Cementing the Brees Legacy
by Mike Trivella | University of Notre Dame
I can still remember a day six years ago when I was watching “Pardon the Interruption” with my brother, sitting on the couch watching Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debate the world of sports. It wasn’t that the particular episode I was watching was out of the ordinary in any way. Rather, it is what has transpired recently that makes that episode memorable.
During that particular show, Kornheiser and Wilbon were discussing the move by the New Orleans Saints to sign free-agent Drew Brees. Now I’m not sure which one of them said it, or perhaps it was both in agreement, but one of the two analysts said something along the lines of “Drew Brees is too small, and coming off a major shoulder surgery, is nothing more than a temporary fix at quarterback for the listless Saints franchise.” Indeed, many sports analysts were of the same mind, thinking that Drew Brees would only be serving as a caretaker until the team could draft a full-time replacement for its previous quarterback Aaron Brooks.
Six years later, when I think about Aaron Brooks, I think, who the heck was Aaron Brooks? No offense to Brooks, but ever since Brees has landed in New Orleans he has been impeccable. Granted, he does play in Coach Sean Payton’s pass-happy offense, but it is not like he accounts for all of the 457 yards that the Saints rack up each game. The Saints right now rank ninth in the league averaging about 120 yards on the ground, meaning that Brees on average is likely to light up opposing defenses for about 330 yards. Yes, he is simply that good.
Who would have ever thought that Drew Brees would be good enough to crack one of the most elusive records in the NFL, Dan Marino’s 5,084 passing yards in a single season? Certainly not the San Diego Chargers. Earlier in his career, Brees was a little above average, to be kind. He was thrown into an uneasy situation for a pro quarterback, having to deal with constant competition from others. In the early years it was the ageless Doug Flutie, whom he traded starts with in 2002 and 2003. After a 4-12 season in 2003, the Chargers selected Eli Manning with the first pick in the NFL Draft, and then in a now-famous move traded him to the New York Giants in exchange for Philip Rivers. Although he continued to hang on to the starting job for an additional two years, a crushing blow at the hands of John Lynch and Gerard Warren signaled the end for Brees’ career in San Diego.
Brees continued to face obstacles in the ensuing offseason. Even though he had just completed his best year statistically in the league, only two teams approached him for his services: the Dolphins and the Saints. The Dolphins eventually pulled out of negotiations due to fears that Brees’ shoulder was not healed and would affect his play (see Chad Pennington). Brees eventually signed a six-year deal with the Saints, and what a six years it has been. Numerous passing records broken, an epic Super Bowl victory and a place in the history books have Drew Brees not just looking at a great career, but a Hall of Fame career.
There’s nothing better in the NFL than a player making the most of his shot at glory or his chance at redemption. As a Giants fan, I can think of two people off the top of my head. Victor Cruz went from being a practice-squad nobody to holding the Giants all-time record for receiving yards in a season. Mark Herzlich fought back from Ewing’s sarcoma, went undrafted after returning to football his senior season and through hard work and perseverance is now contributing in the Giants starting linebacker corps. Drew Brees has a similar story, a guy who went from being left for dead to being one of the greatest players of his era, a guy who has smashed records and collected accolades left and right.
Yet what makes Brees’ story so great is that above all, he is a genuinely kind and compassionate man. When Brees signed with the Saints in 2006, not only were the Saints reeling, but the city of New Orleans was still reeling from the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. He has been involved in numerous charities promoting the rebuilding and rebirth of the city, and also appeared in commercials promoting awareness of the Horizon oil spill. It was his activities off the field as well as on it that earned him Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2010. Brees’ accomplishment on Monday wasn’t just about breaking Marino’s extraordinary record; it was simply another memorable moment in the career of a man who still has plenty to offer as a football player and a humanitarian. Surely it is safe to say that whenever Drew Brees retires, he will soon after don the gold jacket and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, forever cementing his legacy as one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, and perhaps its most exceptional Comeback Kid.Mike Trivella is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Majoring in Accounting and minoring in Philosophy, Mike splits his time between classes, working out with friends, balancing debits & credits, pondering the true essence of the universe, and as always watching the New York Football Giants.