Saints Drew Brees is proof positive
that “All” things work for our good
by Charles Gentry
Before all is said and done Drew Brees will go down as the most famous Saint of all time. That’s right. More famous than Paul, more famous than Peter, more famous than John. No, not those saints. I’m talking about former New Orleans Saints lineman Paul Spicer, offensive coordinator Peter Carmichael Jr., and kicker John Kasay. Anyway, Drew Brees’ record breaking year will put him at the top of the list of all-time Saints players. The other list Brees is at the top of is the list of Christian players in the National Football League.
After fighting back from a devastating injury to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in professional football two things are certain, real men love Drew Brees, and Drew Brees loves Jesus.
Unlike some of the 6’4, 240 pound behemoths with those rocket-launcher arms that the average sized American male may find hard to picture himself as, Brees even in uniform looks like your average run of the mill dude. Standing at an even 6 feet tall, and 205 pounds, Brees makes it more than easy for men across America to identify with the Saints star quarterback. That is until he starts picking defenses apart and firing touchdowns all over the yard.
When one examines the life of Andrew Christopher Brees from any angle it is a remarkable story. At first glance the obvious things jump out. Super Bowl XLIV Most Valuable Player. Breaking the single-season passing record of Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino that had stood untouched for 27 years. Six Pro Bowl appearances. NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2004. NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2008. Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year in 2010.” And, most impressive of all the cover boy for Madden NFL ‘11.
At closer inspection though one sees how Brees faith has been instrumental in his success not just on the field but in life. Once he accepted Jesus into his life it became a whole new ballgame.
“I accepted Jesus on my 17th birthday,” says Brees. “Prior to that I had gone to church with my family and listened to all the stories I heard their but it didn’t really click until one day I was sitting in youth service and I heard the pastor say that God was looking for just a few good men, he was using the movie A Few Good Men as a reference. Suddenly, I thought to myself, “Hey, I can be one of those few good men.”
Shortly afterwards, Brees quarterbacked his team at Westlake High School to an undefeated 16-0 season and the Division 5A Texas State Championship. He was named the Division’s Most Valuable Player for 1996. In his two seasons as a starter Westlake was 28-0-1. In his high school career Brees threw for 5,461 yards and 50 touchdowns, with 31 of those touchdowns coming in his senior year when he led Westlake to a 55-15 win over Abilene Cooper High School in the State Championship game.
After graduation Brees went on to become a collegiate star at Purdue University where in 2001 he lead the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1967. In 1999 he was a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award annually given to the nation’s top quarterback and finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. In 2000 he won the Maxwell Award given to the nation’s most outstanding player, ended up third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy awarded to the nation‘s best college player, and was named the Big 10 League‘s Most Valuable Player. Brees was also named Most Valuable Player in the 2000 Outback Bowl and co-MVP of the 1998 Alamo Bowl. By the time Brees left Purdue he owned Big 10 records in passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90), total offensive yards 12,693, passing attempts (1,678) and completions (1,026). He also set a record that can never be broken by throwing a 99 yard touchdown pass. By the time Brees graduated from Purdue he had a degree in Industrial Management and football skills that would make him a second round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. Brees had been the recipient of so much support and goodwill while developing into an elite athlete and that favorable attention was the catalyst that helped mold him into the positive role model he is today.
“I’ve been blessed to have so many people in my life that great role models for me, parents, teachers, coaches, friends,” says Brees. “I know it was God who planted all these people in my life. I feel it’s my turn now to be that person who makes a positive difference in the lives of others.”
Though He had been a record setting quarterback in college the powers that be in the NFL shied away from considering him a can’t miss talent because he lacked the height and arm strength they like to see in an NFL signal caller. Thus, in spite of proving that he was an elite quarterback in college he wasn’t drafted until round two by the San Diego Chargers as the second quarterback taken in the draft long after another QB named Michael Vick was drafted out of Virginia Tech as the #1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons. Though Vick was also only 6 feet tall he possessed the freakish athletic skills from the quarterback position that had pro scouts salivating over his potential. The irony is that San Diego had the first pick in the draft but traded it to Atlanta for the Falcon’s first round pick which was the 5th overall pick in the draft (San Diego used the pick to select LaDanian Tomlinson), Atlanta’s third round pick, Atlanta’s second round pick in 2002, and Atlanta wide receiver Tim Dwight. So, for the rights to Vick the Chargers actually ended up with a running back in Tomlinson and a quarterback in Brees who will undoubtedly be headed for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame when they retire, plus three other players.
Once he got to San Diego Brees saw limited action in 2001 but won the starting quarterback job over former Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie in preseason before the 2002 season. Brees helped the Chargers improve their record to 8-8. The following year he got off to a slow start that fell far short of expectations and after throwing 15 interceptions to go along with just 11 touchdowns the Chargers looked to replace him with Flutie. Though the 2003 season was a disappointment for both the Chargers and Brees both their fortunes were about to change.
In February of 2003, following the season Drew Brees married the girl he had met and fell in love with while at Purdue University. When Brittany Dudchenko became Mrs. Brittany Brees she seemed to provide just the spark Drew needed to reignite his career. Brees showed up for the 2004 season and won the starting quarterback job then went on to show that he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL by throwing 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions for a passer rating of 104.8, while leading the Chargers to a record of 12-4 and an AFC West Division title. Following the regular season he was selected to the 2004 Pro Bowl all star game and named the 2004 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In yet another event that could seen either as a twist of fate or the hand of God at work Brees fantastic year almost never happened.
The Chargers held the rights to the #1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and they had their sights set on drafting Eli Manning the quarterback out of Ole Miss University and brother of the Indianapolis Colts great quarterback Peyton Manning. The only problem was Eli didn’t want to play for San Diego and told them if they drafted him he would not sign a contract to play for them. Rather than call his bluff the Chargers decided to draft Eli then trade him to the New York Giants for their 5th overall pick Phillip Rivers, the gifted 6’5, 228 pound quarterback out of North Carolina State University. The Giants got Eli Manning and the Chargers got the man who they crowned as the air-apparent to their starting quarterback position along with two other Giants draft picks which the Chargers used to select future Pro Bowl players Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. With Rivers practically being handed the starting job before he even showed up for training camp Brees’ terrific 2004 season might never have happened had not Rivers decided to hold out for more money from the Chargers. By the time Rivers finally signed his $40.5 million contract and ended his holdout only one week remained in the preseason. When Rivers showed up in San Diego he was listed as the #3 quarterback on the depth chart behind Brees and Flutie. By the time Rivers was ready to play Brees was well on his way to having a career year. Rivers ended up playing in only two games in 2004 but the handwriting was on the wall and after the season Brees became a restricted free agent.
It is nothing less than amazing how God can use the worst situations in our lives to bring about the greatest blessings. San Diego designated Brees as a franchise player which allowed them to offer him a one year contract that quadrupled his salary to $8 million. Though the contract kept Brees in San Diego for 2005 it was obvious that the Chargers were grooming Rivers to take his job sooner rather than later. Brees began the 2005 season as the Chargers starting quarterback and again put together a remarkable season throwing for a career high 3,546 yards.
In the last game of the regular season against the Denver Broncos defensive back John Lynch rushed in and put a hit on Brees causing him to fumble the ball. As Brees dove for the ball in an attempt to recover his fumble Broncos’ tackle Gerard Warren hit him as he lay on the ground. Brees suffered a torn labrum on the play that would require surgery on his damaged right shoulder, the shoulder connected to his throwing arm. Famed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage and was also reported that Brees had suffered some rotator cuff injury as well. Another Pro Bowl season by Brees was ending in the worst possible way. Now He was an unrestricted free agent who could go play for any team that wanted him but not many people want to take a chance on damaged goods.
The injury turned out to be so severe that some doctors gave Brees only a 25% chance of being able to play pro football again. As he had walked off the field after the play Brees’ arm was stuck in position about shoulder high. He came to the sideline with his arm locked in place unable to lower it. Repairing the damage during surgery would turn out not to be the only problem Andrews faced.
“The nature of the surgery was that it had to be completed in a certain amount of time or the shoulder area would swell like a pumpkin and you wouldn‘t be able to complete the surgery,” says Dr. Andrews. “Maybe, one out of 100 players would have been able to come back from that injury and he happened to be the one that could. I believed in Drew from the word go.”
Though the world’s most renowned sports injury surgeon believed in Brees few others did. The Chargers offered him a 5-year $50 million contract with only $2 million of the amount guaranteed the first year and the rest based on performance incentives. When the Charges would not increase their offer Brees was forced to look elsewhere. But, only two teams offered to sign him. The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints were the only teams that believed Brees was worth the risk after suffering such a severe injury. After the surgery Brees had moved to Birmingham for 4 months to rehab the shoulder and arm by working with legendary sports therapist Kevin E. Wilk. Dr. Andrews believes it was the intense rehabilitation program that the two men worked on over that period that helped Brees to return to football. Indeed, the knowledge and skill of Dr. Andrews and Wilk, and the hard work of Brees, no doubt made all the difference in the world in saving the star quarterback’s career but praise also has to be given to God because returning from such a severe injury to play at the high level Brees does is nothing less than a miracle.
When it came time to put up or shut up one team believed in Brees enough to show him the money. The Dolphins followed the advice of their doctors and opted not to sign him instead signing former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. The New Orleans Saints believed Dr. Andrews when he gave them his opinion on Brees. If Andrews believed in Brees then so would the Saints. The Saints offered Brees a deal that guaranteed him $10 million the first year and a $12 million option for a second year. With only one team showing faith in him Drew Brees signed a 6-year, $60 million contract to become a Saint.
Almost from the moment he arrived in New Orleans it was evident that Brees’ coming to New Orleans was God ordained. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and before it departed it left behind 1,833 confirmed deaths and $108 billion worth of property damage mostly as a result of what happened when the levees broke causing devastating floods, and the 175 mile per hour winds. In the aftermath the city was decimated both physically and spiritually. The Saints had a disastrous season in 2005. Because of the damage done to their stadium the Superdome they were unable to play games at home in New Orleans and they played like orphans finishing the season with a record of 3 wins, and 13 losses. Even a year after Katrina the city still seemed to be living under a dark cloud of death and despair. This is the atmosphere and situation Brees was brought into when he arrived with his reconstructed arm. His career needed to be resuscitated almost as badly as New Orleans did.
Under the leadership of then first year head coach Sean Payton, first year Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and first year rookie running back Reggie Bush, the football team would attempt to rise from the ashes pulling the entire city of New Orleans up out of the miry clay with them. To the credit of Brees and his teammates they revived the Saints franchise and the hope of everyone in New Orleans with a 10 win, 6 loss season bringing the city home an NFC South division title. As for all the questions and doubts about his arm Brees answered them by leading the league in yards passing with 4,418, while finishing third in the league with 26 touchdown throws. To the delight of Saints fans the team hosted their first NFC playoff game at the Superdome and in a tough battle held on to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24. Brees completed 20 of his 32 passes and threw a touchdown in the win. Though they lost to the Chicago Bears 39-14, the next week bringing an end to their season the revival was well under way. Brees and the Saints had brought pride and swagger back to New Orleans. Following the season the Associated Press named Brees the runner up to his former teammate LaDanian Tomlinson for MVP. He was also named as the starting quarterback for the NFC in the 2007 Pro Bowl.
Even more important than what Brees did for New Orleans on the field was what he did for them off the field. Instead of using the money from his new contract to purchase a palatial spread tucked away somewhere in the suburbs for his family which by 2010 would grow to include sons Baylen Robert Brees and Bowen Christopher Brees; Drew and Brittany chose to buy and renovate a home right in the heart of the city of New Orleans. The couple also started a foundation called The BREES Dream Foundation. The Foundation’s mission statement is “Advancing research in the fight against cancer and providing care, education and opportunities for children and families in need.” To date the Foundation has contributed over $11 million dollars to these causes. Brees has truly become a Saint in the city donating millions of dollars for revitalizing programs, renovating parks and schools, and contributing to schools and educational programs for the youth of New Orleans. He has personally donated millions and become a beloved hero and role model to the people of New Orleans.
“Our students are our city's future doctors, business people, and teachers,” Brees said in a written statement.
In recognition of his humanitarian efforts Brees and Tomlinson were co-named recipients of the 2006 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually to honor a player for his volunteer and charity work, and on the field excellence. When he faced his most challenging obstacles in life Brees had believed in himself when others doubted and leaned on his faith in Jesus Christ when others had turned their back on the injured quarterback and walked away. He rewarded the Saints and the city of New Orleans faith in him by becoming not only one of the most prolific and accurate quarterbacks in NFL history but also one of the cities most caring and giving benefactors.
Though the Saints missed making the playoffs in 2007, Brees had another excellent year throwing for 4,423 yards and 28 touchdowns which at the time tied the team record. He also set a single season record for pass completions with 440. In 2008, the Saints again missed the playoffs but Brees was even better, becoming only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5000 yards in a season. He fell just 15 yards short of Dan Marino’s record as he tossed for 5,069 yards. He threw for at least 300 yards in 10 games tying Rich Gannon’s record and was named the AP 2008 Offensive Player of the Year. Saints fans were thrilled with the gift that had fallen in their lap due to what seemed at the time to be a horrific career threatening injury. But, if the fans of New Orleans were joyful over how Brees had helped turn them from the doormat of the NFL into one of the league’s elite teams the 2009 season was about to make them ecstatic.
The Saints bolted from the gate on opening day like a team determined to make its mark on history and their leader Drew Brees wasn’t just good he was legendary. He threw not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, but six touchdowns in the Saints opening day victory over the Detroit Lions. The Saints went on to real off 13 wins in a row and finished the regular season 13-3. When the Saints destroyed the Arizona Cardinals 41-14, to advance to the NFC Championship game all of America pulled themselves to the edge of their seats to root for them. Could this team, this city, stand above the rubble of defeat and grief, erase the memory of teams so inept that their fans took to wearing bags over their heads, rise up out of the waters left by Katrina to beat the seemingly invincible Indianapolis Colts and their megastar quarterback Peyton Manning? Could history be that kind?
By the time all the hype had played out, all the Super Bowl commercials had been aired, and the final seconds had ticked off the clock people were standing and cheering all over the nation for the improbable Super Bowl XLIV Champion, New Orleans Saints. The underdog Saints defeated the Colts 31-17, and Brees served notice that it was time to include his name in conversations about the best quarterback in the game. He out-dueled Manning with a record setting 32 completions, 2 touchdown performance that landed him the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
Before the Super Bowl in a television interview Katie Couric asked Brees, whether New Orleans had saved him, or whether he had saved New Orleans?
“I would say New Orleans saved me,” says Brees. “I was at that point in life, in my career, in my marriage where you’re just trying to establish yourself. It’s a scary feeling. With my injury I was wondering would I ever play again. The game that I’ve played and loved so long might be taken away from me. I think what it did was give me perspective and made me appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given in the past. The opportunity to be a member of this team and a member of this community. It was something special and it was destiny.”
God has a unique way of weaving events and circumstances together to make destiny produce the exact results He desires. Brees had already come within 15 yards of breaking a record that had stood for 27 years, a record many thought would never be broken but he ran out of games. Now unbelievably here he was again in the next to last game of the 2011 regular season and he was one pass away from breaking that unbreakable record. Brees had already thrown for 298 yards and 4 touchdowns in the game. The Saints were blowing the Atlanta Falcons off the field to clinch another NFC Championship but that was only part of what the fans had come to see. When Brees dropped back and fired a strike to Darren Sproles who zipped into the end zone for another Saints touchdown the coronation was complete. Finally, the single season record for passing yards belongs to Drew Brees. The title of greatest Saint of all time belongs to Drew Brees. And for at least another Sunday the entire city of New Orleans belongs to Drew Brees.
Someday all his days of breaking records and throwing touchdowns will be far behind him. When that day arrives and Brees takes a look back at all he accomplished. The thing that he will probably be most thankful for is not all the role models and mentors that came across his path at precisely the right time, or Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning refusing to play for the Chargers, or that high priced Chargers rookie holding out practically the entire preseason, or the awful injury that hastened his departure from San Diego, or the blessing of having perhaps the greatest sports surgeon and sports therapist team up to put his shoulder back together, or the knowledge that only the lowly Saints had enough faith in him to offer a contract, or the timing of showing up in New Orleans when they most needed a hero to believe in and he most needed a city to believe in him.
All this being said, the thing Drew Brees will probably be most thankful for when he looks back at all these events is that the hand of God was there every step of the way working it out for his good. Whether Drew saved New Orleans or New Orleans saved Drew is something we may never be able to determine. Truth is it’s more than likely they saved each other. But when we examine the career trajectory and life of Drew Brees one fact is indisputable.