An On and Off the Field Saint: Drew Brees

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By Bryan Dietzler

I have been a football fan for over thirty years and have seen several excellent players in the NFL.  Walter Payton is my favorite and will always be.  Bo Jackson was another and who can’t forget Joe Montana.  All three were great players both on and off the field from another era of professional football.

Those great guys, both on and off the field, have existed throughout the entire history of the NFL. They were there from the start and they are still with us today.

Over the last few years, there has been one player that has stood out for not only being one of the best at his position in the NFL but a great person off the field.  He has been a proven winner and has put up some impressive numbers throughout his time in the league.  He is solid and one of the NFL’s most talented players.

This person is none other than Drew Brees.  Brees has had a fascinating career on and off the field.  Let’s take a close look at Brees’ work on the gridiron and off and find out what makes him one of the NFL’s better players and better human beings.

Brees was born on January 15, 1979 in Austin, Texas.  Ironically, both of Brees’ parents were athletes.  His father, Eugene was a basketball player at Texas A&M while his mother was a three-sport star in high school.  He also had an uncle, Marty Akins, who was a starting quarterback at Texas in the 70’s.  His grandfather was a successful high school football coach while his younger brother, Reid, was an outfielder on Baylor’s collegiate baseball team and went to the 2005 College World Series with the Bears.

Like some of today’s NFL players, Brees didn’t play tackle football until he was in high school.  Brees felt that he was better at baseball than he was at football and wanted to go with baseball more than football early on.  An injury to his ACL in high school caused many college recruiters to turn away from him though and his prospects of playing at a bigger and better school diminished.

Brees came back from his knee injury and was named the state’s (Texas) 5A Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year (1996).  He also led his high team (Westlake High School) to a perfect record and a state championship.

We won’t dig into the number of Brees’ high school career but it can be said that he was very productive before he went to college.  He was a winner, put up some strong numbers and was recognized for what he did.  Some of the accolades he earned while in he was in high school included being named to the USA Today All-USA high school football team as well as earning honorable mention for the Texas state all-star football team.

It’s been said that Brees had hoped to follow in his uncle Akin’s footsteps and go to Texas A&M but he was not recruited by many schools.  In fact, he only received two division one offers.  One was from Kentucky one was from Purdue.  Brees chose Purdue mostly because of the academic promise that the school had to offer.

Brees didn’t do too much in his freshman year at Purdue. He did get to start during his sophomore season and became a vital part of the team’s offense.  Brees was named the offensive captain of the team in his junior and senior years.

Some college football players who hit their junior seasons can go pro.   Brees did have the opportunity to declare himself eligible for the 2000 NFL Draft but he didn’t do it.  He chose to stick with his academics instead.

Staying in school was a good decision for Brees because in the 2000 season, he helped lead the Boilermakers to upset wins over Ohio State and Michigan and helped Purdue win a piece of the Big Ten Championship.  It was the school’s first championship in over 30 years.  Purdue was given the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl that year but lost to the Washington Huskies.

While he was in college, Brees earned several honors.  He was a Davey O’Brien award finalist (given to the nation’s best quarterback) in 1999.  He won the nation’s outstanding player award for the year 2000, the Maxwell Award and was fourth in the Heisman Voting in 1999 then third in 2000.

Brees excelled in the classroom and was named an Academic All-American, was honored as a a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete and won a Big Ten Medal of Honor.

The star quarterback left Purdue with several passing records including leading the Big Ten Conference in passing yardage (11,792) as well as attempts (1,678).  He had several other smaller records that he either still holds or have that have been broken since he left Purdue.

One “big” honor that Brees earned after he was in the NFL for a while came in 2009.  He was inducted into Purdue’s Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.

The 2001 NFL Draft came and it was thought that Brees would be a middle to later first round pick.  But Brees had an issue with his height (he is only six feet tall) and several teams shied away from him due to that.  There were other concerns but his height was the biggest.  As a result of this, he was the first quarterback to be taken in the second round of that year’s draft and in fact, was the first player chosen in the second round.  He was selected by the San Diego Chargers.

His career didn’t start out that well.  He did earn the starting job in his first year and he helped lead the team to an 8-8 record but after a struggling beginning to the 2003 season, he was replaced by aging journeyman Doug Flutie.  Flutie started for a while but by the end of the 2003 season, Brees had gotten the starting job back.

In 2004, the Chargers drafted Phillip Rivers and it appeared as if Brees’ career in San Diego, and quite possibly the NFL, could be over.  A contract impasse kept Rivers out of training camp that year so Brees did end up being the starter.  And it was a good season for Brees.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl and received the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

The 2005 season saw Brees sign a franchise tag offer with the Chargers.  In signing that, San Diego had every intention of trading him.  They didn’t get offered what they wanted in trade for him so he stayed with the team and was their starting quarterback again.  He had a decent season but in the Charger’s final game, he ended up tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder.

The Charger’s and Brees went through contract talks in the offseason.  San Diego offered a contract that was more incentive based than guaranteed (money).  Since that set of negotiations, it has been discovered that the Chargers were banking on the Brees’ not being able to return from his shoulder injury and therefore not being able to collect on all the money in the contract.  That is why they offered the contract to him.

Brees demanded that San Diego pay him more money and when they didn’t, he looked for another team.  The two teams that showed interest in him were the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints were more eager as Miami had doubts about Brees’ shoulder healing up properly.

In the end, Brees signed with the Saints.

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Brees came to New Orleans the same year that Sean Payton became their head coach. It was the begging of a successfully partnership.  In his first season, the 2006 NFL season, Brees played a solid season and was even named to the Pro Bowl.  He was also the runner up for the NFL’s MVP award (LaDanlian Tomlinson won it).

The 2006 season was a difficult one for the city of New Orleans.  Just before the start of that season, the city was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and its people were devastated.  Brees did a lot in the community to help attempt to bring the city back to normal.  Ironically, at the end of the 2006 season, Brees was named co-recipient of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year honor with his former teammate Tomlinson.

Brees played in his first playoff game in his first year with the Saints.  Incidentally, it was the first time in a long time that the Saints had played in a playoff game.  They went to the NFC Championship that year lost to the Super Bowl bound Chicago Bears.  It was their first NFC Championship game ever.  While they did lose the game, they managed to show that they were able to contend with better teams and get to the playoffs.  It was a sign of great things to come.

The Saints would miss the playoffs in 2007 going 7-9.  They would miss again in 2008.  Their year was coming and their “year” would be the 2009 season.

The 2009 season was a great one for Brees and the Saints.  He had several stellar games, lots of touchdowns and some dramatic wins.  He earned several honors for his hard work that season including being selected to the Pro Bowl, runner up to the league MVP, winner of the Maxwell Club’s Bert Bell Award, various All-Pro awards and the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Brees led New Orleans through the playoffs and on to the Super Bowl where the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17.  He was named the Super Bowl MVP for his performance.

The Saints went to the playoffs in 2010 but didn’t make the Super Bowl.  Brees went, again, to the Pro Bowl.  In 2011, Brees set three NFL records.  He broke the records for passing touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage.  Not only did Brees break those records but he also broke former Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino’s record for the most passing yards in a season with 5084.

The Saints went on to the playoffs in 2011 but missed the Super Bowl.  Brees set six NFL records that year keeping his name at the forefront of the record books.

In July of 2013, Brees and the Saints agreed to a new contract valued at five years for 100 million dollars.  In the 2013 season, Brees had another successful year throwing the ball with some very impressive stats that set more records including breaking Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.  Brees’ has a knack for breaking NFL passing records.

2013 was another year with more breaking more records for Brees.  He became the fifth player to throw for over 50,000 yards and the fastest to do so.  He got the Saints into the playoffs but they lost to the Seattle Seahawks.  Their hopes for a second Super Bowl were dashed.

In 2014 the Saints didn’t do too well.  Brees did advance his position on the all-time career passing yardage list though.  That may have been his biggest accomplishment of that season.

The 2015 season saw Brees be the fastest player ever to reach 400 touchdowns.  He tied an NFL record in a game throwing seven touchdown passes but his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended at 45.  He became fourth in career touchdown passes in NFL history.  Brees had his 10th straight 4000-yard season and reached the 60,000-yard mark.

This season (2016) has been up and down for Brees.  But Brees is still setting records like he always does and shows no signs of slowing down.

Aside from the record breaking career Brees has had, he is very active in the community.  He has been a true asset to the New Orleans community since coming there.  Remember that he arrived in the city around the time that Hurricane Katrina and witnessed the devastation first hand.  There will be more on his giving to the community a little later.

Some of the things that Brees is well known for include a book that he wrote called Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity.  It did very well in terms of sales.  Other honors Brees received included being voted to be on the cover of Madden’s 2011 NFL game which is considered quite an honor (and not that great of luck) among NFL players.

Saints fans have given Brees some interesting nicknames.  They like to call him Cool Brees’, for his ability to be calm under pressure.  He has also earned the nickname Breesus from New Orleans Saints fans.

The popular sports magazine, Sports Illustrated named him their 2010 Sportsman of the Year.  They did this not only because he helped take the Saints to the Super Bowl and help them earn them their first Super Bowl victory ever but helped with the efforts of bringing the city back from the destruction that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.

Along with the help from his wife Brittany, they founded the Brees Dream Foundation.  The foundation was created to help provide support for people suffering from cancer and provide research in medical advances for cancer.  The foundation also took on assisting in the efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Some of the efforts that his foundation has been involved in include assisting in raising funds for children’s facilities (playgrounds, parks etc.) in the city of New Orleans.  He is also active in the local Habitat for Humanity helping the city helping to build new homes for residents.

The military has also benefitted from Brees’ kindness.  He has joined in several USO tours during this football career visiting several US military posts around the world.

Brees does charity work in both the New Orleans and San Diego areas.  He has impacted both locations with his great and giving work.

Some other minor things that Brees has been involved with include promoting food for Chili’s Grill and Bar for charity.  He was named Grand Marshal of the 2010 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.  Outgoing President Barack Obama named Brees a co-chair in his President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

As you can see, not only has Brees proven that he is a great player on the field but he is also a great example off it.  To think about what he has done on the field is amazing.  He has broken so many records and had so much success at the quarterback position.  What has escaped him, however, is multiple Super Bowl victories.  He has only one championship under his belt and deserves more.  Perhaps he will get one more before he retires.

Off the field, Brees is the consummate philanthropist donating his time and money to helping others especially in the New Orleans community.  He has been recognized for his efforts many times over.  He is unselfish and very giving.

You must give Brees a lot of credit.  He is just about the ultimate player on the football field and off it, he is the “king”.  He is one of the greatest to ever play the game and will go down in history as one of the best.  When others didn’t give him a chance, due to his height, he rose above and proved everyone else wrong.  He is truly a remarkable football player and an even better human being.

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