Drew Brees Greatness (Definitely WASN'T defined by his last game, in fact, can't we bring him back?)
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
UPDATE: Of course, I have to make a quick final statement for the record. A loss in an empty Superdome during a COVID-19 tainted season- one that did still give the Saints a 4th consecutive division title- to none other than Tom Brady and the Bucs, was simply not the way for this all-time legend to go out. He was the only QB in relevant modern NFL history to have a winning record vs. Brady (I believe he finished 6-4 against him), but more importantly, he had everything coming his way, and everything owed to him at that juncture. So did Sean Payton for that matter, who will also not be on the Saints' sideline this season for the first time in 17 years. Brees' ability to battle back from injuries that would have sidelined QB's a decade or more his junior, clearly showed that Brees, always the better athlete than Brady throughout his career, should have been the one throwing consolation TD passes to Brady's kids in the house that he and Payton saved, rebuilt, and made whole again after the disastrous hurricane Katrina hit prior to the 2006 season, and not the other way around. 10 super bowl appearances by brady as compared to just one by Brees, is indeed one of the great injustices in sports history. It's quite simply put, ludicrous, and I'm just going to leave it at that because the rest is well documented and understood by anybody who truly knows & follows football. Cheers and thanks again for everything Drew! Can't you come back for just one more season, even one more game, just so that 2020 abomination doesn't have to be the final chapter written in an otherwise legendary career?!?! If TB is still playing, DB absolutely should still be as well!
***Let’s start with Bum Phillips, circa 1985. I actually grew up a San Francisco 49ers fan, worshipping and idolizing Joe Montana, and the likes of Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Keena Turner, Dwight Hicks, Tom Rathman, and the list goes on and on. But the New Orleans Saints were a team that was always intriguing to me. They had a coach who wore a big cowboy hat and boots on the sideline, and a big belt buckle, and mind you that back then the Saints were also in the 49ers division along with the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Rams.
But one of the things that always struck me about the Saints were some of the hard-nosed players that they had. Dalton Hilliard was one of the most unsung running backs in the history of the game, a do-it-all type of back that ran with speed, power, and determination. A guy like Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who would just churn out yards just like Earl Campbell used to do on Phillips’ Oilers teams. And of course Bobby Hebert, an extremely talented and tough quarterback who never went down without a fight, regardless of who the opponent was or how daunting the task was ahead of them. They were always so tough to beat in that loud Superdome.
Fast forward to 1987-88, when the Saints had their one playoff team, a division winner that is still the only team in NFL history to start their entire linebacking corps in the Pro Bowl in one season. Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson. They also had Renaldo Turnbull, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated that year for experimental training methods they were using - what a vicious defense that was, and it took those powerful players to a 12-3 record, but an unfortunate loss in the NFC Wild Card game that year ended their glorious run. This was always a competitive team, and became even more so with Jim Mora as their fiery head coach.
Fast forward again to the early 2000’s, and the Saints finally got their first ever playoff win with coach Jim Haslett, and a young rookie QB named Aaron Brooks, electrifying the Superdome with exciting plays with receivers like an up-and-coming Joe Horn, and at this point, the Saints became my favorite team. Not too long after this victory, I was hired by the NFL, and I had decided that I wanted to support a new team that could bring a new attitude and an exiting change to a league which I felt badly needed it at that time. Jim Haslett was a very interesting coach, defensive-minded, but with a flare for the offensive and for big plays.
When they drafted Deuce McAllister out of Ole Miss at Running Back in 2001, everything began to change again. It can’t be understated how big a difference McAllister made to this Saints franchise. Unfortunately his career was derailed and cut short by a couple of gruesome ACL injuries, because otherwise this guy had a chance to be up there with some of the all-time greats like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton because he had a similar bruising, low to the ground style to Smith and Payton, but he also had the speed and quickness of a Barry Sanders, and could run over, around, and past almost every defender that was unlucky enough to get in his way. With his flashy and powerful runs, I believe McAllister was the one that really made the NFL stop and take notice of the Saints. Aaron Brooks was a little bit unpolished as a QB - he probably threw a few too many pics, and probably turned the ball over a few too many times, but man, was this guy entertaining to watch, and there was no doubt that he was a threat every time he stepped on the field. And with that talented group of receivers led by Horn, the Saints really showed flashes of being a perennial or Super Bowl contender. The season that stood out the most was the 2002 season, when the Saints started out 9-4, and had beaten the likes of the Packers, Steelers, 49ers and were fresh off a dominating road win over the then formidable Ray Lewis led Baltimore Ravens on their home field with McAllister running wild. But much to their dismay, they managed to lose their last 3 games of the year. One to the lowly one-win Cincinnati Bengals, another to the Carolina Panthers and Rodney Peete on the final Sunday of the season, and the most gut-wrenching, a last second loss to the visiting Vikings, when Daunte Culpepper hit Randy Moss on a 13-yard TD pass with 5 seconds left, and then scored on a fumbled snap on a 2-pt. conversion in the waning seconds to secure a 32-31 victory, and keep the Saints and their special gold jerseys from winning the division and ultimately making the playoffs in one of the great NFL games ever played. (until the 2009 NFC Championship game of course Saints fans!!) They showed all the signs of being one of the best teams of the era under Haslett, Brooks and McAllister, but they just couldn’t get over the hump.
Enter Drew Brees and Sean Payton in 2006, and much has been written about how Brees, coming off the shoulder injury, could have signed with the Miami Dolphins and Nick Saban, but really, the union of Brees and Payton, and the city of New Orleans was just a match made in heaven, and it was written in the stars, and to this day, I don’t think many people would ever dispute or deny that. At the time, despite some earlier success, I don’t think the Saints were a team that anybody really took seriously, especially after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the subsequent 3-13 season that followed. Many people thought they would leave New Orleans, whether it was for Oklahoma City or San Antonio (where they played most of their makeup home games) or even Los Angeles, and it really didn’t look like the team was going to stay in the Big Easy. But in the first year with Brees and Payton, (and of course it doesn’t hurt to have a rookie RB named Reggie Bush, who came in as a Heisman winner and made an immediate impact on the team), and of course McAllister, who stayed on that team even after a 2nd ACL tear kept him out for another season, but he managed to stay on as a spiritual leader, and really ignited the team down the stretch and into the playoffs. They managed to glide through the season and won the division without even having to start Brees in the season finale.
And then came the unforgettable divisional playoff game that year versus the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that had just been to 5 consecutive NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl under Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid, and a host of other talented players, many of whom still remained on that ’06 Eagles roster. How could I forget this game that I watched from a bar on the Lower East side of New York City on a raucus Saturday Night. This was still to this day, one of THE hardest-hitting football games I’ve ever seen. In the 3rd quarter, the Saints found themselves down 21-13, and who other than McAllister himself powered his way in from 5 yards out to cut the lead to one, and then caught an 11-yard TD pass from Brees in the 4th quarter, as the crowd went crazy, thus propelling the Saints to victory after Bush had been hammered all night long, but the team stood strong. The bar I was in was rowdy, beer and peanuts strewn all over the floor, but we were celebrating the improbable 27-24 win, and what a party that was!
The next day was almost surreal - the Saints were in the NFC Championship Game! It was hard to fathom in the era of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis at their peaks, and it really didn’t even hit us until the following Sunday when Reggie Bush took a sideline floater 88 yards down the sideline and somersaulted into the end zone that -WHOA! - we are now ahead in the NFC Championship game in Chicago! Of course the Saints would not go on to win that game on a cold and blustery Sunday, but you could just sense, just feel that something was changing with this team for a long time to come. Something magical was in the air. All of the frustration of the years with Mora and Haslett, Brooks and Horn, when they just couldn’t get over the hump - those days were over because this man wearing #9, this coach, and this team are destined for greatness! And of course just 3 short years later, the prophecy was fulfilled when the Saints won their first ever Super Bowl over Manning and the Colts in Miami, and Brees was named MVP after another stellar performance, capped by Tracy Porter’s historic pick six to seal the victory!
And in the years following the Super Bowl victory, Brees has delivered division titles, playoff victories, and set historical passing record after historical passing record, while always remaining completely humble. He always gives all of the credit to his coaches, teammates and others within the organization for helping him get to this point. But it is you Drew, that helped all of the others. The Saints as an organization have become a generous factory of talent in doling out great players to other teams in the league, whether it’s Reggie Bush and Kenny Stills to the Dolphins, Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, Darren Sproles to the Eagles, Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, and so on - but no matter who the Saints plug in to the offense to run the plays, Drew always gets them the ball so they can be productive. No matter if it’s Heath Miller, Devery Henderson, Ted Ginn, Lance Moore, Marques Colston, or Ben Watson, just to name a few, Brees just keeps on slinging the ball with consistent record-breaking accuracy, distance and efficiency. That’s all because of the system that he and Payton have set up, and the winning personalities that allow everyone to succeed. The system may not be flawless, but with Brees, it’s about attitude, humility, and a burning desire to win and be the best, and his attitude has been contagious for well over a decade now, and that makes this system flawless.
Even last year, in a gut-wrenching defeat against Minnesota again, if you take away that final mishap on defense, and simply look at how the Saints erased a 17-point deficit in the final 18 minutes, and made every play conceivably possible, especially on offense as Brees coolly lofted a perfect pass to Alvin Kamara for a TD to take a 24-23 lead against the number one defensive team in the NFL last season, you truly start to understand the greatness of this man who wears #9. Of course in 2013 against Philadelphia in the Wild Card game, they were able to win on a last second FG against last year’s Super Bowl winner, Nick Foles, and looking at his career, all stats aside, it’s just remarkable how many players Drew Brees has made great over the years. Players in the Super Bowl like Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey, and Lance Moore, who simply refused to quit, all because they could see and feel the total respect Brees has for the game.
Getting back to my childhood idol Joe Montana, who in my opinion still remains the greatest clutch QB in the history of the game, and he was a statistical marvel as well for his time, but of course in today’s day and age of fantasy football, and all the rule changes, we see greatly elevated stats. Nobody will ever top Joe Montana, but Brees comes as close as anyone when you consider that Montana threw for just over 40,000 yards and Brees has eclipsed 70,000, so it’s almost impossible to know where to draw the conclusions. Montana has 4 Super Bowls, and Drew only has one so far, but the way in which Brees has gone about his business, again with total respect for the game, coaches, and his teammates, is second to none, and his stats are just astronomical. Even when comparing him to someone like Tom Brady, it’s ludicrous to think that Brady has been to 8 Super Bowls compared to Brees’ one, when Brees has been better in almost every statistical category, playing on teams with far less media exposure and far worse defenses. For that reason, most would call Brees the GOAT, but who knows, it’s debatable, and clearly a matter of opinion for media and fans alike.
Certainly not in my book though, and today, with the Saints down 7 in the 4th quarter, and already having thrown for over 300 yards and 3 TD’s, Brees gave us another amazing memory. He did it himself, running for 2 TD’s, including a phenomenal run breaking 2 tackles and spinning into the end zone on the first, then capping a 7-minute game-winning drive in Atlanta for a 43-37 overtime victory, pushing the Saints 2018 record to 2-1. Just another day at the office for this great champion. Congratulations Drew on breaking Brett Favre’s all-time completions record at 6,301 by 25 completions today. And thanks for everything you’ve done for us throughout all your years in the NFL and especially in New Orleans. You are truly the greatest QB this world has ever seen, and we haven’t seen the last of you yet! Thank you! #Greatness #Saints #Legend