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Mike Freeman tees off on Sean Payton

The football-watching world got its first real glimpse of Sean Payton in 2002, when he was working as the Giants’ offensive coordinator.

Just before halftime of a game against the Cardinals, Payton wanted quarterback Kerry Collins to take a knee. Head coach Jim Fassel overruled Payton, calling for a pass.

And the pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown.

Before too long, Fassel was calling the plays.

So it was with a surge of sympathy that we were introduced to Payton, who at the time looked a lot like Frankie Muniz, star of Malcolm in the Middle.

And that’s the kind of first impression that can stick to a guy, especially since his next job entailed taking orders from the Tuna in Dallas.

Making Payton even more sympathetic was his role in the rebirth of the Saints -- and, in turn, the city of New Orleans -- with the first post-Katrina campaign ending in an NFC title game appearance.

As it turns out, however, Payton possibly has become another protuberance in the pain-in-the-ass Parcells tree, jutting not far from the Belichick branch.

Mike Freeman of lays out the evidence of mainly overlooked heavy-handedness by Payton. For example, Freeman writes that Payton took time this week to lecture the media regarding the perception that the Saints are a “finesse team.”

Freeman also points out that, in 2007, a beat writer reported that an injured player said he wouldn’t play after Payton said he would. In response, Payton called the writer and called him a “negative f--k” multiple times.

Freeman claims that it’s not unusual for Payton to berate writers by phone.

Freeman also shares the story of a writer for who made the mistake of criticizing Reggie Bush, which ultimately resulted in a ban of all dot-com scribes from Saints practice.

We had no idea that Payton behaved that way, and we’ll now have to reassess those “aw, man” feelings we developed for Payton as he was bullied by Fassel and later, presumably, Parcells.

Indeed, it appears that Payton has morphed into more than a bit of a bully, and it gives folks desperately looking for a reason not to like the ever-lovable Saints a basis for fomenting some genuine disdain.