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‘I want people to say, Man, I would have loved to play with that guy.’
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‘I want people to say, Man, I would have loved to play with that guy.’

At 35, Drew Brees is still like a little kid who wants to play forever (and in the rain, too). He shares his thoughts on building a legacy, the journey that brought him to New Orleans, and his relationship with Roger Goodell after Bountygate

Drew Brees is 35, but he is still a little kid. Or he practices like one anyway. After one training camp practice in West Virginia this preseason, as the rain started pouring on the Saints’ practice field in the Allegheny Mountains, some 86 players and the coaches and the trainers and the equipment guys scattered for cover. But four quarterbacks remained. Brees led them in a 15-minute game to see who could hit different letters on the goal-post pad from 20 yards away. Afterward, it seemed like a good time to sit down and talk to Brees about his career mortality, and how he keeps on having so much fun.

On playing until he’s 45...

I really think I can. I think that probably tests human limits. Your biology, your physical makeup, whatever. But, man, I know this: Nolan Ryan was throwing fastballs at age 45, 46. Now, you’re not getting hit physically in baseball. So some of that is beyond my control. It’s also something great for your family, too. Brittany and I have three boys, and we’re about to have a fourth child. [The Brees’s first daughter was born Monday night in New Orleans.] I like having them around to watch my career. I think they like it, too. I want them to be old enough to realize their dad is a football player, and to be able to watch me play. It’s a thrill to see that. And I don’t want to lose that. I want to keep that as long as I can for them.

SAINTS PREVIEW: Payton, Brees and an improved D have New Orleans back in the Super Bowl hunt

But no quarterback has played well, consistently, into his 40s...

Absolutely. That’s a motivator. Plus, records were made to be broken. I mean, you always want to be somebody who’s pushing the limits like that. Doing something that somebody says is impossible or nearly impossible, or so hard to do, or nobody’s ever done it. Of course you want to test that. The competitor in you wants to test those limits.

brees-covers-rollOn owning every passing record...

Uhhh, no. I mean ... that’s way down the list. That’s not the top three. I mean, you can put some records out of reach if you play that long. Here’s the thing: I don’t wanna just be bumming around this league at age 45. I want to be playing at a high level. I’d like to go out on my terms if possible. If I can play at a high level for another seven or eight years, I’d imagine I’d own all those.

On the wildly optimistic expectations being placed on the Saints...

Well, I’m careful about expectations and getting ahead of ourselves. On paper, boy, we look really, really good. That doesn’t mean anything. You’ve still got to come out here and put it together. That’s why I like the idea of changing it up, and moving training camp to West Virginia. It’s cool. The last five years we’ve been in New Orleans and it was great, but we changed it up this year and it’s a different environment. It’s new so you’ve got to adjust. It becomes all about football. You can eliminate potential distractions that you might have at home. It becomes all about bringing this team together. So I think there’s something to that. I love this team because we’ve got veteran leadership—a great group of guys who are still very productive in their careers, but also great locker room guys who kind of set the tone for the rest of the team. Then you’ve got this young talent that comes in. That rejuvenates me. When I see guys like Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Andy Tanner—some of these young guys—I now get to teach and kind of help mold and bring out tape from six years ago when we installed this play. Here’s Lance Moore running it, who’s no longer here. Devery Henderson, who’s no longer here. Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are kind of the last of the original guys. Hopefully we have a lot more years with them. But, you know, three or four years from now maybe they’re gone. Here’s the next generation that we’re cultivating right now. That’s one of the things I love about football—the regeneration every year. That gets me excited. That keeps me young.

On the greatest joy he gets from his job...

There are so many teaching elements; things that I can learn every day from this game that apply to other aspects of life—that apply to fatherhood, that apply to business, that apply to relationships. There are certain things about football that you can’t replace. You can’t replace the locker room. Every former teammate or player who I’ve ever talked to, it’s like, ‘What do you miss the most?’ They’re like, ‘I miss the locker room. I miss the guys.’ That brotherhood. That camaraderie. The atmosphere. Guys digging at one and other. Guys cracking jokes. That blood, sweat, and tears element. You’re out on the field fighting for one another. You build up this trust and confidence. This feeling that I’ve got to do it because I don’t want to let the guy next to me down. At the end of the day, that allows you to accomplish things greater than maybe you ever thought because you feel so invested. I love football. Football can only be played one way—with a certain level of intensity and focus and emotion. So I try to bring that out every time we play.

On the greatest play he’s ever made in the NFL...

I don’t know. Ask my teammates.

On choosing to play for New Orleans over Miami in 2006...

Who knows what would have happened in Miami? I mean, none of us have a crystal ball. But look at what happened because of me coming to New Orleans that would not have been possible elsewhere.

I got to play for Sean Payton. He’s been so instrumental in my development as a quarterback. He’s given me so much confidence in myself. He’s built this system around my strengths. Would that have happened in Miami? No, because there wasn’t a Sean Payton there.

The city of New Orleans. What the city was going through post Katrina—our ability, including my wife, through our foundation to create this bond with the city—that’s not something that could have been done in Miami. So I think those are the two most important elements. One, for me as a player with Sean Payton. One for me as a person and a citizen and community leader with the city of New Orleans.

On his “secret society” of New Orleans business leaders that helped fix ills in the wake of Katrina...

We had a four-year run, and I’ve got some things brewing that will involve something of that nature but not exactly what we were doing. But we were able to raise over a million dollars through that group. You know what it was? It was kind of a think tank. It was a brainstorming group. You take successful guys who have the ability to raise money, who care about the community, and for us, we’re always looking for different organizations to support that maybe we hadn’t heard of before. So you get this group together, and it’s like, ‘Hey, I know of this organization because of one of my employees, so we should look into it.’ So we’d look into it. Man, this is a great organization doing great things. Great leadership. They just don’t have the funding. Let’s fund these guys. Sure enough, you make a positive impact and you say, ‘OK, that’s why we brought this group together.’ I really enjoyed that project.

On any lingering bitterness from the Saints’ lost season due to Bountygate...

No. No. Because I’m so positive and try to turn negative situations into positive ones. We’re a better team now because of the hardship. I think Sean Payton—he was a great coach before—I think he’s an even better coach now. I think you learn things when you—in this case he was forced to take a step back and watch from afar. I maybe equate it to when I was back in San Diego and I got benched for five games. I get benched and I sat there and watched from afar. And I learned so many things. Sometimes you can just be blinded when you’re in the moment, right? Tunnel vision. Then all of the sudden you step back and get the view from 10,000 feet. Maybe certain things it’s like, ‘Man, I’m making that a lot more difficult than it is. Like, I’ve been teaching it a certain way and I don’t think necessarily that’s the best way.’ Or you learn something about a certain guy, because all of the sudden you’re removed from the situation and he’s forced to be empowered, or whatever it might be. I think our staff is better. I think [offensive coordinator] Pete Carmichael is a more confident coach, because he had to [step up in Payton’s absence]. He was in the position where he had to call the plays—for two years really, because Sean got hurt the year before, if you remember. Pete called the plays for 10 games that year, including the playoffs. Then for 16 the next year. So I think a lot of us were forced to do things that maybe we hadn’t had a chance to do before. It empowered us all. It made us all better. Are we happy that we went 7-9? No. I will always be disappointed that I feel like I let Sean down. We wanted to win so bad for him and the situation. But that’s the only thing that I still feel.

On his relationship with Roger Goodell...

[Eight-second pause.]

I mean, fine. I can’t say that I’ve talked to him in three years.

On his future with Goodell, with whom Brees was formerly pretty close...

Here’s the thing. Yeah, he and I went on a USO trip overseas for a week. I’m not one to hold a grudge. I think Roger Goodell, in some areas, has done a great job as commissioner. There are certainly a few things that I disagree with. But you know what, that’s in the past. Nothing we can do about it. The one thing we have in common is that we both want to see this league continue to progress and get better. He’s in a position where he represents the owners. I’ve heard the argument that, ‘Oh, I represent the league, therefore I represent the players, too.’ No, he represents the owners. Hired by the owners. Bonus from the owners. He represents the owners. So, there’s always going to be somewhat of a contentious relationship between management and the players union. Because there’s going to be future CBA negotiations, and as we know with negotiations, things get heated. Things get a little dicey at times. Having been through that, I think that I’ve been privy to things that people probably don’t have the opportunity to see. But at the end of the day, I want to see this league progress forward. I want this game to progress forward. I want there to be a positive light shone on the NFL and on its players. I want the positive things that players are doing to be talked about more than a few of the negative ones. Every company, every business, has some of those black eyes. There are a lot of guys doing great things. So I want to leave this game better than I found it. I’m sure he does too.

On his legacy...

What I want people to say about me is that I was a great football player. That I cared about my teammates. I want people to say, ‘Man, I would have loved to play with that guy.’

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