On March 14, 2006, a bond was forged in relative anonymity by NFL standards. A bond between the NFL's most fearless head coach and the NFL's most captivating leader at quarterback. Sean Payton and Drew Brees took a chance on New Orleans, the Saints, and each other. To say that this gamble has paid off would be an egregious understatement. The Brees/Payton union has delivered the following since its inception:
- NFL Coach of the Year Award (2006)
- 4 winning seasons
- 3 NFC South Championships
- 5 postseason wins including 2 NFC Championship appearances
- 6 Pro Bowl appearances (Brees)
- Super Bowl XLIV Championship and Super Bowl MVP (Brees)
Drew Brees has set the following records:
- NFL's All-time single season passing yard leader (5,476)
- Most consecutive games with a passing touchdown in NFL history (54)
- Saints All-time leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns
Let that all sink in for a moment, it's almost incomprehensible. This unlikely pairing, the damaged-goods quarterback and the unproven head coach, reversed the fortunes of a franchise and resurrected the hopes of a city. It's quite obvious that expectations were exceeded by leaps and bounds. This bond achieved the impossible, they made the New Orleans Saints relevant and respectable. They made the Saints contenders and champions.
On April 16, 2012 this remarkable bond was temporarily severed and Drew Brees was left to carry the fortunes of the franchise on his shoulders. How did he do? Well, in hindsight, stunningly well. Without his innovative head coach and backed by statistically the worst defense in NFL history, Drew Brees won seven games on offense alone. Think about that, any pre-Brees Saints team and QB would've folded under such pressure. Three wins would've been a delight under such circumstances.
There Brees stood though, in the spotlight and under pressure for the duration of a trying season, but he was worth, at the very least, six wins on his own. His leadership, his skill, his determination, combined with six seasons of tutelage under Sean Payton provided the silver lining in the dark cloud of the 2012 Saints season. Granted, Brees had some terrible games in the mix, but all things considered, he was the difference between a disappointing season and an abject failure of a season. Whether Sean Payton's presence and influence is worth the other six wins needed to be considered elite remains to be seen.
Drew Brees' place in Canton is secure, and much of that is owed to Sean Payton. For Brees, all of the raw materials for excellence were in place before he connected with Payton. The skill-set was there. The desire to win was there. The instinct to lead was there. The drive to be elite, to be a champion was there. But it was Sean Payton who channelled and honed all of these intangibles into an undeniable reality. This combined with Drew's experiences through his career-threatening injury helped make him what he is today.
Drew Brees was great before Payton and likely would've been great under Nick Saban, Norv Turner, or Mike McCarthy. Brees may have very well continued to be an All-Pro for years to come under these other coaches and other systems, but it is Payton that has wielded Brees with flawless execution and surgical precision to create a Hall of Fame quarterback, a record-breaking offense, and a championship team. Drew may have never truly tapped into his potential greatness without Payton. Much like Tom Brady and his fortune in New England, circumstances and timing were crucial for Drew's success.
Take a look at Brees' career stats without Coach Payton:
The pre-Saints stats are solid, but nothing to lead you to believe Drew was capable of achieving the greatness he has. Now look at 2012 without Payton, Drew has clearly mastered his craft and was able to run the Saints offense with efficiency even without the architect Payton there to keep it together. But as you can see, even though the yards and TDs are high, higher than any of his Charger seasons, so are the interceptions and passing attempts.
Sean Payton has the effect to simultaneously reign-in and unleash Drew Brees, and having Payton back on the sidelines in 2013 will help Drew not just with the gameplan but coach's presence will take a lot of pressure off him on the field. Much like his experiences before teaming with Payton, maybe Brees will be even better reuniting with his head coach, having learned some valuable lessons in his Payton's absence.
On the other side of this same coin, Payton is better for having Brees. In nine seasons as an assistant coach, Payton's teams only made the playoffs three times, albeit the first time was with the 2000 New York Giants who were thoroughly dismantled in Super Bowl XXXV. Payton never had a quarterback approaching the caliber of Drew Brees, and although he may have hypothetically succeeded with QBs like Daunte Culpepper, Tony Romo, or Aaron Rodgers, it is Brees who has brought out the best in his offensive vision and helped him learn to be a leader himself.
We've seen Drew Brees without Sean Payton and unfortunately the day will come that Payton will have to soldier on after Brees retires and take the next phase of his career to Canton. One can only hope that Payton will be a better coach for his experiences with Brees. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are in the same conversation with Brady/Belichick and Montana/Walsh, and to dispute this would be disingenuous. Their work ethic combined with their belief in self and each other is arguably unparalleled in the NFL. Who Dat Nation is currently reveling in the golden age of the New Orleans Saints thanks largely in part to these two men.
On January 22, 2013 this remarkable bond was allowed to forge on once more and the NFL is better for it. Payton and Brees, like many other masters of their craft, Lennon and McCartney, Graffin and Gurewitz, individually have had success and struggles without the other, but combined they have created something transcendent. Drew Brees and Sean Payton will be forever linked and they will be forever indebted to each other. They have enjoyed success on their own, but they found greatness together. Let the greatness return to New Orleans this season.
More from Canal Street Chronicles:
- Record at Stake: Tom Brady's Bid to Surpass Drew Brees Must Go Through New Orleans
- 2013 NFL Predictions by Division: NFC North
- New Orleans Saints Running Backs 2012 vs. 2013: Did They Improve?
- Comparing 2013 New England Patriots to 2012 New Orleans Saints: Podcast
- New Orleans Saints Roster 2013: Safety Preview