From Castaway To Canton: A Tribute To Drew Brees
By Rory Jones
The New Orleans Saints were defeated by The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, in potentially the final game of Drew Brees’ career. Revered in Louisiana for helping to turn the franchise around, the impact he has left on the league and the city of New Orleans is undeniable.
'Up There With The Best'
As he leaves the football field – likely for the final time – Drew Brees points to the stands, and blows kisses to an empty Super Dome – without a standing ovation, or one final booming “WHODAT?” from the Saints faithful. It’s hardly the sendoff that any Saints fan, or even NFL fan, would have liked to see.
Brees was far from his usual self in Sunday’s 30-20 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He completed 19 of 34 passes for just 134 yards, and threw three costly interceptions, as the Saints crashed out of the Divisional Round of the playoffs. It’s been a difficult season for Brees, who – despite his team’s 12-4 regular season record – has grappled with both injuries, and now-aged 42, with his declining arm strength.
Disappointing as Sunday’s loss might be, if this is indeed the final chapter of Brees’ illustrious career, he retires as statistically the greatest quarterback to ever have played in the NFL. The only quarterback to have passed for 80,000 yards, and the most accurate passer of all time, number 9 will be immortalised in New Orleans, a city to which he delivered its first and only Super Bowl in 2010.
Perhaps he lacks Aaron Rodgers’ eye-catching throws, Tom Brady’s Super Bowl rings, or even Payton Manning’s MVP awards. But in his own right, Brees is right up there with the best to ever have played the quarterback position.
Together with Head Coach Sean Payton, Brees has reversed the fortunes of the New Orleans Saints, since they both arrived in 2006. Once viewed as one of the NFL’s worst-run franchises, the two of them established a winning culture, and gave hope to a city still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
And as we look back over his career, his accomplishments are endless. For seven seasons he led the entire NFL in passing yards, and for six he led the league in completion percentage. He has 13 Pro-Bowl selections, and twice has been voted as the NFL’s Offensive Player Of The Year.
Perhaps Brees’ greatest accomplishment – before his Super Bowl MVP performance, and emergence as a first-ballot Hall Of Famer – was his comeback from a career threatening injury in 2005.
While playing for the San Diego Chargers, in what would be his final game, he suffered a torn labrum, dislocated shoulder, and damaged rotator cuff on his throwing arm. The organisation who had drafted him five years previously would allow him to leave. The Miami Dolphins’ decision to not sign Brees will forever live in infamy, after advice from team doctors that he would never recover from his injury. This left the quarterback with only one destination: New Orleans.
Since arriving in Southern Louisiana, Brees has become a living deity in the city of New Orleans, as both his and the city’s legacies will always be intertwined. A class act, both on and off the field, he has long been one of the league’s most respected players, winning the Walter Payton Man of The Year Award back in 2006.
'Worth Every Moment'
When asked whether he regretted anything in his career during his postgame press conference, his response was loud and clear:
“No complaints, no regrets”, he said.
“I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it and I appreciate all that this game has given to me. There are so many incredible memories, so many relationships that have come as a result of playing this game, and you find out so much about yourself, and you have to fight through so much, when you play this game.”
Following the loss, Drew Brees remained on the field for some time, talking with Sunday’s opponent, and good friend, Tom Brady. Also present were Brees’ wife, Brittany, and his three children. Brady throws a touchdown pass to Brees’ son, before waving goodbye, and walking off the field. Next week he faces the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, whilst Brees faces a big decision.
Over the last two years, father time and injuries have caught up with Drew Brees. He missed five games in 2019 with a broken thumb, and four in 2020 after suffering 11 fractured ribs. Now aged-42, it seems that Brees’ incredible journey – from castaway to Canton – has now reached its conclusion.
Reflecting on a gruelling season, and potentially the end of his 20-year career, Brees opened up on his struggles after Sunday’s loss:
“This season, I’ve probably had to fight through more than I have any other season in my career. From injury, to all the COVID stuff, to just crazy circumstances.”
He pauses for a moment, then shakes his head and smiles: “and it was worth every moment of it.”
Rory Jones is a sports journalist originally from West Yorkshire. He has been covering the NFL and NCAA for the last four seasons for both British and American publications. Rory is also the founder and co-host of The Sports Bubble podcast, which aims to raise the profile of the NFL in the UK. Find him on twitter @Rorysjones11