There are more interesting stages in the NFL’s theatre than ongoing contract negotiations between players and their teams. Although, there is a certain entertainment value in watching a real life simulation of Game Theory play out with actual stakes in the millions of dollars one would much rather not have to think about the legalese and nuts and bolts lawyerly language involved in insuring that their favorite player actually plays. Because of the NFL’s salary cap structure that limits the amount of free dollars in any given year a team can pay out the value of an individual player is better thought of as a percentage of his value relative to the team. All of the above is a rather roundabout way of beginning a conversation on the value of Drew Brees.
How do you quantify that which is unquantifiable? That is the unsolvable question tasked to Mickey Loomis in assessing a reasonable dollar amount with which to place on Brees’ unique skill set. The point here isn’t to debate what that dollar amount should actually be, rather, to inject a meaningful amount of disapproval towards anyone suggesting it is somehow less than Brees thinks it is. In an uncapped league his value is quite literally limitless. It could be reasonably argued that this approach is entirely dependent on straw men to drive home its point and perhaps it is. Assuming it isn’t, however, then nothing excuses the short-sightedness required to suggest that Drew Brees is anything less than the most valuable player in the history of the NFL.
One need not travel far back in time to relive the interminable nightmare that was the quarterback position of the New Orleans Saints from Archie Manning onwards: Stabler begat Todd begat Wilson begat Hebert begat Walsh begat Wilson begat Everett begat Schuler begat Tolliver, Collins, Wuerffel begat Blake begat Brooks. One mediocrity followed another. It is somewhat instructive to consider the fact that the closest fans had come towards anything resembling competence at the game’s most crucial position was Bobby Hebert, a quick stop from the Kerry Collins rehab tour and the enigma known as Aaron Brooks. Brooks was the closest to a star in his early years and was even featured in a national K-Swiss commercial that was so bizarre it could be an article in its own right*. Brees was sweet salvation to a fan base starving for it.
The easy task is quantifying Brees contribution on the field. Although it is somewhat fashionable now to speak of Sean Payton’s “system” it should be said that it begins and ends with one important feature: Hall of Fame Quarterback. Most other team sports involve an intrinsic fluidity between positions. While players are segmented into quarters and halves and divvy up positional responsibilities they are entirely free to go where they please and affect what they will. Football’s uniqueness revolves around the rigid stability of positional relations. Players are obligated to operate out of a standard formation and will generally only impact the game when plays and schemes are designed around giving them the opportunity. It is through this structure that the quarterback position achieves prominence. He is the alpha and the omega; it starts and stops with him. The game is ultimately defined through what he is able to accomplish and there seems no limit to what Brees can. The statistics are well known to fans of the team and require little elaboration. He was thisclose to three MVP awards and 2 Super Bowl Rings. None of which is to quarrel with reality but simply to give him his due. What has a greater degree of difficulty is to qualitatively describe what the man means to the franchise, the city and the region he represents.
The Saints are embedded into the fabric of New Orleans like a circuit into which everything else is hardwired into. It is impossible in this circular tangle to tell where one stops and another begins as both ineffably leave their mark on the other. The consciousness of New Orleans and its residents leave residues onto the franchise itself which are plainly visible even through fractured mediums like television and undeniable from the perspective of someone who has seen the team in road venues. It goes beyond just the Fleur-de-lis helmets and the Catholic signaling redolent of the heritage of the city. The tapestry of New Orleans is woven into the ownership reaching its synergistic apotheosis when a voodoo queen cast magical spells before the start of the 2000 Divisional playoff game against the St. Louis Rams. Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, the franchise itself engenders enthusiasm and a sense of community in a region of the country in dire need of it. One need not rehash the catastrophe of Katrina for the benefit of residents and certainly not for fans of other teams as the narrative was stretched to its logical conclusion during the 2006 season and then somehow again during the 2009 Super Bowl run. Yet, the story remains because of how unusually compelling it is. However, every great story needs an engine, a driver to deliver it where it was destined to go. Brees, without hesitancy, became an ambassador for a team and a region badly in need of one. Forget football, the prestige and esteem he brought with him could not be equaled by another player. He provided a redemptive lift to an area that needed it perhaps more so than any other. Through sheer force of will the man proved more powerful than the greatest disaster in contemporary American history.
Ignore the statistics and the accomplishments. They will be there long after we are all gone as numbers lending meaning through however the observer views them. The records will be re-written and other players, teams and cities may achieve greater prominence and perform more incomparable feats. What matters is the moments we witnessed and the feelings they left us with. You will forever remember Porter’s Pick Six and Ambush but it was Drew Brees who brought the Saints to the mountaintop where those memories were made possible. The voodoo queen exorcised the demons plaguing the Superdome while Drew Brees exorcised the personal demons of the Saints and the demons of doubt within New Orleans. For that alone he is worth every cent he asks for.
*The commercial was a montage of rapid shots of Brooks riding around in a Lincoln convertible, lifting weights, wearing turtlenecks, picking up women in bars and of course, wearing K-Swiss shoes.