The End of an Era in New Orleans
Inevitability can be a bitch. We all saw it coming. We all knew it was coming. But prior knowledge does not necessarily provide a proper salve for memory, nostalgia, adulation and loss.
Maybe you heard the news: Drew Brees retired over the weekend.
What to say that hasn’t been said about Drew Brees? Over the past 20 seasons and over the past 48 hours.
A leader. A warrior. A legend. A winner. By shear dint of desire.
Yes, he was a stats geek intent on running up his numbers, most of which stand as NFL records today. Touchdowns. Yards. Etc. (* I may be wrong but I think he threw on the gridiron the equivalent mileage of two trips to the moon and back.)
But if you’re an athlete – professional or amateur – who doesn’t want to own the record for everything? Who doesn’t want to be known as the best who ever played?
He never did it at cost to the team. Hell, he – and Sean Payton – made the team what it is today. To quote a great movie: A contender. Year after year. (Mostly.)
He was small – very small in stature and weight – for his position in the modern game compared to the gargantuan, statuesque athletes of his era. Manning, Brady, Rothlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Josh Allen, Donovan McNabb. They are all beasts among men, physical specimens to be studied by science.
And there are outliers, of course. Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes – who is more Houdini than quarterback – are both slighter than Brees. So there is room for small gunslingers if they shoot fast.
Brees’ gift was not his bulk or his power, but his precision. The guy could throw 40 footballs through a tire from 30 yards away and maybe miss one.
But probably not.
We all knew this announcement was coming and it came at the right time. He was clearly losing arm strength and the ferocity of the defensive players in the league – even with recent rules to protect quarterbacks – still left him in a place of peril. The pocket. It’s no place for a (relatively) small man – who doesn’t run fast.
It’s a shot to the fans but a boon to his family. Who else announces their retirement on social media with his kids cheering the decision in the background? No more leaving for training camp at sunrise, working out, reviewing film, going through practice reps for eight hours and then reviewing film again.
He said: Each day, I poured my heart & soul into being your Quarterback. Til the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organization, my team, and the great city of New Orleans.
“We shared some amazing moments together, many of which are emblazoned in our hearts and minds and will forever be a part of us. You have molded me, strengthened me, inspired me, and given me a lifetime of memories.”
Both Drew and the Saints made bold gambles when they matched their fortunes together. Fifteen years ago, Drew was a wounded animal in San Diego, his injured throwing arm stitched together by doctors who basically told him: Good luck with that.
And New Orleans was a wounded city, if not left for dead after Katrina. The infirmed entities tied the knot and basically said: Let’s do this. And they did that. The rest be history.
I hope and trust that he and his family will stay and claim New Orleans as their home. They are great citizens, true to the core, and givers.
*I might be a little biased here. Brees paid a million bucks to build the football field, goalposts and scoreboard at my kids’ high school, Lusher. It’s called the Brees Family Field. It’s where we play football, soccer and even hold baseball practice.
No band practice, though, and that’s an interesting side-note about the school. Lusher is an arts oriented public charter school. The football team is peppered with actors, artists, modern dancers, chess players and fashion designers.
There is no marching band. When the visiting team’s marching band rolls out the predictable playlist of halftime hits – Gary Glitter anyone? – our small gang of sax players and clarinetists stay seated in the bleachers and then follow with Duke Ellington and Cole Porter compositions.
It’s a weird place to be sure. But a great place to send your weird kids.
I’m not really sure why Drew adopted our school – his kids don’t go there – but I guess he just did it…because? I don’t know. But the king is gone now; long live the king.
Sports fans are constantly bombarded the news of a great player’s retirement as “the end of an era.” Gretzky. Jordan. Jeter. Earnhardt Jr. Mayweather. Favre. Etc. (* And Brady, if and after he ever finally succumbs to Father Time.)
So it’s the end of an era in New Orleans. For 15 seasons, Drew led the team – and the city – out of a deep hole on a big gamble.
So thanks, Drew. You did us a solid. On the field and off. And I hope to be at the Superdome when they hoist your jersey up to the rafters.
I’ll be the guy yelling. Enjoy your summer off.