Forever thankful for Drew BreesBy RICK CLEVELAND,
We can't know where this season is headed for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. We don't know if this season will be the last for Brees, who turns 41 next month. For that matter, we don't know how many more records he will set in this, his 19th NFL season.
What we should know is this: As football fans we are forever thankful that he passed this way. And that we got to watch and enjoy his special talents for at least 13 seasons. And that the most accurate football passer who ever lived played the majority of his career just across our state border. New Orleans isn't in Mississippi, but we have always thought it a part of us. Same goes for Drew Brees.
It almost wasn't this way, you know. Nick Saban probably could have had Brees in 2006 when he was the coach of the Miami Dolphins and the Saints and the Dolphins were the two bidders for Brees. There was every reason for Brees to sign with the Dolphins, who had such a rich NFL championship history. New Orleans was in tatters after Hurricane Katrina. Nobody was sure New Orleans could come back.
The educated guess here is that Brees would have signed with the Dolphins had the Dolphins made a significant offer. Saban has said that Dolphins doctors had warned against signing Brees. That his surgically repaired throwing shoulder might never be the same again. Unbelievable as it sounds now, Saban and the Dolphins opted for Daunte Culpepper who played just four games with the Dolphins and then three more seasons with two more teams before retiring 10 years ago.
Imagine what would have happened had the Dolphins signed Brees. The guess here is that Saban would have won Super Bowls in Miami and that he might never have become perhaps the greatest college coach in history at Alabama. The Saints? Well, they might have been the team that signed Culpepper. And they might still be a team that never sniffed a Super Bowl.
As for Brees, he just keeps throwing touchdowns, keeps completing about three-quarters of the passes he throws. He keeps nimbly dancing around pass rushers and throwing perfectly tight spirals, setting NFL records in the process.
Here, in Jackson, we watched it from the beginning when the Saints came to Millsaps for their 2006 training camp. These eyes saw nearly every Saints practice that 2006 pre-season. If you had told me that Brees would still be setting league records for the Saints in 2019, I would have said you were nuts.
His first passes that pre-season were anything but tight spirals. Sometimes, they wobbled. Sometimes, they fell like wounded ducks. Often, they missed their marks. Deuce McAllister was Brees' Saints teammate then, and Deuce was on the mend from serious knee surgery. Deuce will tell you he felt a whole lot better about his knee than he did Brees' shoulder.
“He just didn't have the strength yet in that shoulder,” McAllister said. “Honestly, none of us knew if he would get it back or not.”
The Saints were a lousy football team that summer of 2006. They lost their last three preseason games and looked abysmal in the process. Brees kept insisting he would be fine, that his shoulder just needed time. “This is what preseason is for,” he told us.
McAllister wasn't so sure. Neither was this writer.
And then the Saints flew to Cleveland to open the regular season. And just like that, Brees started throwing darts. The Saints won their first three games and then finished the season 10-6. Both Brees and McAllister were fantastic. Brees threw for 4,400 yards. McAllister ran for more than 1,000. The Saints made it to the NFC Championship game before losing at Chicago.
Thirteen years later, McAllister is the Saints radio commentator, still marveling at his former teammate's excellence. McAllister, his knees both gone, retired in 2008.
“To be honest, I came into this season thinking this would be it for Drew,” McAllister said. “I mean, he's going to be 41. I just thought this might be it. Now, I am not sure. I know this, if he does decide to retire it won't be because his body has broken down or he can't throw it. I really believe he could play another couple years. Wouldn't surprise me. Nothing about Drew can surprise me now.”
Nothing about Drew Brees should surprise any of us.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.