There were times, years really, that it seemed impossible it would ever end. It began to feel like Drew Brees was going to be under center for the New Orleans Saints franchise until his arm fell off.
During the best of times, and there were many of those, the legend of Brees in New Orleans was so great that you simply expected him to carry the Saints to January football. He was super hero-like.
Brees always had one more play left in him. Brees would always give the team a fighting chance. Brees was immortal.
But on Sunday, maybe for the first time, Drew Brees just looked ordinary.
He had just turned 42 on Friday and looked every bit of his years, as if Father Time had swept in over the weekend to declare that all of the heart-pounding comebacks and two-minute drives and breathtaking passes needed to be paid back in turn.
Brees was no longer the savior. In fact, on Sunday, he was perhaps even the liability. He had one of the worst statistical games of his career and certainly his worst playoff performance. Nineteen completions, 34 attempts for 132 yards, three interceptions, one touchdown and a 38.1 passer rating didn’t quite tell the story of how some passes seemed to float in the air a tick too long, how some seemed just a little off-center and how a 10-point deficit toward the end of the game seemed downright insurmountable.
The Saints’ two last-gasp attempts at a comeback concluded with interceptions. It just wasn’t going to be their night, no matter how much Brees’ mind willed his tired body to make one more play. The magic was gone.
It became painfully obvious with each drop back that Brees was no longer the QB we came to love. It was even more stark as his career counter part Tom Brady, who is older, looked 10 years younger than Brees.
Brees said that he’d take time to think things over before making any decisions about whether he would return to play football in 2021. but on Sunday night, all signs pointed to his retirement in the near future.
It wasn’t just the emotions, although there were plenty of those. As he left the field for perhaps the final time in a Saints uniform, he pointed up to the stands, blowing kisses in the direction of his wife and children. Then he paused and looked back, just for a second, taking it all in.
“I always soak in the moment,” Brees said. “I’m looking up at my family and I’m blowing kisses to my wife and daughter and fist-bumping my boys. They’ve become so much a part of this as my kids have gotten older and they’re so invested in this as well. So it makes the moment special to be able to share it all together.”
There was no final ear deafening goodbye from the New Orleans faithful in the Superdome thanks to COVID-19. No “Who Dat” chants, no “Casanova” blaring on the PA system, no “Thank you Drew” chants.
Just Brees walking off the field, through the tunnels, in complete silence.
Post game, Brees was asked if returning for this season, as bizarre as it was, was worth it. Was returning for one more try worth the broken ribs and the injuries and the heartache that must have come with such an abrupt, disappointing ending to yet another season?
“I would never regret it, never. No complaints. No regrets,” he said. “I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it. And I appreciate all that this game has given to me. There are obviously so many incredible memories, so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing this game. And, man, you find out so much about yourself and you have to fight through so much when you play this game. And I’d say this season, I probably had to fight through more than I had to in any other season in my career. From injury to all the COVID stuff to just crazy circumstances. Man, it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely.”
Long after the game had ended, Brees came back on the field with his family, smiling at his wife and patiently throwing passes to his sons for hours. Buccaneers players crossed the field to get to their team buses, occasionally stopping to say goodbye. Eventually, Tom Brady came by, placing his bag on the ground and chatting with the Brees family for 10 minutes.
Brees and his family stayed on the field well into the night, maybe soaking up the final time he would be on the field as a member of the Saints.
On that field, for so many games, for so many years, Drew Brees was a superhero.
Now he was just human.