Brees going all-out for perfection

NEW ORLEANS – For all those who debate the value of an NFL team trying to go undefeated, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees(notes) offers a rhetorical question to capture why the attempt is worth the effort.

“You don’t have many opportunities like this, do you?” Brees said with a slight grin on his face. “Something to consider.”

Brees is 2nd in the NFL with 3,832 passing yards.
(John David Mercer-US Presswire)

It’s also why Brees said there is no consideration of holding back when the 13-0 Saints continue the homestretch of the regular season Saturday with a matchup against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.

“No, no, no … you pull out all the stops. We’re not holding anything back,” Brees said.

Really, there should be no consideration for anyone who appreciates competition. The psychobabble you hear from people as they discuss the chances of either New Orleans or the fellow 14-0 Indianapolis Colts going undefeated, about how it’s OK to lose a game along the way to take some of the pressure off, is worth about as much as Lucy used to charge for her therapy sessions in Peanuts.

Maybe not even that much.

“That’s just stupid,” said Saints fullback Heath Evans(notes), who has a particularly interesting viewpoint. He was on the 2007 New England Patriots team that went 18-0 before losing in the Super Bowl. Yes, the Patriots players thought and talked about it along the way.

But it was never the first goal and it didn’t bring the team any more Super Bowl pressure than there already was.

“You can’t make that game any bigger than it is,” Evans said. “It’s the biggest game of your life. It’s the biggest stage in sports … the reason we got beat that year is because we lost to a good team on a day when they played a better game.”

That’s why it’s refreshing to see Brees embrace the chance at history, to take it on like a healthy challenge rather than a mealy-mouthed approach.

Does that mean the Saints or the Colts are going to go undefeated? Probably not. The odds are still stacked way against them, even with more than two-thirds of the season over. Heck, it’s still a decent bet that neither will make the Super Bowl.

And certainly the players from both teams would gladly trade an undefeated record for a regular-season loss if it somehow would assure them of winning a title.

The reality, though, is that there’s no genie making that offer, no deal with the devil to be made. In that case, why not dare to do something historic? Why not take on the challenge to be unique? If for one moment in your life you could say “I was perfect” at whatever challenging task you attempted, wouldn’t that be some great source of pride, some source of empowerment to make you take on even more challenges?

There is an underlying issue that will get plenty of play if the Saints continue to roll. This is New Orleans, where only five years ago the Saints didn’t even play because of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There was doubt the team would ever come back here. Brees wasn’t even part of the Saints (he was still with the San Diego Chargers); his path to this point was personally tumultuous as well.

He landed here only after a shoulder injury caused the Chargers to back off on re-signing him (plus the fact Philip Rivers(notes) was waiting in the wings). In free agency, he was turned down by the Miami Dolphins, forcing him to come to New Orleans – joining a city of people trying to repair their lives, not just their careers.

“This is such a unique situation,” said Brees, who has become more than just a fan favorite in town. His name is plastered on everything, from religious monuments (which he admitted is a tad sacrilegious) to ice cream flavors at the Creole Creamery. “The connection that we have with our fans is unlike any other in the league, just because of what has happened here over the past five years and what we have been through together. I don’t know how many guys there are, but there are still quite a few guys on the team who were here during the Katrina year and got displaced to San Antonio and playing home games all over the place.

Brees has drawn a strong connection to the fans.
(John David Mercer/US Presswire)

“I signed here six months post-Katrina as a free agent, as did a majority of the guys in the locker room, and we were all kind of part of that rebuilding, not only of this organization, for a lot of us, our careers,” he said. “A lot of us, you might have called castoffs or castaways a little bit because we were either traded here or got here because we didn’t have too many other options.”

From Brees to safety Darren Sharper(notes), who got little play in free agency this year, to wide receiver Marques Colston(notes), who was overlooked until the seventh round, the Saints are a collection of the unwanted. Tight end Jeremy Shockey(notes) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma(notes) were both banished from New York. Linebacker Scott Fujita(notes) is with his third team. The wide receivers and running backs are groups who define the idea that the sum of the parts can sometimes be worth way more than individual values.

Heck, even defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a man who defines the term “brash,” is with his third team in three years: He was passed over by the Washington Redskins for head coach following Joe Gibbs’ departure and was fired after only one season leading the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense.

If nothing else, the Saints symbolize Bob Dylan’s great line from “Brownsville Girl”: “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.”

Now, all these years later, people wonder if the Saints are wise to chase history beyond the norm of a championship, whether they should dare to be perfect.

Really, why not? The Saints have already come a long way just to this point. New Orleans, as a city, has come even further. There were observers (hmmm, is that a mirror I see?) who said in 2005 that New Orleans should give up the Saints and concentrate on rebuilding other parts of the city. Now, with New Orleans’ vibrant arts and culinary culture returning to previous form, the Saints clearly are part of that. From just about every bar to even some upscale restaurants, “Go Saints” is painted on windows across the town.

“We were able to do that together, as an organization, as a team, as a city, [to] all kind of rebuild together, leaning on each other,” Brees said. “You look at us each and every year, yeah, we took our lumps a little bit by not making the playoffs the last two years. But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you have to go through that adversity and some of those things have to happen to you, some of that heartbreak, for you to gain that edge, that mental toughness in order to allow you to do what we’re doing this year. In other words, we didn’t make the playoffs last year, but that has allowed us to be 13-0 this year and have the opportunity to win them all.”

So take the opportunity and run with it.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Dec 18, 2009