Drew Brees has been through a lot in his NFL career, but nothing could have prepared him for a 2012 season in which he would lose his head coach, general manager and two defensive teammates to an NFL suspension process that many people still question. It's been a greater challenge than coming back from the severe shoulder injury that effectively ended his career in San Diego, or helping to bring the New Orleans Saints organization (and the city it calls home) up from its knees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. At 1-4, the Saints have overcome a great deal and are trying to stay on the path.
We recently talked with Brees about several subjects -- what this season has been like, the pulse of the NFL in general, whether he would want his kids to play football and what he thinks of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Brees also wanted to talk about his part in the XBox "60 Million Minutes" campaign, which promotes fitness for kids, but we dove into the NFL stuff right away, starting with last Sunday's win over the Chargers in which Brees broke Johnny Unitas' NFL record of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass.
Shutdown Corner: Let's start with some well-deserved congratulations on the touchdown record. There's been some talk about the historical adjustments for eras between you and Unitas, and the point I've tried to make is that you and your modern-day comrades at the quarterback position are facing far more complex defenses than was ever seen in that time. Not to put one record over the other, or denigrate records from the past, but do you think the defenses you play against should be more of a factor when discussing who did what when?
Drew Brees: Well, here's the thing: I'm never going to engage in any arguments over what was more difficult or not. I respect the guys who came before us and helped build this league -- the pioneers of this game -- and Johnny Unitas was one of them. I respect the toughness of the guys who played in those eras, as well. And hey, with the rules changes, and you played less games [back then], and you didn't throw as much, they allowed you to hit the quarterbacks and mug the receivers ... there are lots of things that people would say about those eras. And all of those things seem to be true. The game evolves, and it will continue to evolve. From now until 20 or 30 years from now, when somebody else comes along and is breaking all the records that people are setting now. As the game evolves, I think we're just lucky and honored to be part of it.
SC: If one of your sons wanted to be the one breaking all those records, would you be okay with that? Many former players have gone on the record, saying that they don't want their kids to play football.
DB: I think that what has scared a lot of people are the concussion issues, especially over the last couple years. The issues have really come to the forefront because you see a lot of former players suffering from post-concussive diseases. It's something that we all need to be very conscious of. We need to do whatever we can to lessen the risk. How do you lessen the risk? You try and limit the exposure to head injuries, which is what we've done with the rules changes for practices in training camp and through the week. You try and put the rules in place that protect defenseless players -- receivers running across the middle; quarterbacks in the pocket, guys on chop blocks and crack-back blocks -- that kind of thing.
Then, you have the return-to-play protocol. After someone does suffer a concussion, what are we doing to make sure that a person is healed up and is well enough to re-enter the game? A lot of this is just us better understanding what we're dealing with. Not being afraid to get the research and fast-track it as much as possible. Not only with current players, but with players from the past, who are now dealing with a lot of those post-concussive episodes and diseases. There's a lot we don't know that we need to know. I think there's a risk you take when you play any sport -- I think it's just understanding what those risks are and mitigating those risks as much as possible.
If my kids want to play football, I would absolutely let them. Now, it might not be until a certain age -- I might not let them strap on a helmet and shoulder pads and start hitting until they're at least 12, 13, 14 years old. I didn't play tackle football until I was a freshman in high school. But they could play flag football, or do seven-on-seven -- there are so many other alternatives. I think football is a great game; it's the ultimate team sport. You just have to know the risks.
SC: You had talked about protecting defenseless players, and the injury to Brian Cushing brought up the point that the NFL might not be protecting defensive players at the same level offensive players are protected. Do you think there's an equal amount of protection on both sides of the ball?
DB: I certainly think it need to be equal all around, but here's the thing: Defensive guys are usually the aggressors. They're the ones going after receivers and hitting the quarterbacks. As you go through the course of the game, I think there are more opportunities for defensive players to commit those types of penalties. But certainly, as it pertains to chop blocks and cracks and defenseless defensive players, I think there was that play where [Seattle Seahawks receiver] Golden Tate was fined for hitting [Dallas Cowboys linebacker] Sean Lee on that de-cleat block. So, that's an example of -- that could have been a punt return; it was that kind of blindside block. You can protect defensive players, as well.
SC: I watched the NFL films highlights of your record-setting game against the Chargers, where you were miked up. Beyond the length of the play calls, which was sufficiently impressive, it really brought home how much of a leader you are on the field. How much more have you had to take on with Sean Payton out of the picture?
DB: Honestly, I don't feel that I'm doing anything different. I feel like I evolve every year as a player, as a leader, as the quarterback of this team. I'm always trying to get better. What I've tried not to do is to put the added pressure on myself to do too much, because I think that's in my personality to try and do that, and I have to guard against it. That's the advice that Sean gave me when he left: "Just do your job." But obviously, in his absence, there's some slack that needs to be picked up, and we've all tried to step in and do that. It's been a tough situation; I'm not going to lie about that. It it's really brought us closer together, and we've rallied together. I've just tried to do my part whenever something's needed or something needs to be said. I know that Sean would be the guy to say it, but he's not here, so I try to be the guy to say it or make sure that it's said somehow.
That's a little thing along the way, just to make sure that nothing slides and that we're communicating everything we need to in order to keep our team moving forward.
In Part 2 of our interview, Brees talks about the holes he sees in the bounty investigation process, Roger Goodell's success rate as commissioner and what he would define as the ultimate barometer of success for the 2012 New Orleans Saints.
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