Drew Brees, New Orleans quarterback, speaks at the 2011 Best of Preps award banquet. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press
With his New Orleans Saints in desperate need of a road victory inside the Georgia Dome last December to secure an NFC playoff berth, quarterback Drew Brees was ready to pounce on anything to save the Saints against the Atlanta Falcons.
So when one of the Dome’s giant video screens focused on a teenager believed to be pop idol Justin Bieber, Brees pounced.
Turning to one of his offensive linemen in a tense Saints huddle, Brees said, “There’s your favorite musician.”
When the laughter stopped, the Saints rallied to earn a playoff berth, though they ultimately were unable to defend their Super Bowl title from the previous season.
“Adversity equals opportunity,” Brees told the Best of Preps Banquet crowd of about 1,000 inside the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday night.
“You can accomplish anything in life that you’re willing to work for. It’s so easy to ask ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why now?’ when something goes wrong. But if you’ll focus on what you can control rather than what you can’t, you’ll always have a chance to accomplish something great.”
A lot of us in the Tennessee Valley and northwest Georgia have seen adversity of late, our communities ripped apart by tornadoes in much the same way New Orleans had been torn apart by Hurricane Katrina the autumn before Brees arrived as a free-agent quarterback in 2006 to lead the Saints.
“It’s why I wrote my book, ‘Coming Back Stronger: The Hidden Power of Adversity,’” Brees said. “You may not ever again be what you were before adversity hit. New Orleans will never again be what it was before Katrina. But I believe you can be better if you’re willing to work, if everyone comes together for the common good. It’s helped build back New Orleans from Katrina, and it can help this area recover from the tornadoes.”
Few sports superstars know adversity like Brees. Over the last seven years alone he has suffered a shoulder injury that threatened to end his pro football career, his mother committed suicide and the team he intended to spend his entire career with — the San Diego Chargers — dropped him after the injury.
He signed with New Orleans in the spring after Katrina ravaged the city partly because “they were about the only team that wanted me.”
But he’d experienced that before. Despite being named Texas high school offensive player of the year in 1996 after leading his Westlake High team to a 16-0 record and a state title, he got scholarship offers only from Kentucky and Purdue. He chose the Boilermakers, a decision that led to him setting Big Ten records for touchdowns and passing yards and finishing third in 2000 Heisman Trophy race.
Yet he also told the audience of decorated high school athletes that “in the end, education is what’s going to carry you forward in life. Education is power.”
A lot of pro football fans are wondering who has the greater power to end the current NFL lockout and get players such as Brees playing again.
“The fans are in the middle,” Brees said. “All they want to do is see football. All they see is millionaire players and billionaire owners fighting over $9 billion. But we also know that revenue gains have averaged over 8 percent a year for several years. All we want is to keep the same 50-50 split we’ve had for the last 20 years.”
What Brees says the players don’t want is the regular-season schedule increased from 16 to 18 games.
“The season’s already rough enough, physical enough, dangerous enough,” he said. “No player wants to add two more games to that. We all just think the potential for injury would go way up if that happens.”
Nor is Brees as confident these days that there will even be a 16-game schedule this year.
“It’s become really frustrating,” he said. “For the first time since the lockout began, I feel like the direction it’s going could force us to miss games.”
Yet befitting a player smart enough to know “you’re only as good as your next performance,” Brees said that nearly 40 Saints veterans are working out almost every day at Tulane in preparation for a probable season.
“We look great,” he said. “We all know how good we can be.”
Our area’s best prep athletes learned at least a couple of things about Brees on Tuesday that they probably didn’t know before. Such as he wears No. 9 because he’s a big fan of baseball great Ted Williams. That his Brees Dream Foundation has raised more $7 million for cancer research and Katrina assistance. That he had dreamed of hoisting the Super Bowl’s Lombardi Trophy since he was a little kid in Austin, Texas. And that he starred not only in football but also basketball and baseball, where he tried to pattern his swing after Ken Griffey Jr.
Because of that versatility, he also told our area’s young athletes, “Play as many sports as you can for as long as you can before you have to narrow it down. Do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy.”
Even Justin Bieber would have a hard time improving on that message.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...