BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Sometime between Sunday, Jan. 10, and early February, Drew Brees will throw his final pass as a New Orleans Saint. That’s not official but it’s certainly the overwhelming sentiment surrounding the record-shattering future first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback.
It’s a day fans have dreaded and likewise tried to avoid, the ultimate example of kicking the proverbial can down the road. Grown men - seriously or facetiously - have said they will cry when No. 9 hangs up his cleats. Well, we’ll see how many tears are shed before Valentine’s Day.
As we’ve watched our Saints on a Sunday afternoon, a Monday night, a Thanksgiving Day, or even on Christmas, we think to ourselves - Drew Brees will retire SOMEDAY but thankfully, not THIS day. So, let’s witness our unquestioned leader gather up the troops in the end zone and bark out his trademark pregame speech before leading the squadron into battle. Pass me a beer, please, as Brees fires another touchdown pass and throws for another 300 or 400-whatever yards. We enjoy the collective experience of the Saints winning again, as tens of thousands (pre-COVID) leave the Superdome happy and packed sports bars across Louisiana do big, rowdy business. Wash and repeat for the better part of the last 15 years and life has been very good for The Who Dat Nation.
You might have heard that from the Saints’ inception in 1967 through the 2005 season, the franchise had won just two division titles, made only five playoff appearances, and won exactly one playoff game (“Hakim dropped the ball!”). Since Drew Brees joined New Orleans with head coach Sean Payton in 2006, the Saints have won seven division titles, reached the playoffs nine times, and won eight postseason games. After never venturing to an NFC Championship Game, the Saints have made three since Brees’ arrival, with the apex being the 2009 season and the 31-17 Super Bowl triumph over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami.
The last four regular seasons read like this: 11-5, 13-3, 13-3, 12-4. The Saints have indeed been one of the strongest organizations in professional sports, starting at the most important position on the field. As Coach Payton famously said, “Quarterbacks are like airplane pilots. They’ll either fly you to safety or into the side of a mountain.” Well, Brees has always been a Top Gun in The Big Easy, navigating the Saints through the danger zone and to their greatest heights ever.
But unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. Your favorite singer eventually loses his or her voice. Luke Skywalker and Rocky Balboa grow old and gray. And Drew Brees can’t play football forever.
In many ways, this will be the perfect time for Brees to ride off into the sunset. Hopefully, he has enough good football left to lead New Orleans to four more postseason wins and another Super Bowl title but perhaps not enough to venture to the starting line of the 2021 season and absorb the grind and punishment of another marathon NFL campaign. Brees turns 42-years old later this month and Father Time, as we are often reminded, is undefeated. He’s likewise smart enough to avoid staying too long at the party and suffering through the kind of performances that will cause Saints fans to cringe and wince, wishing that he had indeed stepped away. We’ve seen age creep into some of those passes this year and 11 cracked ribs and a punctured lung have further emptied the tank. For a man with a wife and four children, along with countless opportunities after retirement, walking away from football might be an agonizing task but something tells me Drew Brees will be adapting just fine.
By all indications, The Last Dance begins against the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at 3:40 p.m. on WAFB-TV.
After the Saints were served the ultimate shaft job by the NFL in the 2018 NFC Championship Game against the Rams, I thought Brees had one year left. Turns out, that wasn’t far off. When The Who Dats laid an egg against the Minnesota Vikings in the opening round of the NFC playoffs the next season, Brees was very close to calling it quits the following summer and, depending on who you believe, retired privately before being talked into one more year with the Black and Gold.
And that decision to return has undoubtedly put Brees through the wringer during the last seven months. The less said about Yahoo Finance the better, but regardless, Brees appeared with them for a television interview in early June of this past year. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that didn’t go very well. Brees’s comments about the national anthem caused an explosion. His apologies for those same comments caused another one. It honestly made me sad, for I knew the world was indeed ending if people were ferociously attacking THE Drew Brees. Ridiculous, over-the-top labels like “traitor” and “gutless” were used to describe a man who played a huge role in leading the city and region out of the darkness of Hurricane Katrina. How much charity, how many good deeds had the man done, to be turned on so quickly and maliciously? Thankfully, one fan did tell me, “If Drew Brees is the enemy, then we’re all in big trouble.”
I concur wholeheartedly. And thankfully, the Saints and Brees overcame the hurt and forged ahead together.
Outside of that quandary, Drew Brees has been a public relations Jedi. In a day and age in which countless media outlets are salivating for superstars to falter, deliver them scandalous material, and then fall from grace, Brees has stayed clean off the field. I’ve attended countless press conferences and just marveled at how Brees answers every question perfectly - complimenting the teammates that enabled him to perform well, never speaking negatively of an opponent, and always keeping his cool. Have you ever seen Drew Brees get angry during an interview or try to embarrass a reporter for asking a stupid question? I swear, if the Saints somehow went 0-16, Brees would step to the podium and deliver some kind of a profound and upbeat message.
The national critics have assembled in larger mass than ever during this bizarre 2020 season. And as I’ve admitted, some of Drew’s passes are hanging in the air a little too long for my liking. But this contrived and equally meaningless stat known as “air yards” is horse manure and likewise seems invented to discredit a player with the sixth-highest quarterback rating in the NFL this year. Even in the twilight, Drew has 24 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, while completing 70.5% of his throws. Perhaps, chunking a football 50 yards down the field and watching it bounce is more impressive and the better decision, than taking a checkdown and playing a second-and-2. Wow, you learn something new every day.
And as the playoffs approach, Brees has also been erroneously labeled as a “choker” in the postseason.
Let’s quickly reflect on the Saints’ last six playoff losses.
In 2010, basically void of running backs, Brees passed for 404 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions at the Seattle Seahawks. But Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” run occurred late and the Saints were eliminated from the playoffs with a 41-36 first round loss in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2011, New Orleans was a win away from hosting an NFC Championship game that mostly everyone believes the Saints would’ve won against the New York Giants. But despite 462 yards passing from Brees and four touchdowns, including a 66-yard scoring strike to Jimmy Graham with less than two minutes left, the Saints defense blew it in the final moments and New Orleans lost at the San Francisco 49ers, 36-32.
In 2013, no one was beating the Seahawks and no one did. Playing in a madhouse Seattle atmosphere and pounded by wind and rain, Brees passed for 309 yards and a touchdown in a fairly competitive 23-15 defeat. The Seahawks would eventually humiliate Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in the Super Bowl.
In 2017, Brees and the Saints trailed in Minnesota, 17-0, at halftime during a second round playoff battle. Brees would then carve up the Vikings in the second half for three touchdown passes and then hit Willie Snead for a dramatic and incredibly clutch 13-yard reception on fourth-and-10 to put the Saints in position for what should’ve been the game-winning field goal with 25 seconds left. Then, “The Minnesota Miracle” occurred.
I’m feeling nauseous. But wait, there’s more!
In 2018, nothing really needs to be said. Brees and the Saints certainly didn’t hit on all cylinders during the NFC Championship against Los Angeles in the Superdome but they’re in the Super Bowl if the biggest blown call in sports history doesn’t take place. To this day, we all wonder - HOW? HOW did you miss that?!?
In 2019, the Saints were flat and no one played well during the opening round shocker to the Vikings in New Orleans. And that includes Brees. It was hardly a stellar afternoon for any of the Saints and that includes No. 9.
But Brees’s overall body of playoff work clearly details a player who has excelled during the postseason, hardly a man who has cowered and folded on the big stage. And seriously, how could anyone label a Super Bowl MVP (32-39-0, 288 yards and two touchdowns vs the Colts in 2009) a “choker?” Do you not remember Drew Brees throwing eight touchdowns against zero interceptions in those three postseason wins during the championship march?
Get out of here.
Look, football, more than any other sport, is a team game. This article is a tribute to Drew Brees but he’s never won a game by himself and that certainly won’t change moving forward. For Brees and the Saints to win ring No. 2, they’ll need Demario Davis, Cam Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, and the rest of that stellar defense to stay salty and perhaps lead New Orleans to a victory in the freezing cold of Green Bay, Wis. They’ll count on Terron Armstead and the offensive line to not only protect the old man but likewise open rushing lanes for Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to do damage on the ground and control the clock. Michael Thomas might need to grind through the pain on that bad ankle and catch some clutch passes. Emmanuel Sanders, this is why we signed you. And we love the progress of young Marquez Callaway. Now, go create an unforgettable postseason moment. New Orleans will also lean on kicker Wil Lutz to shake off the recent Garrett Hartley-like regular season struggles and become postseason Garrett Hartley.
One of my father’s favorite sayings to me growing up was so simple, yet, so poignant and powerful - “Just remember, boy, things change.” And although we may have fooled ourselves into thinking Drew Brees will quarterback the New Orleans Saints forever, the dreaded end of the road seems to be quickly approaching. As a Louisiana native my entire life and as someone who attended my first Saints game in 1987, I’ve been blessed to cover Brees and the golden era of this franchise. But eventually, someone else will step behind center and become the Saints’ new full-time QB and a new era will then begin. And honestly, it’s not something I’m ready to think about yet.
So, here we are - the Saints, Brees, Payton, and a loaded roster that will likewise face salary cap hell in a matter of months - making one last run at glory. And as Brees trots onto the field for each playoff game moving forward, hoping to conjure and squeeze the last bit of greatness out of that famous right arm, perhaps he can sing a little Toby Keith along the way.
“I ain’t as good as I once was but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
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