It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the post-Katrina New Orleans Saints were the toast of professional sports.
Their brand of high-flying, flamboyant football was a perfect match for their home city, especially in the wake of such a disaster. Simply put, the Saints were fun at a time when nothing else was for New Orleans. Drew Brees, the injured cast-off from San Diego, had found a home, and that home had embraced him right back.
The team walked a tightrope with its style: the Saints were flashy but never too much. Their play calling was stylish, but didn’t show off (OK, maybe a little). Most importantly, they won. It’s cliché to suggest that a good football team could nullify some of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina, but they didn’t have to nullify it: they just had to make people forget about the chaos outside for a little while.
This feel-good era of the Saints culminated in their 2009 Super Bowl win, one of the most memorable ever. Who can’t still see Tracy Porter streaking toward the end zone with the game-clinching interception in his hands? It was the perfect and logical conclusion to the Saints fairytale.
So what the hell happened?
Here we are, three years later, and the franchise stands on the verge of ruin. Several important cogs of their defense have been suspended as the result of the Bountygate scandal, and Sean Payton, once the genius-poet-hero of the NFL, isn’t even allowed inside the team’s facility.
However, there is a common thread, one that has run through the Saints since their rise from the ashes after Katrina: Drew Brees is in camp, fresh off of a monumental contract signing. This team has lived and died with Brees since 2006, and now that the ink has dried on his new contract, it will continue to do so until he retires.
Brees has overcome insane odds throughout his career. He’s short. He was a second-round draft pick. He played college football at Purdue! He was replaced by a young gun named Rivers in San Diego. His shoulder gave out and the Miami Dolphins couldn’t medically clear him to join their team. He finally washed up on the doorstep of the beleaguered New Orleans Saints. The rest, of course, is history.
Yet, somehow, what Drew Brees faces now will be the greatest challenge of his career.
He has long been touted as a great offensive mind, akin to Peyton Manning in his ability to dissect defenses and call plays. The partnership between him and Sean Payton is perhaps rivaled only by Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich in the NBA. They are more co-partners at a law firm than boss-employee. Now Brees will have to back up all of the hyperbole spoken and written about him. Now he really will have to be a field general.
And I think he can do it. He has been the glue of this franchise for six years, and that won’t end now.
The Saints have faced tumult before but from exterior forces. This undoing is of their own design, but Brees can hold them together through this, too. The force of his charisma and his play are capable of that kind of greatness.
The guy has an uncanny knack for communicating; he’s the consummate politician, as exemplified by his recent stunt to go to a New Orleans Jimmy John’s that he owns and offer on Twitter to buy sandwiches for anyone who showed up. He’s acutely aware of the fact that he’s a pillar not only of the Saints but of New Orleans itself.
It speaks to his character and ability that, after he signed, I wasn’t remotely concerned about the Saints outlook this season.
So a bunch of their defensive players got suspended. So what? The Saints defense stank anyway. So Sean Payton will miss a year. Last time I checked, it isn’t Sean Payton that’s throwing 60-yard deep-post passes to Jimmy Graham.
If Brees is in the fold—and he most certainly is—then nothing else matters. The Saints might not be great this year, but they will be together, and you have Drew Brees to thank for that.
Lucas McMillan writes for FootballSchedule.me. For the latest NOLA Saints news, commentary and schedule information, visit FootballSchedule.me. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.