Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, Drew Brees goes with the city just like a pot of seafood gumbo. You can’t tell his story without mentioning it. When Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006 it was a city struggling to survive. Following the most deadly Hurricane in history New Orleans needed hope and from Brees and an unlikely team which had been declared one of the worst in the history of sports that hope sprang out.
Drew Brees Revolutionized the quarterback position by far more than anyone else: Yes, even Tom Brady. Brees career started as a backup and ended as being the all-time leader in passing yards. Not bad coming from a Heisman nomination and a shoulder injury that should have ended his playing career. Brees’s career and root to his current team are more than just personal, they are literal. Brees has done a great job as a professional football player but also as a humanitarian. Brees’s impact on the game of football is unmatched except by that fellow who played in New England all those years. Today we will focus on his playing career and his impact on a city that needed him more than he needed it.
Drew Christopher Brees was born in Dallas, Texas in 1979. His father was trial lawyer and his mother who was also an attorney. Brees was a one sport athlete growing up in Texas where he played both baseball. The Brees family had roots in Texas and more importantly, in Texas athletics. His father played basketball at Texas A&M and his mother was an exceptional high school athlete in her own right. Drew also had a younger brother named Reid who played college baseball at Baylor and was a part of the 2005 College World Series team. Brees seemed destined for baseball as he had never given a potential football career any thought.
His family moved to Austin prior to him entering high school and this was Brees’s first encounter with tackle football. Brees played three sports like his mother, football, basketball and baseball and was good enough for a baseball scholarship but in the 11th grade he blew his knee out and the scouts seemed to distance themselves from the once great Brees. What happened his senior year is the stuff of legend in Texas High School Football lure. After tearing his ACL, Brees led his high school to an undefeated 16-0 season and capped it off with a state title.
Brees was again taking notice from scouts but not from the places that he necessarily wanted to go. It was Brees’s dream to stay in Texas as this was all that he knew. His relatives had success in Texas and it seemed that Drew wanted a piece of that as well. Two schools made him offers and neither was what you would call a big contender. In the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky offered Brees and in the Big Ten, Purdue also made an offer. Brees favored Purdue as he made the decision based on Purdue’s high academic standards, not so much it's football prowess. Brees graduated in 2001 with a degree in industrial management and remains one of the school’s most mentioned graduates.
Brees was one of the highest rated recruits in his class which also included Hall of Famer and future teammate LaDanian Tomlinson. Bress was considered by many schools to be under-sized despite his massive throwing power and playmaking abilities. This did not help his candidacy at Purdue. Purdue’s football program was overshadowed by it's far superior basketball program but this did not shy Brees away from competing with powerhouse programs like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan. Purdue had not won a Conference title since 1967 and a National Championship since 1931, however this championship is considered “unclaimed.” Brees did not start his freshman year and the Boilermakers suffered. In 1997, Brees’s sophomore season, a new coach brought a new offense that favored a guy like Drew Brees. Spread offense that head coach Joe Tiller referred to as “basketball on grass.” Brees was a throwing quarterback and this kind of offense was what he needed to succeed at that level. That year, Purdue upset rival Notre Dame and was ranked for the first time in almost two decades. Their was only one snag in their season. The National Champion was Michigan who was undefeated and Purdue had lost 3 games. On that Michigan squad was someone who would become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game it would seem in Tom Brady. Brady was a sophomore that year as well but had not received any playing time. The best was yet to come from Brees though.
In his junior and senior seasons Brees led the Boilermakers strong and beat both Ohio State and Michigan in the same calender year his senior year. Brees was a diamond in the rough it seemed and the NFL began to take notice of him. Brees led them to a Rose Bowl appearance in 2000 which is the last time the Boiler Makers have been since. Brees was also a Heisman finalist twice along with Peyton Manning, another young quarterback who made it look easy and will come together later in this story. Brees was now ready for the next level and with the game yet again evolving into a passing league it seemed that Brees came in at the right time.
The NFL Draft and Early Years at the Next Level
The National Football League gave Brees a label which college football had also done. Brees was considered to be too small to play the professional game and frankly the NFL could not have been more wrong. The 2001 NFL Draft had him going in the late 1st round of the draft which was pretty close to where he ended up. Brees was picked 32nd overall by the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers originally had the first overall pick which would have been Michael Vick. San Diego was satisfied as it got two outstanding players in it's draft in Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson.
Like College the NFL was a bit different for Brees. He played backup to Doug Flutie. Flutie got a concussion in Week 8 however and Brees was asked to takeover for him. This was to be his only game as a rookie as he threw for 221 yards and one touchdown. In 2002, Brees got his chance as the aging Flutie lost his job to the youthful Brees. He started off relatively well with a 6-1 record but then the season took it's toll and the Charges finished 8-8. San Diego was a good spot for Bress because of it's offensive scheme but Brees’s talent was overshadowed by Tomlinson’s rushing ability and he eventually took the crown as San Diego’s premier player. Brees was benched again in 2003 for Flutie due to a rough stretch and it seemed that his career was about over. 2004 would change everything for Brees though. The Chargers did not see a long-term role for Brees and drafted Philip Rivers out of North Carolina State to replace him. Rivers rode the bench and learned the NFL game from the sideline as Brees played on borrowed time. Rivers was thought to be the savior as the Chargers were heading into new contract negotiations with Brees who ended up being franchise tagged for the 2005 season. In 2005 the San Diego Chargers were one of the NFL’s best teams and from then on it seemed that they would own the AFC with the exception of the New England Patriots. Then all of sudden in Week 17 of the season Drew Brees was put under pressure from a potential future Hall of Famer in John Lynch and it changed the course of history. Lynch’s hit on Brees caused Brees to have a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. It was thought that Brees would never regain his throwing touch and that the Chargers were doomed to rely on the young Rivers. Brees had to undergo surgery to repair it and it was thought that Brees would need additional time off to recover from this. Then 2006 happened and the course of history was changed in the NFL forever.
2006: The Saints and a Career
2005 ended with Brees in reported contract negotiations with the Chargers who, it seemed, where looking elsewhere to find their future starting quarterback. The Chargers wanted him for a 5 year- $50 million with a huge portion of the contract based on incentives. Brees decided that this was not enough based on what other quarterbacks in the league where earning and that he wanted to take his business elsewhere.
Brees had shown interest in two destinations in particular, each that needed a quarterback desperately. The first was the Miami Dolphins who with coach Nick Saban were desperate to bring Brees in. Saban and others pushed for Brees to come through but sadly the Dolphins were worried about taking a calucalted risk on Brees for something that may or may not have panned out. The other team was the New Orleans Saints. A team that had only been to the playoffs three times and had only won 1 playoff game. Coming off Hurricane Katrina and the threat of being relocated the Saints were desperate to find a quarterback that would define their franchise. Their opponents were the NFC Champion Panthers who had lost a Super Bowl previously. The slowly declining Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons featuring Michael Vick who had torched the Saints in previous match ups. The Dolphins decided to go a sure-fire replacement and traded for Dante Culpepper from the Minnesota Vikings. Brees ended up signing in New Orleans for 6 years and $60-milion in March of 2006.
The Saints were in prime positon to get Brees that year. They had a new head coach in Sean Payton, the second overall pick in Reggie Bush and by throwing Brees into the mix their was an instant thought that the Big Easy was in for a turn-around. 2006 was one of the most exciting in Saints history. Brees threw for 4,418 yards and led the Saints to an NFC title game against the Chicago Bears. It seemed that destiny would finally happen to a city that had never seen a world champion. Alas, the Bears destroyed the Saints en-route to losing a Super Bowl to Peyton Manning and the Colts.
2009: The Super Bowl
2007-2008 were down years for the Saints but Brees still managed to play spectacularly. Finishing with nearly 10,000 total yards in those years the Saints seemed one playoff run away from winning a Super Bowl. Then in 2009, the miracle finally happened. Brees led the Saints to a 13-3 record which included a 13 game win-streak. Brees threw for a league high 34 touchdowns and had a league high Quarterback rating of 109.6. The Saints were the #1 seed in the NFC that year and ran away with the competition. They faced the Vikings in the NFC Championship and defeated them to finally claim a Super Bowl appearance. More than that, their opponent in the Super Bowl was non-other than Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were a worthy opponent and were looking to win a seond Super Bowl in 3 seasons. It seemed that they would do so in the first half of the game as they demolish an otherwise flawless Saints defense. Then, in the second half the Saints arrived and played every bit as well as they could have to defeat the Colts 31-17. Brees had finally won a world championship and that offseason would become the highest paid quarterback in NFL history of that time.
The remainder of his career in New Orleans is best described as so-close as the Saints had the opportunity to play in at least 3 more Super Bowls but due to a “Minneapolis Miracle”, “The No-Call” and Tom Brady, the Saints achieved nothing nearly as awesome as that 2009 season. Brees continued to break records though. He broke the All-time touchdown record in 2019 and still holds the record for the most passing yards in NFL History. Brees’s years in New Orleans were bigger than just football though.
Brees and his wife Brittany moved to New Orleans in 2006 to a city that was rapidly crumbiling. With Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in August of 2005, New Orleans needed something to give it hope as the federal government and various other factors worked against it. Brees moved to New Orleans and it seemed that he instantly fell in love with the culture of the city. Brees was moved by what the city needed and came together with his “Brees Dream Foundation” to help fix the city and bring it back to what it used to be.
Since his arrival in 2010, the New Orleans Saints have been the highest grossing business in the New Orleans area. Brees maintains that his decision to stay in New Orleans was because he just could not imagine himself anywhere else. Along with helping New Orleans Brees is extremely passionate about the United States military. His grandfather was a World War II veteran and served at the Battle of Okinawa. He has done various USO tours and spoken with many veterans across all US wars as a result. Brees’s continued support of these efforts and many more have garned him respect across the NFL. Brees was also a recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2006 for his humanitarian efforts.
Well it seems all but set in stone that the New Orleans Saints have elected that Brees is going to retire this offseason after yet another year of falling just short of glory. Brees has given much to New Orleans and it would seem that he will be spending his next five years waiting for the immortal call from Canton, Ohio to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brees’s efforts as a member of the Saints should never be forgotten and as a Saints fan it seems hard to believe that he has been the quarterback for the entirety of my childhood and early into my adulthood. Drew, should you be reading this, we wish you the best and we as fans thank you for all the excitement that you brought to the game of football.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 13, 2021:
This is an informative biographical article about Drew Brees. He certainly seems to have made a big impact.