When Old Number Nine, Drew Brees speculated aloud in the off-season that his on-field career might be over, there wasn’t as much Mardi Gras bead-clutching as you’d have thought by Saints fans.
It wasn’t that we thought it was time for an upgrade (impossible in the short run) or that the Crescent City had taken Number Nine for granted.
The thought of Brees not being in the Saints huddle for another season seems unfathomable.
The quarterback just isn’t a a Hall of Fame player but after 14 seasons and Super Bowl championship, Brees is synonymous with the franchise and with New Orleans.
He was also a major building block in the region’s post-Katrina morale recovery.
Brees is the community leader who never disappointed and the epitome of the pursuit of athletic excellence.
And the city’s infatuation isn’t with just the athlete who posts gaudy stats but his world, from his business ventures (Jimmy John’s franchises and Walk On’s) to la famille Brees.
Two years ago while loitering around the ESPN Saints-Rams Gameday set up on Fulton Street, I noticed folks were giddily lined up to snap selfies with Brees’s wife and kids (they weren’t part of a promotion but kindly accommodated what had to be both an awkward yet common request from strangers).
Brees is to New Orleans what John Elway is Denver and George Brett is to Kansas City (both of them).
But I also feel that Brees has a bit of unfinished business to resolve, and it’s not just winning one more ring.
I think part of what motivates Brees is an unspoken rivalry with fellow quarterback Tom Brady. While Brady is the “ring king,” Brees owns the stats.
Brees currently leads Brady in career passing yards by 2,845, pass completions by 490, and passing touchdowns by a mere 6.
Bear in mind that while Brees is a football legend, his roots are in baseball, a stat-driven sport.
The only way Brees is leaving the dome turf before Brady is on a cart.
Furthermore the man who has been regularly denied NFL MVP throughout his career must be mindful of his legacy. And sharing the dais with Brady in Canton, Ohio during a “year to be determined” induction ceremony is should not serve as the final page in his incredible pro football story.
However there is one scenario where I think both Brees and Brady could close out their playing careers simultaneously for the benefit of the sport and each other.
Just imagine a Super Bowl where a retiring Number Nine faced off against a retiring Brady. It would be a championship game narrative that would be bigger than any other. Even more so than the ’72 Dolphins perfect season.
The two greatest quarterbacks of all time in their final game wouldn’t be the stuff of a Bristol, Connecticut 30 for 30 film but rather something out of a Hollywood movie.