MIAMI — Drew Brees grew up in Texas and started playing for pay in faraway San Diego. But he made New Orleans his home and its cause uniquely his own.
After 43 years of futility and one of the finest quarterbacking performances ever delivered in a Super Bowl, he made sure there’s no need to ask “Who dat?” anymore.
Thanks to Brees, the answer to “Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?” is: nobody.
“We just believed in ourselves and we knew that we had an entire city and maybe an entire country behind us,” he said after being voted MVP in New Orleans’ 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts. “What can I say? I tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time, and it’s better than expected.”
“I’m just feeling like it was all meant to be. What can I say? The birth of my son, and in the first year of his life we won a Super Bowl championship.”
The people of New Orleans will embrace him now tighter than some of their kinfolk. It didn’t hurt, of course, that when Brees arrived in 2006, both he and the city were at a crossroad.
A torn labrum in his throwing shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season, coupled with the Chargers’ acquisition of promising young passer Philip Rivers, made Brees expendable and left him wondering whether his career was already on the downside. When Saints coach Sean Payton drove Brees around New Orleans hoping to sell him on joining the Saints, Brees realized, seeing residents struggling to cope with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, that he’d found the perfect place to begin his own comeback.
“Four years ago, who ever thought this would happen?” he said, still fighting back tears.
Earlier, as confetti swirled just above the playing surface at Sun Life Stadium, Brees’ eyes were already watering, trying not to cry as he held his son, Baylen, who was wearing a Saints jersey with his father’s name on the back and a headset so the loud celebration wouldn’t scare him. Brees struggled yet one more time to keep his emotions in check as he lifted the silver Lombardi trophy over his head.
But a few minutes into his post-game interview, Brees simply quit trying.
“Eighty-five per cent of the city was under water, all the residents evacuated all over the country, people never knowing if they were coming back or if New Orleans would come back,” he said. “But not only the city came back, and the team came back … when the players got there, we all looked at one another and said, ’We’re going to rebuild together.’
“We leaned on each other,” Brees said, pausing as he choked up. “This is the culmination of that.”
Yet in the same way that New Orleans’ progress has come in fits and starts, so it was with the Saints on this night. After a rocky first quarter, Brees found his rhythm midway through the second quarter and finished with a record-tying 32 completions in 39 attempts for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He was never finer than during what turned out to be the go-ahead scoring drive, stringing together 10 straight completions.
What made it even more satisfying is that he outdueled Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
“Phenomenal,” wide receiver Marques Colston said. “You really can’t put that kind of performance in words. To have 32 completions and two drops, he deserves the MVP.
“Hopefully,” he added, “you guys can start putting Drew in that elite quarterback conversation.”
Consider it a done deal.