Subtle Brees

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Go ahead and underestimate him. This quarterback has spent

brees.jpgDespite the excitement of many fans in the first few months after the Saints signed the Horatio Alger of NFL quarterbacks, Drew Brees, their passion and real devotion has been unerringly dedicated to Reggie Bush, the team’s first real “franchise” player since Archie Manning in 1971. Yet no one player, not even Saint Reggie, can be deemed more relevant, more crucial than the thriceoverlooked play-caller from Austin, Texas. Brees is likely aware of the pressure, or perhaps the freedom, of being overlooked.his whole career defying expectation.

Ignored by his hometown team, the Texas Longhorns, in his high school recruiting season he ventured to Purdue, a typically losing mid-Big 10 program, where he turned his Boilermaker clubs into bowl-game gold, a previous rarity in West Lafayette. And then again, as he emerged from college, excluded from the first strata of elite quarterbacks by the NFL, he fell into the lap of the dreadful San Diego Chargers, who considered his pick a throw-in for their true prize, LaDainian Tomlinson, whom they obtained in the face of great fan outcry for a star signal caller and whom they solely considered worthwhile for the one-of-akind Mike Vick.

And so again, in San Diego, Brees was considered a temporary stand-in, a mere handoff robot for LT2, the man who would electrify the football world with one of the best rookie seasons in a decade. And Brees did handoff accordingly—but something happened. While NFL fans watched LT2 tally TDs and pile yard after yard with sideline gallops, Brees proceeded to get better and better. In the last two years, he developed the NFL’s best tight end connection with Antonio Gates. In fact, it was perhaps better than any QB-receiver chemistry found anywhere, and Brees deserves credit for converting a B-team basketball refugee into the most dangerous receiver in football. And in the course of doing so, while throwing to a motley collection of lesserknown wide receiver castoffs, he became the main cog in the Chargers machine, becoming the team leader and turning a ground-it-out Marty Ball offense under the stolid Marty Schottenheimer into Air-Marty, a dynamic “pass first, ask questions later” high-scoring top-10 offense.

And Brees earned the respect of the hard-bitten San Diego fans, who have always treasured the days of Dan Fouts and had to see their team give away Vick, while suffering the likes of Ryan Leaf in between. But even as the fans’ love for Brees grew, he became more and more of a problem for the Chargers’ manager, A. J. Smith, the guy brought in to rescue the Chargers from constant mediocrity yet who had to watch Brees seize credit for actually dragging the Chargers out of it. How else to explain the Chargers selection of David Rivers, which amounted to the first pick in the 2004 draft? (Though drafted fourth, Rivers was traded for the true first pick, Eli Manning, who everyone knew wanted to play for the team that selected Rivers, the New York Giants, all along).

Again, having climbed out of the muck of underestimation by sheer hard work and nascent talent, Brees once again faced the prospect of being the guy who was just too short, the guy who lacked the big gun to be a star. And again, at the end of last season, having driven his team— considered the best not to make the playoffs last year—to the very edge of what they were capable of doing, his season ended in the sort of play that exemplified the kind of love for the game that Saints quarterbacks of the past 15 years had glaringly lacked, diving for a loose ball on the goal line with the game and season on the line. Today the injury Brees suffered during that play is the source of speculation as to whether he and his injured shoulder will be up to the task of carrying an apparently overmatched team to anything beyond last place. At the beginning of this season, Saints fans will begin by cheering their once and future Hall of Fame star, No. 25, but at the end of the season it will be Drew Brees they will be cheering for, someone who, given his history, will possibly come to symbolize their own determination to never go away despite the wellpublished predictions of others.

# 9 Drew Brees
Position: QB
Height: 6-0
Weight: 209
Born: 01/15/1979
College: Purdue
NFL Experience: 6
Key stats:

  • Only three NFL quarterbacks finished with more touchdown passes than Brees last year.
  • Brees has had eight multi-TD games in each of the last two seasons, an average of one for every other game started.