Drew Brees turns 40: Untold stories of an ultracompetitive QB

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Updated: January 11, 2019

Jan 10, 2019

Talk to anyone about Drew Brees, from family to longtime friends to past and present teammates — and you’ll get some awesome stories about his legendary competitiveness.

Before the New Orleans Saints quarterback became the NFL’s all-time passing leader, he was a multisport star who once beat a younger Andy Roddick in youth tennis and once committed to play baseball at TCU. But there also are many classic tales of his exploits on a golf course, pingpong table, a pickleball court, a horseshoe pit or the seed-spitting and grasshopper-catching contests he had with his brother, Reid, on their grandfather’s ranch. Apparently the only thing he can’t do is stunt bartending.

As Brees approaches his 40th birthday on Tuesday — and the Saints’ playoff opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox) — we gathered some of the best behind-the-scenes stories on the future Hall of Famer.

Don’t underestimate his jump-roping skills

Steve Gleason, former Saints teammate: “In 2006, when he was brand new to New Orleans, Drew was rehabbing his shoulder from the brutal injury he had sustained the previous season. At this point, just a week or two into the offseason training, we hadn’t had any team meetings, and Drew hadn’t addressed the team. We didn’t know if he would even play football again. And having spent the previous six seasons with average leadership at the quarterback position, I was skeptical and waiting to see what type of player, and what type of leader, he would be for us.

“In the locker room, Drew was doing some jump-rope drills, and some guys were chirping about his skills. ‘Nice work Drew. You should do double Dutch next! Ha!’ ‘I’ll get some chalk. You can do some hopscotch for tomorrow’s rehab!’ Then someone said, ‘How about some double unders? How many double jumps can you do? 10? 20? 25?’ Drew replied, ‘How many do you want me to do? Let’s bet on it.’ I spoke up. ‘Fifty. Do 50 and I’ll be impressed.’ Drew calmly asked, ‘What’s the bet Gleas?’ We decided on a sushi dinner, and at this point a decent crowd had formed in the training room. I figured he had no chance at this, and I’d be enjoying a sushi dinner on Drew. He got to 20 and guys started getting excited. Twenty-five and things got more intense. At 40, it got loud enough that guys started coming in from the locker room to see what was going on. Drew hit 50 and kept rolling. He got to 75 without missing a beat and just decided that was enough. He came over to my training table, shook my hand while looking me in the eye with that confident yet semi-humble half smile that this city has come to know so well. That was my first experience in learning not to doubt Drew’s physical abilities.”


No one’s taking his job

Reid Brees, Drew’s younger brother: “It was the summer before his senior year of high school, we used to work out at our high school field quite a bit. And we had this new kid who moved into our district, and he was a quarterback at his old school. He ended up showing up at our high school football field one day during one of these summer practices, and he was talking about how he wanted to be the starting quarterback that coming year. And Drew was coming off of an ACL surgery, so he was just now kind of getting around, running and throwing and stuff like that. But one of the guys kind of pointed over in Drew’s direction and said, ‘Well, if you come to this high school, you’re gonna have to beat out that guy.’ And the guy kind of says, ‘Well, what’s so special about him?’ So we call Drew over and Drew starts chatting with him, and so they end up having this passing competition. From the first throw, this guy knew he was out of his league, because the first trick throw, there was a trash can that was on the other side of the field — about 50 yards away. And the guy says, ‘OK, well how about we throw and whoever can hit that trash can, that’ll be the first contest?’ So Drew goes first and Drew’s first throw, he puts it in the trash can. He doesn’t just hit the trash can, he throws it into the trash can. So the guy, just the look on his face was like, ‘OK, this is what I’m dealing with.’ So I can’t remember what that guy’s name was, but he wound up never showing up at our high school. He ended up going to another high school in the area, and I can’t remember if he had a good career or not. But those were the kinds of things Drew did — not like on a daily basis, but he would do enough to where his family and friends kind of knew it wasn’t anything out of the norm. It was something where he could just do almost anything.”


Stepping up to the challenge

Ben Smith, Brees’ close friend and college roommate: “We were both freshmen quarterbacks at Purdue, and were at our first fall camp. And I’m overwhelmed, nervous because it was the first day the seniors show up after a week of just freshmen being on campus. And the two senior quarterbacks were struggling, so Coach [Joe] Tiller looked over at the three freshmen and yelled, ‘One of you young guys get in here because these upperclassmen aren’t cutting it!’ Probably more to light a fire under the upperclassmen. But I can remember thinking, ‘No way in hell am I stepping up there.’ I literally kind of take a step back and try to hide behind somebody else. And before I could even do that, Drew was stepping up, ready to take the snap. He took the snap, Yellow 93 was the play — a four-route go — and threw a dart right on the money to, I think it was Ike Jones. That was the day that my eyes opened. I guess that was the day that I figured out two things: one, he was pretty good and two, that I needed to find a new position. And that really paints the perfect picture of what Drew is. He’s a competitor. He loves pressure, loves pressure. I have never seen a human being relish being under pressure like him.”


‘A different pingpong player’

Zach Strief, longtime Saints teammate: “Really there’s about 10 of these stories, but we get the pingpong table in the locker room and he’s not in there near as much as we are. His workouts take longer, his film takes longer. And so he walks into the locker room one day, and we’ve been playing for a couple months, and he decides, ‘Hey, let’s play.’ And I think because he’s a tennis player, he’s got this big forehand. It’s all forehand, forehand. So he’s putting a lot of topspin on it. I stand right by the table, and the only thing I’m really good at defending is a topspin ball. So I am just working him, it’s relentless. He’s got no answers and he’s trying to slam everything and I’m returning everything. So we played twice and I beat him both times by a substantial margin. And he drops the paddle on the table and he turns and walks to his locker. He doesn’t say a word. And I’m thinking this is the perfect opportunity to kind of rib him a little bit. So I’m like giving it to him a little bit, walking to his locker, ‘Hey, we could play again, maybe I could play with another paddle,’ just trying to push it on. He doesn’t say a word. And I think he’s legitimately upset with me — at the very least unwilling to look the guy who just beat him in the eye. So I kind of let it go.

“About a week later I walk into the locker room, it’s right after practice, and Drew’s in the locker room, which is unusual — he’s usually right to the weight room. And he’s like, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ And I’m like, ‘OK. You want some more? OK great, let’s go do it.’ And Drew is a different pingpong player. I’m talking like full barrage of shot ability, returning things, like cut shots at the net. He’s got answers for everything. So he beats me two of three. And we’re kind of laughing, and he kind of gives me that little look. Like he’s not gonna talk s—, but he gives me that look to say, ‘That’s right. You got what was coming to you.’ So I walk away from the table and I’m asking all the guys that we usually play with, ‘Have you played Drew lately?’ Not one person had played pingpong with him. Without question — this is not an opinion — Drew Brees was practicing, either in the locker room by himself — we had a little ball shooter — or he was finding games outside of the facility. And he can claim he didn’t. But to me, that’s very much Drew. One, it’s important to him to win, to a point that’s like unusual for most people. But it’s also this controlled way that he deals with it: ‘I’m gonna work, I’m gonna find a way to get better and I’m gonna win.'”


He even beat Andy Roddick as a youth tennis star

To be fair to the former US Open champion, Brees is nearly four years older than Roddick, who was good enough to play up a few levels with the older kids. So the fact that Brees beat him three times when they were both youth tennis standouts in Austin, Texas, probably should come with an asterisk. But Brees was actually good enough to be the top-ranked youth player in the state at one point when he was 12 or 13 years old — though he does not claim he would have been winning major championships if he had stuck to tennis. Brees admitted he used his size and power to his advantage when he played Roddick, and said Roddick finally got him in their last meeting before Brees moved on to other sports and Roddick moved to Florida for more serious training. “I was a little more raw and had a great two-handed backhand. But I was mostly serve and volley, not a groundstroke guy,” Brees recalled. “I tried to overpower guys and charge the net as soon as possible. I got away with that as long as I could. But [Roddick] was fundamentally so good and sound.”

Perhaps Brees and his brother Reid could have made it as doubles stars — that is if they could survive each other. “Some of the people we would play against would complain that me and Drew would be yelling at each other all the time on the court,” Reid recalled. “Neither of us would want to take accountability for anything we would do — we would just turn around and point the finger at our partner. But we were really good doubles partners. We always bickered at each other, but we always got the job done, it seemed like.”


Winning over the Saints’ locker room

As impressive as Brees’ jump-roping display was, Gleason said the moment when Brees truly cemented his leadership came six weeks later.

Gleason: “We were meeting as a team. And as Coach [Sean] Payton was wrapping up, unplanned and unannounced, Drew said, ‘Hey, Coach, can I talk to the team for a bit without the coaches?’ … He was willing to stand in front of uncertain teammates and set lofty, even outrageous goals, for a team that had gone 3-13 the year before. I remember being nervous for him. Drew listed the characteristics that he saw as vital to achieve the goal he set for us: courage, resilience, poise, discipline, unity, etc. Not only that, as he listed each characteristic, he talked about players in the room who embodied those characteristics. The team was captivated. We had our leader.”

Former Saints receiver Lance Moore also talked about the great first impression he got from Brees that offseason, when he was still just a practice-squad player who had returned after suffering an injury while playing with the NFL Europe league.

Moore: “I’m a little bit nervous, my first day back. And of course Drew Brees is there bright and early over by his locker. And I see him and I’m not necessarily nervous, but I’m just like, ‘Wow, that’s Drew Brees.’ And sure enough he walks over to me at my locker, introduces himself to me and just tells me if there’s anything I ever needed, let him know and he’d help any way he could. So for a young guy to have your Pro Bowl starting quarterback come up to you and just kind of open up the lines of communication, that was awesome for me, that was big. And then I’ve seen him do that so many times over the years, even practice-squad guys that are there in the middle of the week.”


Shabby golf clubs no more

Jason Loerzel, Brees’ close friend and college roommate: “We were roommates for three years — me, Ben [Smith] and Drew in college. And we had a really sweet apartment, it was like a warehouse apartment. And we were really into golf, and would play both inside the apartment and outside the apartment. We’d use little yellow Nerf balls and set up holes that we would take turns creating, like, ‘Bounce it off this wall, go into the bathroom, come out here and end up in a garbage can.’ But being college students, we were poor. So we had like pieced-together golf clubs, like this broken club here and this broken club there. I don’t even think between the three of us we had a full golf set. So when Drew got drafted and sent off to San Diego, I don’t even think it was a week and a half, and Ben and I get two huge packages delivered to the front door. And he had gone to the TaylorMade factory and customized two sets of golf clubs and sent us both a brand new set of golf clubs with a nice note that said, ‘Get rid of those shabby golf clubs.’ So that’s just the type of guy he is.”


Stunt bartender? Let’s just say he’s no Tom Cruise

Strief: “More of a human side of Drew. He’s so polished image-wise, and he really is like that — it’s not a show. But you almost never see him with his hair down, right? So in 2006, we get a bye in the playoffs and the bye week came during New Year’s Eve. So we were all off, which is really unusual. So it’s 2006, we make the playoffs, it was very exciting times. Now, we were only 10-6 and we weren’t really that good. But we didn’t know that at the time. Drew reserves a big section at the Republic [a trendy night club in New Orleans] — which is in and of itself something Drew would never normally do. And he invites anybody who wants to come. I’m a rookie, I have nowhere to go, and the quarterback’s throwing a party, so I’m going to the party. And he’s got some people there, his brother, Brittany [Drew’s wife], probably 12 to 15 players and girlfriends, wives, whatever. And Drew at some point decides he’s like a stunt bartender — and he’s gonna like show us all of the tricks he can do. Well, he can’t do any of the tricks. And he decides at one point, we have this big bottle of Grey Goose, and Drew has a glass of ice in his left hand, and he’s gonna hold this bottle over his head and he’s gonna pour it into the glass over his head. And the vodka is just running down his arm. Like, he comes up eight inches short. And he’s got this really triumphant smile on his face like, ‘Check this out.’ … But he does in fact let his hair down occasionally.”


Other positions on the court besides point guard, Drew

Robert Meachem, former Saints receiver and high school basketball standout: “I want to say a high school gave him access to a gym [one day during the 2008 offseason, when about 30-plus players spent the day playing pickup basketball]. And it was so funny because we had a play where I actually got the ball. I was the quarterback, I was the point guard, and he had to go play another position. And he didn’t like that. You know, he’s used to being in control, so he didn’t like that too much. He had to switch. He realized I was better than he was at basketball at the moment.”

Strief and Moore also laughed at the memory of Brees and Meachem debating over who would play point guard — and Strief recalls everyone guarding Brees as if he were inside of a “snow globe” because nobody wanted to hurt the QB. “We were terrified of touching him, because he’s going 100 percent,” Strief said. But Moore gave Brees some credit. “Drew’s skilled, man. I mean, he’s kind of a tweener. I mean he’s not a point guard, but he’s not a big man. He’s kind of a shooting guard type. But he’s got a good stroke.”


He’s ‘just one of Daddy’s friends’

Benjamin Watson, current Saints teammate: “My 7-year-old, when we were here last time in 2015, it was, ‘Mr. Drew.’ You know, ‘This is Mr. Drew, it’s one of Daddy’s teammates.’ Now it’s all the sudden changed. Now it’s like, ‘That’s Drew Brees! Daddy, that’s Drew Brees.’ … But after the games, all the kids are out there running around and Drew’s out there directing ’em. After one of these games this season, there were like five or 10 kids, and he’s lining them up like they’re in a game. And my 3-year-old, he brings her out there and he hands her the ball and she ran in for a touchdown — actually, she might have run the wrong way. But it’s just that type of stuff that he does. He’s very accessible. He’s just one of the guys. He’s just one of Daddy’s friends.” Fellow Saints tight end Josh Hill shared a similar experience of how Brees, who is a father of four himself, is around his 5-year-old son, Cooper. “It’s awesome to have a guy like that that’s played at the level he has for so long just out there playing with the kids,” Hill said. “I never would’ve thought something like that would’ve happened. But it’s special to see.”

Longtime friend and marketing agent Chris Stuart, who started the Football N America flag football league with Brees, said he marvels at the way Brees can always be so present in the moment, switching from a game to that family time on the field to a late-night business talk after the kids go to bed. “One of the things that has always really struck me and impressed me about Drew is that he really cares about everyone — genuinely cares about his friends, his family, his business,” Stuart said. “His ability to be present wherever he is, man it’s such a neat quality — and I think it’s a secret to his success.”


Early bird gets the worm

Brees’ first backup quarterback in New Orleans, Jamie Martin, once shared a great story with NOLA.com about how he arrived much earlier than planned on his first day in 2006 because he had moved to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and heard that the fog could cause lengthy traffic delays. “Drew walks in a few minutes later and says, ‘Hey, you get here pretty early, huh?'” Martin recalled. “The next day I get there, and sure enough, Drew’s car is already there in the parking lot.” Martin became the first in a long line of Brees’ backups to realize how competitive he is. The quarterbacks’ elaborate passing challenges (skeet shooting, American Gladiators, targeting moving carts down the field, you name it) have become a highlight of training camp practices. Brees and longtime backup Chase Daniel would even race from drill to drill during practices to see whose toe would touch a designated marker on the field. Competitive as he is, though, Daniel said he loved his experience of learning under Brees when he first entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2009. “He’s one of the best dudes I ever met,” said Daniel, now a backup with the Chicago Bears, though he still trains with Brees and Brees’ trainer Todd Durkin in the offseason. “Some quarterbacks I’ve heard around the league don’t want to give up secrets and stuff like that. But when I was there, he was all-in, and whatever I needed to know he’d tell me. … I always give him credit for really teaching me how to breathe, act, sleep — everything on and off the field about being a quarterback.”


‘See, Dad! I told you it wasn’t Drew Brees’

Loerzel: “We go on couples trips every summer, and [in 2017] we went to Cabo [Mexico] for four or five days. And we’re just kind of relaxing by the pool, hanging out and having a few cocktails. And there’s a croquet set over by the pool.

“We decide just because we’re all competitive to set it up and start competing like we always do. And this young kid comes by, and he said, ‘Excuse me, are you Drew Brees?’ And Drew said, ‘Yes, I am Drew Brees.’ And the little kid goes, ‘No. My Dad said you’re Drew Brees and I don’t think you’re Drew Brees.’ Well, the little kid had a football in his hands, so I said, ‘Why don’t you give him the football and run out for a pass?’ So he tossed the football to Drew and the kid ran out for a pass, and Drew threw up this duck. I mean, it was a horrible pass. And it was because the ball was like deflated, and he wasn’t expecting this deflated ball. So the kid runs and grabs his ball after this horrible pass was thrown, and he shouts out, ‘See, Dad! I told you it wasn’t Drew Brees!’ And we always crack up with that with him, we’ll laugh and say, ‘See, Dad! I told you it wasn’t Drew Brees.'”


1-0 as a trial lawyer

Smith: “One summer [in 1999] we went to Texas and spent time with his family at Lake LBJ near Austin. Sports Illustrated was there doing a piece on Drew and the photographer was wanting to get action shots as we were jet skiing in the lake. I got a little close to the boat where she was taking pictures trying to ride the wake, and next thing I know I was getting pulled over by the boat police. They wrote me a ticket for $100, and I was destroyed because that was a hundred dollars that I didn’t have as a college kid. To make things worse, it was Memorial Day weekend, and we were there for only a couple more days before heading back to Purdue, so at that time I thought there was no way to even try to get it overturned. But for some reason the judge was at the courthouse that day and agreed to meet with us. And since both of Drew’s parents were lawyers it was decided that he would represent me. We gave our side of the story to a judge, and he kind of laughed at it — I think he probably knew who Drew was. And he kind of gave us a hard time about it, said, ‘Rules are rules.’ But then he just gave us a warning. I don’t know if Drew was that good as my counsel or if the judge felt sorry for a bunch of college kids, but he let me off with a warning. So, I guess it would be correct in saying that Drew is 1-0 as a trial lawyer.”


Can see with his eyes closed

Keenan McCardell, former Chargers wide receiver: “I got there right after Week 8 of the regular season [in 2004], got traded there. … I remember the first Wednesday that I got there, after practice he said, ‘Keenan, let’s play some catch afterwards.’ [Drew] said, ‘Just stay in front of me.’ It was something like Michael Jordan where he closes his eyes and shoots the free throw. He closed his eyes and I was standing in front of him [10 yards away] and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Just stay there.’ He said, ‘I just want to try to feel where you are.’ He said, ‘You can step to the side and I’m just trying to feel.’ … I started laughing afterwards. I said, ‘Drew, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen somebody close their eyes and throw me the ball and hit me in between the 8 and 7.’ He started laughing. After that, I realized you had somebody special.”


There are no weeks off here

Brandin Cooks, former Saints wide receiver: “We both lived in Del Mar [in the offseason]. A long story, but I lived a couple doors down from him — thanks to him, we’ll just say that. And I remember on a bye week us going home. And you know, bye week, you think of like relax and recover, whatnot. But just being on that same page, we went to our back alley and we were playing long toss. We were probably out there for about an hour. And I think what makes him great is how accurate he is. And just thinking about that moment on how specific he was, even in the streets, on where he wanted to put the ball made me realize that this guy takes every little detail into account and that makes him special. And he’s an even better person.”

ESPN reporters Jeff Dickerson, Michael DiRocco and Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/blog/new-orleans-saints/post/_/id/31242/drew-brees-turns-40-untold-stories-of-an-ultra-competitive-qb