Drew Christopher Brees was born on January 15, 1979 in Dallas, Texas. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) The family moved to Austin several years later.
As an infant, Drew had a large birthmark on his right cheek. His parents, Mina and Chip, discussed removing but decided against having an procedure performed.
Football was an integral part of the Brees family culture. Drew’s grandfather, Ray Akins, was a legendary high school coach in the Lone Star State. His mother’s brother, Marty Akins, was the starting quarterback for the University of Texas during the Earl Campbell era. Both of those jobs sounded pretty good to Drew. So while other children were playing with Hot Wheels, he was dreaming about a career as a football player and coach.
Drew excelled at every sport he tried, but he was particularly good at football, baseball and basketball. Drew enrolled at Westlake High School in 1993. As any fan of the "Friday Night Lights" franchise knows, high school football in Texas is serious business, played by kids with serious talent. A number of players in the Chaps' league went on to star in college and the NFL, including Ladainian Tomlinson. Drew would later play in the same backfield as Tomlinson during an All-Star Game.
Drew won the starting quarterback job for Westlake as a junior in 1995. He was not your prototypical Texas quarterback. Drew stood six feet tall with his helmet on and was so skinny that fans feared he would break in half if tackled too hard. But, oh, that arm. When Drew unleashed a pass, it flew straight and true and hard.
Drew had something else going for him. He was football smart. Not only did he know his opponents inside out, he could make fine adjustments during games when the inevitable unexpected arose. It was hard to fool him once, and impossible to do twice. And God help the team that tipped its defense at the line. Drew was all over that.
The fact that Drew lined up at quarterback for Westlake—and not receiver—may have come as somewhat of a surprise to his parents. They named him after Drew Pearson, the star wideout for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Drew's junior campaign was slowed by a knee injury suffered toward the end of the year. It was slow to heal and kept him from attending summer football camps. This was a setback to his future aspirations. In Texas, these camps are crucial, not just to accelerate a player’s skills, but to give college recruiters a closer look at what will be available that fall.
As a senior in 1996, Drew had one of those high school seasons they still talk about in Texas. In his second year as a starter, he led Westlake to a perfect 16–0 record and the state championship. The title game was played in Texas Stadium. Drew paced the Chaps to a 55–15 win over Cooper High and its star, Dominic Rhodes. His final numbers for the season were 3,528 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. In two years with Drew calling signals, the team went 28–0–1.
Drew believed he could continue his success and be a top college quarterback. The top programs, however, did not come calling. Only two—Kentucky and Purdue—offered him an actual scholarship. Picking between the two was easy. The Wildcats had Heisman Trophy candidate Tim Couch. So Purdue it was.
The Boilermakers had fallen on hard time in the 1980s, and their misery continued into the 1990s. In fact, they had just completed their 11th losing season (3-8 in 1996) in 12 tries. Drew would take the helm of a dispirited squad with a culture of losing—not exactly a dream job for a drop-back quarterback.
There was one other problem. Dew had no idea where Purdue was. Initially he thought it was an Ivy League school. He was delighted to find it was part of the Big Ten.
Drew arrived in West Lafayette in 1997. Head coach Joe Tiller introduced him as the school’s hot new quarterback. Fans immediately suspected they were being punked. Drew was so small, so skinny—could this really be the kid with the John Elway arm?
It was hard to tell from his freshman season. Tiller spotted Drew in seven games, but overall he played little, attempting just 43 passes. Purdue, however, had a nice rebound year with Billy Dicken at quarterback. The Boilermakers went 9–3, including a win over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
Not that the year went to waste for Drew. Unlike some football-crazed universities, education comes first at Purdue. The campus teams with engineering students, and the libraries are often as crowded as the dining halls. This atmosphere suited Drew just fine. His idea of a wild night was barricading himself in the film room and memorizing every wrinkle of an opponent’s defensive playbook. He was no slouch in the classroom, either.
ON THE RISE
When the 1998 season opened, Drew was ready to assume leadership of the Purdue offense. The skill players on the team included receivers Ike Jones, Vinny Sutherland and Chris Daniels. Drew kept them all busy, passing for 3,983 yards and 39 touchdowns. A revelation to fans nationwide, he was named Big Ten Player of the Year. The Boilermakers scored big wins over weak teams, but they struggled against the likes of USC, Penn State and Notre Dame.
The Boilermakers finished at 9–4, with a 6–2 mark in the Big Ten. In the school's second straight Alamo Bowl appearance, Purdue faced #4 ranked Kansas State. The Boilermakers were big underdogs, but they made one huge play after another, forcing seven turnovers. Drew kept the K-State defense on its heels all day, and the score seesawed back and forth. Michael Bishop appeared to pull the game out for the Wildcats with a TD pass late in the fourth quarter. But Drew led the Boilermakers on a six-play, 80-yard drive capped off with a 24-yard TD pass to Jones. Purdue won 37–34. It was just the second time in history that an unranked team upset a Top 5 team in a bowl game.
The 1999 edition of the Boilermakers dropped to 7–5. Drew had another nice season, throwing for 3,531 yards and 21 touchdowns. With Jones graduated, Daniels and Vinny Sutherland were his main targets. Purdue earned a notable victory over Notre Dame and played Ohio State and Penn State tough in close losses. In the Outback Bowl against Georgia, Drew passed the Boilermakers to a 25–0 lead with four scoring strikes. But the defense coughed up the game, and Purdue lost 28–25 in overtime.
After the disappointment of the Outback Bowl, Drew considered skipping his senior year and heading for the NFL. He had become friendly with Peyton Manning, who was drafted the year Drew started his career at Purdue. Manning advised him to stay for his final season, telling him he would never have another chance to be a college student. Plus, Drew was within gunning distance of a bunch of Big Ten records. He took Manning's advice, to coach Tiller’s great relief.
The Boilermakers took aim at the 2000 Big Ten title in Drew’s senior year. He was considered a contender for the Heisman Trophy. Drew had finished fourth in the voting in 1999 and would move up to number three in his last college campaign.
Purdue opened the year with 48–0 and 45–10 victories, but narrow losses to Notre Dame and Penn State derailed the team and hurt Drew's chances at the Heisman hardware. He made up for these losses with a 32–31 win over Michigan.
The season’s key game was a 31–27 victory over Ohio State in October. Drew won the game with a 64-yard pass to walk-on Seth Morales. Pro scouts noted that in the midst of the late-game mayhem, Drew had calmly checked off his receivers until finding Morales, his fourth choice on the play. He was truly unflappable. In the final game of the regular season, the Boilermakers reached their goal and clinched the Big Ten title with a 41–13 thrashing of Indiana.
Drew’s final game for Purdue came in the Rose Bowl—the school’s first since the 1960s. He threw for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a close, brutal game against Washington. The Huskies ultimately prevailed 34–24. Although Drew was unhappy about the loss, he was happy with the postseason hardware he collected, including the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top player and a second Big Ten Player of the Year trophy. Drew also left the college ranks with the conference records for passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90) and completion percentage (61.1).
As the draft approach, the only question NFL scouts had about Drew was whether he had the strength and accuracy to stretch defenses with the long ball. Coming off a dismal 1-15 season, the San Diego Chargers owned the first pick in each round of the draft and were delighted Drew was still on the board. They drafted him and made him their backup behind Doug Flutie.
San Diego’s first pick was TCU running back Ladainian Tomlinson. At a Heisman banquet the year before, he and Drew had joked that it would be great to reunite in the NFL. Both rookies were amazed to find themselves as members of the Bolts. San Diego had finished last in the AFC West three of the last four seasons. Drew vowed to work with Tomlinson to turn the team’s fortunes around. The Chargers finished 5–11 in 2001 with Flutie at the helm. Drew saw action in just one game. As always, however, he was absorbing information at a bewildering rate.
During training camp in 2002, Drew was anointed the starter by new coach Marty Schottenheimer. He led the Chargers to victory in their first four games before the team came down to earth and finished at 8–8. With five teams in the AFC at 9–7, San Diego missed the playoffs. Drew had a decent year. He threw for 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. Tomlinson was the big story for the Chargers. He came into his own as a runner with more than 1,600 yards.
Drew had more weapons to work with in 2003, but the team’s record dropped to 4–12. Five of those losses came at the start of the season, dooming the Chargers to a last-place finish. Drew ended up splitting time with Flutie, whose luck wasn’t much better. It wasn't that San Diego had no talent. Besides Drew and Tomlinson, the club had a spectacular tight end in Antonio Gates and top defensive players in Donnie Edwards and Quentin Jammer.
The prize the team’s poor record was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. The Chargers chose Eli Manning and promptly traded him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and a pick they turned into Shawne Merriman. Unsure of his status coming into camp, Drew went about the business of preparing for the season and ignored the endless questions about Rivers. The rookie, meanwhile, slogged through contract negotiations that kept him out of camp and eliminated any chance he had of playing a significant role in '04.
Drew went on to have a terrific season. Drew started 15 games and passed for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The result was a sparkling 104.8 passer ranking that ranked third in the NFL. Drew was selected to play in the Pro Bowl that winter.
But first there was the small matter of the playoffs—San Diego’s first trip to the postseason since 1995. The Chargers had finished 12–4, skyrocketing from worst to first in the AFC West. Drew led the team into battle against the New York Jets. San Diego was expected to win, but the Jets hung tough and actually held 17–10 lead late in the game. With 20 seconds left and the Chargers facing fourth down, the Jets were whistled for roughing the passer. Drew turned that misatke into a touchdown pass to Gates to force overtime. Nate Kaeding missed a game-winning field goal attempt for San Diego. When Doug Brien was given the same opportunity for the Jets, he split the uprights and the Bolts' season was over.
The 2004 season taught Drew that timing counts for a lot in the NFL. Nothing drove this home more that the fact that the Chargers had chosen to let him play out his contract that fall. Coming off a breakout season, Drew was now a free agent. The Chargers, unsure of Rivers’s readiness and unwilling to lose momentum, designated him as a franchise player. That tied him up for one more year at $8 million—four times his 2004 salary.
The Chargers looked good early in the 2005 season. Drew guided the team to blowout victories over the Giants in San Diego and the Patriots in New England. He also got some revenge the Jets, 31–26. San Diego seemed to be in thick of the AFC West race again with an 8–4 record in early December, but then the wheels came off. The Chargers lost three of their final four games and finished on the outside looking in during the postseason.
Even if the Chargers had made the playoffs, Drew would have been unavailable. In the campaign's final game, against the Denver Broncos, Drew fumbled when he was tackled by John Lynch. Drew tried to recover the ball and was nailed by a second Bronco, Gerard Warren, while on the ground. The hit tore his right labrum and damaged his rotator cuff.
Drew underwent surgery in January to repair the damage. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the operation, said it was one of the worst tears he had ever seen. Andrews told Drew that the odds were against his returning to 100 percent.
Drew’s '05 season was marred somewhat by turnovers, but he reached a new career-high in passing yards with 3,576 and was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. The Chargers stated during the off-season that they wanted to re-sign Drew. In turn, he said he would accept less money to stay with the club. But when negotiations got down to brass tacks, both sides backed off their original claims. When the Chargers started using his injury as a bargaining chip, Drew started to up his salary demand. The only deal that reached the table was a heavily incentive-laden offer that limited San Diego’s risk and maximized their reward. Drew decided to look elsewhere.
The two teams that expressed the most interest were the Saints and Miami Dolphins, both in desperate need of a top-flight quarterback. New Orleans had more freedom under the salary cap and thus could offer more guaranteed money. Drew signed with the Saints in March. He liked the talent the team was assembling under coach Sean Payton. He also liked the attitude of the players. Everyone in the locker room was committed to winning and seemed like a good guy. Anyone who didn’t fit this profile was given a ticket out of camp.
MAKING HIS MARK
Drew was not exactly welcomed to the Big Easy with open arms. Many fans and sportswriters screamed that the team was throwing its money away. Drew, they felt, was just too much of a risk. For his part, Drew did all the right things when he signed with the Saints. He moved into a renovated house in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. He was a conspicuous customer in all of the city’s famous restaurants. Whenever a reporter shoved a microphone in front of his face, he told fans how much he adored the Big Easy.
Having been spoiled in San Diego with Tomlinson, Drew could see that the Saints would rely on his arm a bit more. Still, they had an exceptional runner in Deuce McAllister and a lightning-rod rookie in Reggie Bush, who had a way of making tacklers miss. Another rookie, Marques Colston, looked like a sleeper pick to Drew. He was fast, fearless and sure-handed. Veterans Joe Horn and Devery Henderson rounded out the receiving corps.
Much was expected of the Saints in 2006. They had been orphaned for a season by Hurricane Katrina and returned to the Superdome charged with the task of uplifting a downtrodden city. Nothing in the team’s history suggested they were up to the task, but Drew got the team off on the right foot with two nail-biting victories in the first two weeks and then a 23–3 thrashing of the Atlanta Falcons in the Saints’ return to New Orleans.
Protected by a superb front line, Drew was making use of all the team’s weapons. Bush proved to be a fine short receiver, and week after week, Colston was the go-to guy in the clutch. The special teams and defense were also getting the job done.
Drew showed how smart he was when the Eagles came to town in October. Knowing that Philadelphia would try to intimidate him with its pass rush, he used a three-step drop and unloaded the ball before the defensive linemen got anywhere near him. When the secondary tightened up, Drew mixed in five and seven-step drops to upset Philly’s timing. The result was a 27–24 victory that made believers out of many NFL skeptics. After eight games, the team’s record stood at 6–2. Only the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts had more victories.
The Saints outdueled their division rivals, the Carolina Panthers and Falcons, the rest of the way and clinched the NFC South in Week 15. They finished 11–6, good for the number-two slot in the playoff seeding. Drew’s numbers were fantastic. He led the NFL with 4,418 passing yards and set a league record with 440 completions. Drew connected for 26 touchdowns and had only 11 interceptions. He was sacked just 18 times.
The Saints earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs. On January 13, they faced the Eagles in the Superdome again. Drew knew he was up against a terrific defense looking for payback. Rather than forcing plays, he tried to keep the Eagles off-balance. He took what Philly gave him, throwing to Billy Miller, a little-used tight end acquired after starter Ernie Crowell was hurt at midseason. In the first half, he stunned the Philadelphia secondary with a long pass to Henderson, which set up a field goal.
Drew managed the offense well. He let McAllister roll up big yards and kept the offense on the field as long as possible. The Eagles were not about to roll over, however. A long TD pass to Donte Stallworth and a long TD run by Brian Westbrook gave Philly a 21–13 lead in the third. After cutting the deficit to 21–20, Drew led an 84-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard swing pass to McAllister that resulted in what would prove to be the winning touchdown.
The New Orleans defense made a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter that forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal. That was it for the scoring. The Saints won 27–24, just as they had in October. Drew played an error-free game, completing 20 of 32 passes for 243 and a touchdown.
As Drew walked to the line of scrimmage on the last play of the game, he paused a moment to soak up the noise and happiness of the New Orleans fans. Then he pumped his arms to incite them to cheer even louder. It was a transcendent moment in the life of this long-underachieving NFL team.
The team’s amazing run ended in the NFC Championship game against the Bears eight days later. Chicago had a 16–0 lead before New Orleans could get started. The Saints struggled in wet, windy, cold Soldier Field, coughing up the football twice in the opening quarter.
Drew led the Saints on a 74-yard scoring drive to cut the halftime deficit to 16–7. He opened the second half with a short pass to Bush, who darted 88 yards for another TD to make the score 16–14. A missed field goal robbed New Orleans of a chance to take the lead, and the Bears started to pour it on. Drew was hit by Adewale Ogunleye and fumbled, which led to a Chicago touchdown. It got worse from there, and the Bears won the game 39–16. Drew threw for 354 yards, but he turned the ball over twice. He was also penalized for intentional grounding in his own end zone, resulting in a safety.
Drew had helped lift the spirits of New Orleans with his skill and leadership, and brought respectability to a team that had gone four decades without it. He finished as runner-up to Tomlinson in the MVP voting and shraed the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award with his former teammate.
As often happens after season like the one the Saints had in '06, a team takes a step backwards the following year. This was the case for New Orleans in 2007. Th cluby hovered around .500 all year before finishing 7–9. McAllister was injured most of the year, and Bush was not the kind of runner who could replace those rough yards.
Drew took every snap during the year and set a franchise record with 4,423 passing yards. He threw for 28 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. His favorite target was Colston, who caught 98 passes and scored 11 touchdowns.
The Saints looked to bounce back in 2008 with a retooled defense and expanded roles for receiver Lance Moore and running back Pierre Thomas. Consistency was still a problem, as the team’s performance yo-yoed dramatically from week to week. As a result, the Saints managed back-to-back victories only once during a disappointing 8–8 campaign.
Playing from behind was no fun, but from a statistical standpoint it helped Drew put up jaw-dropping numbers. He reached the 300-yard plateau 10 times in 16 games. Moore was his favorite target, with 79 catches. Newcomer Jeremy Shockey caught 50 and Bush finished with 52 receptions. Colston, who broke a finger midway through the year, reeled in 47 passes. Three other Saints caught 30 or more balls.
When the dust settled, Drew had become just the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass the 5,000-yard mark in a season. He finished with 5,069 yards—just 15 short of Dan Marino’s record. He also threw for a career-best 34 touchdowns.
The Saints entered 2009 healthy and focused. Drew started the year off with a six-touchdown performance against the Lions on Opening Day. he added three more a week later in a wipeout of the Eagles. With enemy defenses now geared to halt his end zone action, Drew let Bush and Thomas punch the ball in during victories over the Bills and Jets to run t’he teams record to 4–0.
After a bye week, Drew faced off with Eli Manning and the Giants in a battle of the unbeatens. Drew riddled the NFL’s top-ranked defense, connecting on 23 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns. The Saints won easily, 48–27. The inevitable letdown occurred a week later against Miami, as the Dolphins sprinted out to a 24–3 lead. The perfect season seemed in jeopardy, and Drew could not get in a groove. On two crucial plays, he tucked the ball under his arm and bulled his way into the end zone. The Saints won 46–34.
Drew led the Saints to more comeback wins the next two weeks, over the Falcons and Panthers. New Orleans then squeezed out a slim victory against the surprisingly tough Rams in St. Louis. The Bucs, another one-win team, gave New Orleans a tough time in the first half of their Week 11 meeting, but Drew connected for three touchdown passes to deliver a 38–7 win.
The Saints’ biggest test of the year would come in Week 12, against the Patriots in a Monday night game. Drew and his teammates answered the call, crushing New England 38–17. He won as he had all season long, by taking what the defense gave hi, and spreading the ball around. Drew burned the Pats on short passes, long passes, and third-down plays. One week later, Drew engineered a scintillating fourth-quarter comeback against the Redskins and the Saints won in overtime to keep their unbeaten streak alive. He was named Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time.
New Orleans fans, used to seeing their football dreams dashed, were actually permitting themselves to think about a 16–0 season. They ran their record to 13–0 after squeaking past the Falcons. That victory earned them a bye in the playoffs.
Finally, against the Cowboys, Drew and his teammates lost, 24–17. One week later, they fell in OT to the Buccaneers. And to end the season, they dropped a third straight game, 23–10 to the Panthers. Drew sat out the finale. He finished the year with 4,388 yards, 34 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions, and a passer rating of 109.6.
Despite the numbers, New Orleans fans were concerned. No one wants to roll into the playoffs on a losing streak. Many experts were predicting a Saints collapse, particularly when their first opponent turned out to be the defending NFC champs, the Arizona Cardinals. The game promised to be a shootout, and many wondered whether New Orleans could survive. They had their answer before halftime. The Saints were firing on all cylinders, leading 35–14 after two quarters. The final score was 45–14.
In the NFC Championship against the Vikings, Drew & Co. scored a touchdown in each quarter, including scoring passes to Pierre Thomas, Devery Henderson and Reggie Bush. It was Drew’s second consecutive three-TD postseason performance. With the score deadlocked at 28–28, Minnesota had a chance to kick the winning field goal, but Brett Favre threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Tracy Porter to send the game into overtime.
The Saints won the toss, and Drew maneuvered the team down into Minnesoate terriroty. Greg Hartley booted a field goal to send New Orleans to the Super Bowl for the first time in the team’s 43-year history.
In the hype leading up to Super Bowl 44, the spotlight focused on Drew and Indianapolis star Peyton Manning. Most believed that the game would come down to a battle between the league’s two best passers. They were right. The Colts jumped out to a 10-point advantage. Manning looked poised and confident in the pocket. Drew showed some nerves.
But he settled down in the second quarter, and the Saints began to move the ball—and, just as important, hold the ball, which allowed the New Orleans defense time to regroup. Drew guided his team to a pair of field goals to make the score 10-6 at halftime.
The second half was all Saints. Drew was masterful, picking apart the Indy defense with screen passes and mid-range throws. With New Orleans up 24 -17, Porter sealed the deal with another fourth-quarter interception. On this one, he went the distance, returning it 74 yards for a touchdown. Drew was named the game’s MVP, throwing for 288 yards and two scores. His 32 completions tied a Super Bowl record.
As so many teams do, the Saints found defending their championship to be harder than winning it. They finished 11–5 in 2010, second in the NFC South. After a 4–3 start, New Orleans reeled off six straight wins to get into the playoffs. But the postseason lasted just one game, as the defense spit the bit against the Seahawks in a 41–34 shootout in Seattle.
Drew’s numbers dipped ever so slightly during the regular season, with 33 touchdown passes against 22 interceptions to go with 4,620 passing yards. His 68.1 completion percentage was good enough to top the NFL. Ironically, his most productive game of the season came in November against the Seahawks, when he tossed four touchdown passes in a 34–19 win. For most of the year, the New Orleans running game was nonexistent, so the Saints needed days like this from Drew every time out.
The 2011 season was a happier story. Drew threw for 419 yards in a Week 1 road loss to the Packers. In a stunning 62–7 win over the Manning-less Colts, he threw five touchdown passes. The Saints lost just two more games all year—both on the road—to finish 13–3.
In the season’s final game, Drew threw for 389 yards against the Panthers. That gave him 5,476 yards for the year, eclipsing Dan Marino’s single-season record. Marino congratulated him on Twitter afterwards. Just as impressive was another league mark, his 71.2 completion percentage. Drew had 46 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions.
Drew led the Saints to a 45–28 victory over the Lions in the first round of the playoffs. He threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. A week later the Saints and 49ers engaged in a wild see-saw affair to see who would advance to the NFC Championship Game. Late in the fourth quarter, with New Orleans trailing 29–24, Drew connected with Jimmy Graham on a 66-yard touchdown. He followed that with a two-point conversion to Darren Sproles. Unfortunately, the defense failed to protect the lead. New Orleans fell 36–32.
What was expected to be a quiet offseason took a bizarre turn with allegations of a bounty program executed by the New Orleans coaching staff. The NFL came down very hard on the Saints, including a full-year suspension of Payton. The controversy thrust Drew into the spotlight as the team spokesman. He provided a calming voice in the midst of an ugly situation.
With all due respect to Archie Manning, Drew has established himself as the king of the Crescent City. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, no one has done more for New Orleans, on the field or off it. His Super Bowl victory is the final chapter in a classic sports fairy tale. Of course, Drew hopes to write an epilogue—bringing another NFL title to New Orleans.
DREW THE PLAYER
Drew is a quintessential studentof the game. He learned his love of football as a kid, and his work ethic stays with him today. Win or lose, Drew is always prepared for what he sees on the field.
Drew thinks fast and throws faster. He is a master at completing short passes that his receivers can turn into long gains. Even so, he rarely rushes his passes. One measure of this is that Drew is usually among the NFL leaders in third-down completions.
Drew’s greatest asset is his ability to stay out of trouble. If the defense is tightening the noose around him, he can re-gear the offense to address its weaknesses—and exploit any soft spots exposed by an over-aggressive opponent.
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