40° Good Afternoon
40° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Glauber: Saints' Brees gives New Orleans much more than wins

For Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Super Bowl

For Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Super Bowl is about more than just football. It's about helping New Orleans, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. (January 24, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images


You will forgive Drew Brees if he looks at Super Bowl XLIV as something more than simply the chance to live out his childhood dream.

Sure, this is the moment Brees has yearned for since he first picked up a football as a kid in Austin, Texas.

Same as every other player in Sunday's Colts-Saints game.

But Brees carries with him more than just his own deep-rooted hopes. He carries the dreams of an entire population that lived through the horrors of one of the worst natural disasters this country has known.

This is about more than just winning the Super Bowl for himself. It is about healing the soul of the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Sound melodramatic? Too much hyperbole?

Well, not to Brees, who came to the Saints in 2006 not only to join a football team but to help restore a people devastated by Katrina and its aftermath.

"I just feel like it's a big responsibility," Brees said Monday after the Saints' first practice of the week. "I feel like I've been given the platform to make a difference in people's lives, especially those less fortunate. I've embraced New Orleans because it's a special place, and they've embraced me. You can't describe that feeling."

It is a feeling that began to develop in early 2006, when Brees was in the midst of his biggest career decision. Deemed expendable after five seasons by the Chargers, who opted to keep Philip Rivers as their long-term quarterback, Brees chose between the Dolphins and the Saints.

He picked the place he felt needed him most, and not just as a football player. He toured the devastated Ninth Ward in New Orleans, which might never recover from Katrina. He saw a city taking courageous steps toward rebuilding. He saw his future.

"I went to New Orleans and Miami, and I had great visits at both places," Brees said. "In the end, I felt like New Orleans was my calling, not only to help build the organization but to help rebuild a community and a region and to do something special."

The decision may have been counterintuitive, but it made sense to Brees when he thought it through.

"Just from an outsider's perspective, you would say your two choices are Miami and New Orleans,'' he said. "New Orleans - 80 percent of the city damaged post-Katrina, and you're going there six months post-Katrina - or Miami. From an outsider's perspective, you say that is an obvious choice."

Miami, of course. But there was more to it for Brees.

"You're looking around at a lot of the neighborhoods and there are still boats in living rooms and trucks flipped upside down on top of houses," he said, recalling his tour of the area. "Some houses just off the foundation and totally gone. You just say, 'Man, what happened here? It looks like a nuclear bomb went off.'

"For me, I looked at that as an opportunity. An opportunity to be part of the rebuilding process. How many people get that opportunity in their life to be a part of something like that?"

The opportunity has worked out on so many levels. Brees not only has turned the Saints into a Super Bowl team but has turned his life into a mission to help others.

Through a charitable foundation he created with his wife, Brittany, the couple has raised more than $2 million for local schools and charities. The foundation gave $400,000 to build athletic fields at Lusher High School, and Brees kicked in another $50,000 on his own to refurbish the football team's weight room.

Now he hopes to donate something even more special. If the Saints win the Super Bowl, Brees believes his adopted city will reap incalculable benefits, both financial and spiritual.

"Our success as a team has been tremendous in giving so many members of our community hope," he said. "For us to have the success we've had does so much to bring everyone together. There's a bond that's truly special, and this has been a storybook season for us."

He now hopes for a storybook ending.

"We have a lot to play for," he said. "We don't look at it as pressure, but a responsibility to know that Who Dat Nation's spirit is with us."

New York Sports