Drew Brees has been setting personal, as well as, team records (as demonstrated last week in that seven-on-seven drill versus the Cowboys) since he entrenched himself in the Bayou. He’s making Saints faithful forget all about past legends like Archie Manning and Billy Joe Tolliver. Whilst current era quarterback debates have settled around Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for the past dozen years, Brees is every bit as worthy of injection into the argument for tops in the game. For a guy who was “too short” at 6'0", and not deemed sufficient to being listed above Philip Rivers on the depth chart, we'd say he's done alright. We sat down with the future Hall of Famer to discuss Sean Payton, concussions and even tried to pry loose information about his retirement plans.
Interview by Gavin Evans
I understand that you’ve teamed up with Tide as the “Color Captain” for the Saints this season to celebrate fans and their passion for team colors. Can you shed some light on the program and how fans can get involved?
Yeah. Obviously, we know how passionate NFL fans are. Especially when I think about Who Dat Nation, our Saints fans. They’re so loyal to our team. I have this vision at the Superdome where our fans are out tailgating and they’re rocking their favorite jerseys. Certainly, it’s black and gold. This is a great campaign Tide has going. It’s all about showing appreciation for the loyalty of our fans as they support their team’s colors.
So, myself and all of the other “Color Captains” from around the league are repping through social media. We’re posting pictures of our family rocking our team colors. Or, if I see fans out and about, I'll take a picture with them and post them. That’s what we’re encouraging fans to do. When they post their pictures, they follow @TideNFL on Twitter and include that in their posts as well as #ourcolors to support.
What’s caused the turnaround this season? Is it the return of Coach Payton or something more?
One of the things is that it’s a new season. Certainly, having Sean Payton back has been great. Last year everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. Then this year we’ve had some breaks go our way and I think we’re just a better team. We’re more well-equipped. We’ve been able to win some tight games, gain confidence, gain momentum. We’ve had our fair share of injuries at times but we’ve been able to battle through that. We have a great group of veteran leadership; some great young talent as well. So I think it’s been a great combination that's result in some wins.
We have to ask. Have you ever met Richie Incognito? What’s he like? And what’s your take on the whole situation in Miami?
I’ve never met Richie Incognito and all I know about the situation is what I’ve seen on TV. Probably just like everybody else, and it seems like you see something different every day. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if we’ll ever really know what really happened there. But, the one thing I can shed light to is an NFL locker room. It’s kind of like a frat house. I mean you got a lot of different personalities that are working very closely together for long periods of time throughout the season.
In many cases guys are very close friends, guys are always joking around with each other, keeping it light. You can’t get away with anything in a locker room. You’re always going to get called out. You’re always going to get held accountable. And there’s all kinds of stuff that’s just in good fun, in good nature, 99 percent of it. And if something does go too far it’s something that’s always handled within the locker room by veterans leaders. Guys pulling a guy aside and saying “Hey, it’s gone too far. Let’s back off.” That kind of thing. Guys police each other in the locker room. Like I said before, we really have no idea what went on in Miami. That’s their team.
People in New Orleans probably aren’t going to want to hear this. But recently Brett Favre said that he was having some memory problems. Have you ever thought about retirement sooner than later because of some of the revelations about concussions?
It’s obviously a big concern. It’s something that has a lot of attention here. Especially over the last few years. We know so much more now than we did 10 years ago, 20 years ago and I think that the goal is to try to make the game as safe as we possibly can without completely changing the game.
But also I think the biggest strides have been into the detection of concussions and in the treatment of concussions. Now with the way in identifying, guys go off to the sideline and they take them to the locker room to pass a neurological test before they can return to play. In many cases they do not
There’s always been that mentality of “sucking it up,” being tough and getting back out there. But when you’re talking about head injuries, and neck injuries, and the long term effects, then obviously that’s something you want to be aware of and try to stop.
return to play, whereas in the past guys would’ve tried to hide that, or they would’ve been sent back in by the team physicians or what have you, or told them “Yeah I’m fine. Leave me alone, I’m going back in.”
There’s always been that mentality of “sucking it up,” being tough and getting back out there. But when you’re talking about head injuries, and neck injuries, and the long term effects, then obviously that’s something you want to be aware of and try to stop. I think that we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. We certainly need to care for these guys, our former players who are going through some of these issues. But as we move forward and get some of the rules in place and continue to improve those, I think the game will be much safer as a result.
Is there any sort of injury that could happen to you that would let you know when to walk away?
I mean, I’m sure there is. I don’t think about it. I think you have to, kind of, numb yourself to the fact. We know there’s risks of very serious injury. I had my right shoulder ripped out of the socket. That wasn’t a good feeling. I thought it might be over at the time. At the end of the day that’s what brought me to New Orleans. It was probably one of the defining moments and maybe one of the better things that has happened to me in my career, believe it or not. I think with any injury you have to evaluate how it affects your career. Each one is different.
You said that you “kind of have to numb yourself to it.” As a quarterback, do you ever worry during an actual play? Are you conscious that an overthrow could set your wideout up for a concussion? Or, is that something that you can’t let bother you because you have to make such a quick read?
I certainly think about those things in my preparation. I never want to be a guy who leaves a receiver out. Obviously, you do understand too that that’s part of the game. You can’t be thinking about those things when you’re out on the field. You work on it at other times but once you get on the field you can’t think it.
We saw that you were going to hold your kids off from playing tackle football until they were teenagers. Do you think that there’s an appropriate age to start allowing kids to play tackle football?
I’m not a doctor but everything that I’ve seen and heard from the professionals that I’ve spoken to, it seems like those teenage years are probably the appropriate time to start tackle football. It’s kind of like Pop Warner has been following the lead of the NFL, and high school, and college now, by kind of modifying the amount of hitting that they do throughout the week in preparation for games.
If you think about a kid’s development, especially their brain development, all the way up to age 13. Those are some pretty crucial years. I know that, obviously, there’s risks with any sport and I think it’s important for parents to be aware of what those risks. Especially if it pertains to football.
There’s ways to play football without putting the pads on right away. You can play flag football. You can play football in the street. I didn’t play tackle football until I was in the ninth grade. My oldest son is four and a half. We still have 10 years, almost, if he decides that’s what he wants to do. And I’m sure we’ll know even more about it then.
Who is the toughest defender that you’ve ever gone up against in your career?
There’s lot of great defenders. I played with Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Those two guys were unbelievable players and leaders in the locker room. Zach Thomas, I felt like, a linebacker for the
I’m not a doctor but everything that I’ve seen and heard from the professionals that I’ve spoken to, it seems like those teenage years are probably the appropriate time to start tackle football.
Miami Dolphins. Jason Taylor. Ray Lewis, of course. Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, the list goes on. There’s Champ Bailey. There’s been a ton of great defensive players. I’d never be able to narrow it down to one.
Besides winning the Super Bowl, what’s been your proudest accomplishment in football? And that includes high school and college as well.
Winning a state championship in high school my Senior year in the state of Texas. We went 16-0, won a 5A state championship. That was a huge deal for us.
Then in college my senior year, we won a Big Ten Championship and went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in like 34 years [at Purdue]. That was something that I look back on with so much pride.
Obviously, the Super Bowl victory. There’s been a lot of defining moments. I can’t necessarily come up with a win, or championship. It might’ve been coming back from an injury, or something like that. I’ve had plenty of defining moments in football. That’s why I love the game so much. There’s so many things you can learn, and gain from it.
One last thing, Drew. You brought up college. What do you think about the struggles that Purdue is going through right now? And are you still involved with that program?
We’re very involved with the program. Of course, I support the Purdue football program, but also Purdue athletics and Purdue as a university. My wife Brittany and I made a large donation, back in 2007, towards their collegiate, kind of, student-athlete academic center. It’s really a place of learning for the student-athletes. It includes computer labs, mentoring and tutoring rooms. It also houses the football team’s locker room and training room.
I’ve stayed in touch with the athletic director and the coach. I try to make it back there once a year to see everybody and, obviously, show support for the program. I have so many great memories from Purdue and it gave me so much. Not only athletically, but academically, so my heart will always be with Purdue.