METAIRIE, La. – In a city married to religion like few others, it might seem odd that a T-shirt that’s becoming more and more common likens a football player to the savior of Christianity.
But in the South, football is a religion.
And in New Orleans, a city that nearly four and a half years ago was at a crossroads following Hurricane Katrina, marrying the leader of the Saints to the Most Saintly isn’t an oddity.
Breesus lives in the Crescent City and in a season unlike any other, he’s helping the city rise from the depths of the nation’s worst natural disaster.
“Just the fact that it’s obviously a sign of affection and people respect you and what you stand for – in that case, it’s an honor (for them) to feel that way about you,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
But he added about his newfound nickname, “It’s definitely a little sacrilegious. I guess that might be going a little bit far.”
Brees, though, is one of the prime players in the transformation of a franchise known for fans putting paper bags on their heads while others made paper airplanes in the upper deck only to throw them off and hopefully onto the field.
In the four years prior to Brees’ arrival in 2006, the Saints were 26-36. In the three and a half years since, New Orleans is 38-23. The Saints are in the playoffs for the second time in four seasons and have secured at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
In 2008, he came within 16 yards of tying Dan Marino’s NFL record for passing yards in a season. Right now, he’s the leading vote-getter for the 2010 Pro Bowl.
And for the first time in franchise history, the Saints are 13-0, three wins from a perfect regular season.
Nevertheless, it’s what he does off the field that has endeared him so much to the rabid Saints fanbase.
He lives in the city instead of the outlying suburbs. He’s constantly raising money and donating his time to help rebuild New Orleans’ schools and parks and football fields. And he’s an ambassador to the city in general, such as when he went on the Jay Leno Show a week ago.
“I think he’s earning the respect of this nation,” offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. “He’s not a guy that has always pointed to the name on the back of the jersey. But he has earned the respect not only of this city, but across the league and of fans nationwide.”
Yet, it’s the comparisons to Jesus that have put Brees in a whole different stratosphere, though some find it an uncomfortable one.
“I think Drew is one of the best players in the game today, but he’s no Jesus,” Stinchcomb said. “I understand the support he has. But that might be a step too far for my taste.”
He’s one of the few, then, that feels that way.
Local stores have been selling T-shirts with Brees’ face pictured above the word Breesus. There’s breesustees.com. There’s SainstBreesus.com. Google the term “Breesus” and you’ll find more than 70,000 links.
“I do look at it two ways,” said fullback Heath Evans, who leads a weekly Bible study with players outside the locker room. “A – it’s probably humbling to Drew in the sense of I’m a believer of Jesus Christ so you talk about a picture of a humble sacrificial leader and that’s what drew is. There’s a lot of comparisons.”
Evans went on, “Obviously, no one is Jesus Christ. But at the same time, I think it speaks volumes about what people, not only see and sense, but what they’ve grown to respect in his three and three quarters years here.
“He has helped rebuild a city emotionally and physically, but he’s rebuilt a team with the proper attitude and the proper work ethic and the mentality that you bring to work every day. It’s not about me, it’s about how I better this team.”