Drew Brees becomes NFL’s all-time leading passer

Ageless wonder passes Manning, Favre with long TD toss on MNF

People said his arm wasn’t strong enough, others said he was just too short to be a quarterback in the National Football League and he never has been known to have any flashy moves. However, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees guaranteed his future acceptance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in style, delivering a 62-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter in the Superdome against the Washington Redskins on Monday, Oct. 8. It was a strike that saw him break the NFL record for career regular-season passing yards and one that helped lead the home team to a comfortable 43-19 victory on the night.

Saints head coach Sean Payton removed Brees from the game in its latter stages, resulting in the player receiving a well-deserved standing ovation. It was another typical performance from the quarterback, who threw for 363 yards and three scores, the last of which went to Tre’Quan Smith, a rookie who also caught the record-breaking pass late in the first half that allowed the 39-year old Brees to overtake both Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, two of the Deep South’s favorite sons. (Manning is a native of New Orleans, and Favre is from nearby Mississippi.)

Brees first burst onto the national radar as a quarterback at Purdue University. Although the Big Ten school never has been much of a factor in conference play, it did produce notable quarterbacks Bob Griese and Mark Hermann. Griese played in Miami for the Dolphins and was a key member of the 1972 team that went undefeated and won the Super Bowl. Hermann was a journeyman field general who played for the Broncos, Colts, Chargers and Rams between 1981 and 1992. An All-American and Big Ten MVP with the Boilermakers, Hermann is best remembered in these parts for beating Tennessee 27-22 in the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl in the Astrodome. He was named the game’s MVP after leading his squad to a comeback victory over the Volunteers.

But Brees, head coach Joe Tiller and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (who later would be on Lane Kiffin’s and Derek Dooley’s UT staffs) made the Boilermakers relevant ever so briefly on the national scene during the late ‘90s/early aughts. Brees left Purdue as one of the program’s most decorated players. When he left West Lafayette after the 2000 season, he did so with two NCAA records, 13 Big Ten records and 19 school marks under his belt. At the beginning of the 2018 season, he still held the Big Ten records for completions (1,026), attempts (1,678) and passing yards (11,792).

The then-San Diego Chargers made Brees the first pick of the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft. The 6-foot quarterback achieved modest success in Southern California until he suffered a devastating and nearly career-ending shoulder injury in 2005. Most doctors gave Brees just a 25 percent chance of returning to the gridiron, and he was let go by the Chargers. Miami, which had considered drafting him, thought his surgically repaired shoulder represented too much of a risk and again passed on the player.

The Saints, however, were willing to take a chance on Brees at a crucial time for their home city. New Orleans had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and the team had only recently shaken free of its reputation as one of the league’s biggest laughing stocks. Perhaps only the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had endured worse seasons than New Orleans, and the team had started to play decent football and earn modest success under Jim Mora. Under Payton’s guidance and with Brees leading the offense, though, the Saints became winners, making the franchise relevant at a time when the city really needed it and winning a Super Bowl title in 2010.

Brees is a true trailblazer in that he has revolutionized the quarterback position as a player of small stature. Thanks to him, it’s no longer taboo to draft a so-called undersized quarterback. Russell Wilson has been stellar in his time in Seattle, and Baker Mayfield, the top pick in the 2018 draft, already has earned a starting spot and has led the previously woeful Browns to two victories at the time of this writing. After Brees set the passing record, Wilson called him “an inspiration” and Mayfield also spoke highly of the 18-year veteran, who shows no signs of slowing down.

Brees also received congratulations from Favre and Manning, the latter of whom was featured in a tongue-in-cheek video sarcastically thanking the quarterback for breaking his fairly new record before sincerely congratulating him for setting a higher bar. LeBron James sent his regards, as well, proving that Brees’ appeal is not limited to just football fans.

But Brees didn’t seem distracted by the record. He kissed his wife and hugged his kids before telling Payton, “Now let’s go win this game.” Such a determined statement is indicative of the player’s attitude; more than simply a record-breaker, he is a competitor, a champion and an example of someone who has achieved the American Dream through hard work. He overcame adversity and pumped life into a city in decline due to a natural disaster.

While it may sound crazy, Brees, having played in an era that has seen Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers redefine what a quarterback can do/be, has been perpetually underrated at his position for the duration of his time in the NFL. Although he hasn’t quite received his due, his passion for the game is unmatched. Since recovering from that serious injury, his durability, too, is nearly unrivaled; Brees has missed just two games with the Saints – and only one due to injury. While Brady arguably is on a downward trajectory because of his advanced age and Rodgers has battled a series of nagging injuries throughout his career, Brees seems to have found the fountain of youth after leaving San Diego.

Brees remains one of the positive faces of the NFL, which has been rocked by domestic violence, diminished by player protests and steeped in controversy of its own creation. Fans seem to be paying less attention to the game, and more and more players are walking away as a result of safety concerns. But Brees definitely gives fans a role model for which they can root and a reason to continue watching on Sundays.

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