,000 yards passing in a season (Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke being the first in 2012).
New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Garoppolo has yet to play much in the NFL, however, seeing his most action early last season as a starter while Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension in connection to a scandal involving under-infalted footballs in the 2014-15 playoffs.
However, Garoppolo got hurt in the second week of the 2016 season and was replaced by Jacoby Brissett until Brady returned.