Speaking in front a full house of folks claiming almost exclusively to be New Orleans Saints fans, quarterback Drew Brees had little trouble winning over his listeners at the 2018 Walk-Ons Independence Bowl Kickoff Dinner Tuesday night at the Shreveport Convention Center.
Fresh off the first day of Saints mini-camp, Brees captivated his audience with his well-worn story about ending up a Saint rather than a Miami Dolphin following his days in San Diego. The 39-year-old added a wrinkle, however, when urged on by interviewer Tim Brando.
Coming off a significant shoulder injury, Brees and his wife followed their visit with Sean Payton in New Orleans with a trip to Miami to be put through a battery of tests about his injury along with an interview with then Miami head coach Nick Saban.
“I got the feeling through the seven hours of testing that they didn’t think I’d be able to come back from the injury,” Brees said. “I asked coach Saban how he felt about my shoulder. He said, ‘well, Drew, the doctors say you have about a 25 percent chance of ever playing again.’ I wanted to know how coach Saban felt. There was a pause, which told me all I needed to know.
“I told coach Saban ‘thanks, but we had decided to sign with New Orleans anyway.’”
Brees has not only since led the once embarrassing Saints to a Super Bowl title, he and his wife have embraced the city and the state and made it what appears to be a permanent home.
“My wife and I were told when we came here that if you love Louisiana, it will love you back,” Brees said. “We’ve just tried to embrace it.”
Brees isn’t ready to retire but he also isn’t saying how much longer he’ll keep dodging linebackers in a Saints’ uniform.
“I’ll continue as long as I’m healthy, I can play at a high level and continue having fun,” he said.
The state’s most recognizable athlete said he grew up watching the Independence Bowl and he’s excited the company he’s a part of is now the title sponsor. The 43rd annual Walk-On’s I-Bowl is slated for Thursday, Dec. 27 at 12:30 p.m. in Independence Stadium.
“I was an Aggie fan growing up in Texas and I watched a lot of the Southwest Conference teams that played here,” said Brees, who played collegiately at Purdue. “This is a huge deal for Walk-Ons, because it legitimizes us in a lot of ways.”
Brees was asked which defensive player he has feared the most and he read off a litany of guys – Zach Thomas, Ray Lewis, Jason Taylor, Champ Bailey – who jumped to the forefront, but he singled out former San Diego teammate Junior Seau as No. 1.
“He was intense – such an animal,” Brees said. “But he embodied everything you’d want in a teammate. Zach Thomas probably hit me harder than anyone ever has.”
Brees tried to dodge a question about his favorite offensive lineman.
“I love all my offensive linemen,” he offered with a smile. “But Zach Strief, who just retired, is in the front of my mind. He was out there today working with the younger guys. He’s just a tremendous human being.”
At the end of his 40-minute Q&A with Brando, the two men signed the backs of the sofas they were sitting on and Brees was presented a gift from Lee Michaels, a long time I-Bowl sponsor. The presentation was made by Mandeville youngster Nate Mathis, whose grandfather is the senior vice president of Lee Michaels’ Shreveport store.
Sporting a head full of curly red hair and a Brees No. 9 jersey, Mathis was tentative in handing the small box to his favorite NFL player. But Brees quickly put him at ease and knelt down to autograph the young man’s jersey.
“When I’m done with football, I want to spend as much time as I can with my children,” Brees had said earlier. “If my daughter needs me to coach her in ballet …”