"From the moment I stepped foot into the city of New Orleans, I could feel your spirit. You told me that if I loved New Orleans, you would love me back. No truer words have ever been spoken. You embraced me as your QB, and my family as your own. You made me strive to be the best I could be for you. When I was knocked down, you picked me up. It was your passion, emotion, and resilience that made us all believe. I will spend the rest of my life attempting to give back to you what you have given to me. My family and I will always love you."
Brees, 42, announced his retirement Sunday after 20 NFL seasons, the last 15 of which he spent in New Orleans. The 13-time Pro Bowler retired as the all-time leader in passing yards (80,358) and is second behind Tom Brady on the all-time touchdown passes list (571). Brees is responsible for four of the six highest single-season passing yardage totals in NFL history. He also won Super Bowl XLIV and Super Bowl MVP.
Brees thanked coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis for helping him reach those heights over his tenure in New Orleans:
"Thank you for building a culture where we could experience this type of love and commitment. It is not common, but rather very unique and very special. For 15 years, our relationship grew past that of player/coach and player/GM. I've watched your children grow, and you've watched mine. We have struggled, laughed, cried, and celebrated together. Your trust and belief gave me great confidence and brought out my absolute best.
"Mickey, I will miss our conversations about our kids' upcoming flag football opponent.
"Sean, I will miss our dot meetings and seeing if the spoon will stand up in your chocolate milkshake. No ice!"
Brees leaves a lasting legacy that includes helping rebuild the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; there are few athletes on the planet who have a deeper connection with the city where they played. He also helped turn around a franchise that was formerly known for decades for its incompetence, making it a premier destination for top free agents and those looking to turn around their careers.
Brees leaves the game as perhaps the most important athlete in New Orleans sports history and a no-doubt future Hall of Famer.