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Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads, and wins, by example

By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; D01

MIAMI

It's some résumé "the other" quarterback brings to the Super Bowl. All he's done is distinguish himself at the highest level everywhere he's been.

High School: State champion. College: Took his school, for the first time in 34 years, to the Rose Bowl. NFL: Takes his team, for the first time ever, to the Super Bowl. All Drew Brees has done his whole life as a quarterback is win.

Darren Sharper, the Saints safety who began his career playing with Brett Favre in Green Bay, said Tuesday of Brees, "He's the best leader I've ever been around."

When somebody brought up Favre without saying his name by saying to Sharper, "Ever?" Sharper reiterated: "Best leader I've ever been around. He studies more than anybody I've been around. He can get guys to follow his lead."

And he's been doing it since high school in Austin. Brees led Westlake High to a 16-0 record as a senior, led his school to a mark of 28-0-1 as a two-year starter. Yet, "I wasn't highly recruited coming out of high school," Brees said Tuesday. "I had a knee injury but I was 6 feet, 190 pounds, nothing impressive to look at physically. And quarterback is such a hard position to assess, to project."

So the football factories in the football-mad state of Texas, where you would think recruiters might recognize a prize, passed on Brees who went to Purdue. All he did there was set Big Ten records in passing yards, in touchdown passes, in total offensive yards, in completions and attempts. All he did was make academic all-American (Purdue's first in 12 years) and lead the Boilermakers to the 2001 Rose Bowl, a place Purdue hadn't been since 1967.

Even so, he lasted until the first pick of the second round when the Chargers selected him. And even though he demonstrated he could make every throw and lead a team to the playoffs, the Chargers spent half their time trying to replace Brees, which is why they drafted Philip Rivers. Forget the fact that Brees threw 51 touchdown passes to only 22 interceptions his last two years in San Diego; Chargers management wanted him gone.

So Brees chose the Saints over the Dolphins. Why, considering New Orleans track record of failure and that the Hurricane Katrina tragedy had already hit Louisiana?

"I didn't get the feeling here [in Miami] that the Dolphins had much confidence in me that I could come back from my shoulder injury [last game of 2005]. And this was six months after Katrina. I wanted to help that city revive itself, to come back and be bigger and better than ever."

So, with that Brees took on a project even bigger than Purdue. He wanted to lead a team and rebuild a city.

Nothing pours out of him that says Brees has a chip on his shoulder or like some athletes is fueled by making the teams who turned him away pay. There's no hint of bitterness, no sense that he's on some grand "I-told-you-so-

mission." Sharper said Brees never brags about being the King of Texas when he was a kid, or earning a high school letter in basketball or baseball.

"It only comes out at the odd moment," Sharper said. "Like when he threw a touchdown pass here in Miami and he dunked the ball over the goal post. I said, 'Drew, wow, I didn't know you had hops like that!' And he didn't come right out and brag, but he said something like, 'When the game comes I feel like I'm the best athlete on the field.' "

And so Brees has been, which is a figurative finger in the chest of the scouts that thought otherwise simply because he isn't 6 feet 4. "I'm six-feet tall, no more, no less," he said Tuesday, putting to bed the notion that he's 5-foot-something. The voice is measured, matter-of-fact. But Brees does allow the admission that every athlete, not just him, takes slights real and perceived and uses them to his advantage.

"Doug Flutie was 5-9, 5-10 at best," he said. "But he was all heart and played for 20 years professionally. Joe Montana wasn't the biggest guy and didn't have the strongest arm."

Brees's coach, Sean Payton, sought to put an end to the notion of Brees lacking anything physically, height be damned, to play the position. "I think sometimes what is maybe mislabeled is his athleticism," Payton said.

"He's a rare athlete. When you look at his agility, his release, his accuracy and the fact that he has hands as big as mitts, he's got a skill set that is perfect for the position. So on top of the hard work, and on top of all the things that you guys have read and written about he's an amazing athlete. He's a great tennis player, great basketball player, baseball player.

"The touchdown he scored here when we played against the Dolphins, he jumped up and spiked it over the upright. I just saw the tail end of it and I accused him of climbing up Jahri Evans's back to get the elevation. It's pretty unbelievable when you watch it. He's been a winner everywhere he's been. He won in high school, he won at Purdue with [head coach] Joe Tiller, he won with the Chargers and Marty Schottenheimer. He's very competitive. Some guys just have that and certainly you're seeing two quarterbacks this weekend that have that" competitiveness.

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