Most weeks I look forward to getting my issue of Sports Illustrated in the mail. I’ve had a subscription since I received on as a Christmas gift 30 years ago (if memory serves, I believe Pittsburgh sports legends Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw were on the cover; the year both the Pirates and the Steelers won titles in 1979).
This week I was looking forward to it more so than usual, not just because SI was handing out its annual Sportsman of the Year award, but because who the magazine had selected in New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
First a disclaimer: Like Brees, I am a graduate of Purdue University, so I acknowledge a built-in bias here. No, I’ve never met Drew or Brittany Brees – they graduated nearly a decade after I did. But being too young to really have an appreciation of Bob Griese or Len Dawson – two former Super Bowl-winning Boilermaker QBs from a different era – Brees is the guy for alums and fans of my generation to admire.
The great thing is that the touchdown passes, rocket arm and evident self-confidence on the field are only a portion of what makes Brees tick. As the SI tribute points out, Brees is a man of faith, and not only faith in God, but filled with faith for this family, teammates and New Orleans.
I’m not going to give you Brees’ bio – there’s plenty of that in the story and elsewhere – but the short version is that Brees came to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina recovering from a serious shoulder injury suffered the season before in San Diego. The Saints, historically one of the worst franchises in the NFL with an untested head coach in Sean Payton, took a flier on Brees. The payoff on the field came amid a shower of confetti last February in Miami at the Super Bowl.
The payoff off the field has dwarfed the Lombardi Trophy, with Brees going the extra mile to invest his time, money and personal reputation into helping New Orleans fully regain its footing.
The SI piece does point out that Brees, being human, has his flaws and that a slip-up or two could result in the fall from grace which so people crave, if for no other reason than to say, “See, I told you it was too good to be true.”
Here’s to hoping that the status quo remains and that Brees stays the real deal he is.