Statistics will never tell the true story of Drew Brees. In 50 or 100 years, they won't do him justice.
That's not to say his stats don't tell an incredible tale: Brees' numbers rank with any other quarterback of his era, and his consecutive games with a touchdown (53 and counting) has already put him in a conversation with the great Johnny Unitas. He has as many Super Bowl rings as Peyton Manning, and he's got a few years left to get another.
Yet those who have watched Brees at Purdue, at San Diego, and now at New Orleans know he's greater than the sum of his stats. And now we have more proof. Now we have a number that goes beyond all the numbers.
That number is one million. In an interview with CBS' "Person To Person" to air this week, Brees will announce his pledge of $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.
And in the same interview, Brees said he will be donating $2 million to New Orleans area organizations and charities.
Anyone in New Orleans will tell you Brees has already done more than enough in the Bayou to cement his reputation as one of the most beloved public figures who ever lived there. Some would even say he's done that by winning a Super Bowl alone. Even in the awful days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, it was staggering and touching to hear how fans counted their blessings and mentioned the Saints among them. Never has a city deserved a championship like New Orleans deserved its NFL title, and Brees delivered it.
But winning is only part of Brees' long list of achievements. The Brees Dream Foundation, founded in 2003, has reached into all sorts of noble pursuits, not least of which was helping New Orleans recover from Katrina. Brees' charity, which is run with high-school sweetheart turned wife, Brittany, has committed or contributed more than $11 million to everything from building a world-class park to supporting a New Orleans ballet association. A lot of celebrity charities are for show – empty offices with little true muscle behind well-meaning names. For Brees, it's the opposite: His charity does a lot more than many of his most ardent fans realize.
Brees has not always had it easy. He grew up in Austin, Texas, but wasn't heavily recruited. He went to Purdue and slipped into the second round of the NFL Draft because of concerns about his height and arm strength. A serious shoulder injury in San Diego led to a difficult breakup, and the Dolphins famously passed on a chance to acquire him. His relationship with his mother was complicated, and Brees lost her to suicide in 2009, only months before his Super Bowl season.
All of these obstacles, personal and professional, would be reason enough to turn inward and lapse into selfishness. Brees never has. He's the face of the Saints, a face of New Orleans, and he's unafraid to say what's on his mind, whether supporting his teammates in the Bountygate scandal, his colleagues in the NFL lockout, or even fellow Americans when he said conditions at U.S. prisons are worse than those faced by detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
It's convenient to be phony when you're a hotshot quarterback with a Super Bowl ring. It's common to be smiley on TV and a grouch when the spotlight extinguishes. Only a few would blame Brees if he did a lot more to protect his image. But he doesn't, and his image only shines brighter. Funny how that works.
Winning is one of the hardest of habits, but character is harder. The NFL's list of winners is long, but its list of true champions is shorter. Warrick Dunn is on it. So is Brees. He'll end up in the Hall of Fame, but there should be a Hall of Grace for athletes like him. His reason for giving all that money to people in need was simple: He said he wanted to give back. As if he hasn't been giving back for most of his life.
Football will never tell the true story of Drew Brees. In 50 or 100 years, his career won't do him justice. But in 50 or 100 years, there will be homes and rec centers in New Orleans or New Jersey that speak to what kind of hero Drew Brees was. Those buildings will say more than even a bust in Canton ever could.
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