If you're a longtime reader of the site, you've probably read me gush about New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees time and time over the years. Dating back to the mid-90s in Austin Texas where we both grew up, I saw Brees do ridiculous things in his athletic endeavors. Sure, there's always 'that guy' who is head and shoulders above the rest athletically in middle school, but even then we felt it was different with Drew. (By 'we' I mean my friends, and my brothers' friends). He was the top ranked 12-year old tennis player in the state of Texas...a year after picking up a racket seriously. He was incredibly accurate and polished throwing the football...flag football mind you before he enrolled at Westlake High School, the city's preeminent football program and a perennial 5A powerhouse in the state of Texas. (Friday Night Lights is filmed at Westlake).
Back then, what he was really amazing at was baseball. He and his brother Reid were turning gorgeous double plays before they were teenagers. During his birthday party in 8th grade, Drew, after taking some batting practice from the right side, switched over to the left side and proceeded to 'call his shot'. We were at a local school, and a window was his target. Smash.
One other random memory is of him grabbing a Nerf football and pointing to a friend of his at the opposite end of the pool walking with his lunch tray. The friend was walking briskly looking straight ahead, not aware that Drew was lining up his throw. He was going for the tray, an admittedly not-so-nice move. Bam, there goes lunch.
Today, I understand that it's at the golf course where he likes to satiate his competitive appetite. He's a 3 or 4 handicap. He also takes kids out for an annual fishing event. Pretty sure he never fished seriously growing up, but rumor has it that he's adamant about being the best at that as well, even amongst his southern teammates who grew up fishing year round.
Drew's uncle was a bigtime football player at Texas A&M back in the day, so it was widely assumed that he would go either there or to the University of Texas. His first choice, I believe, was A&M. They didn't want him. There were concerns about his knee, which he injured during his junior year, the all-important year for high school kids to show off their stuff and position themselves for scholarship offers. He was also too short and too small to possibly play QB at a high level in college. Drew is listed at just over 6', but he's probably closer to 5'11 than he is 6' or 6'1". His smallish stature is one of the main reasons I've been so in awe of his abilities at the NFL level. It's really got to be hard to see what's developing down the field when you've got massive linemen in your line of vision. To compensate, Drew has to know exactly where his guys are at all times, then be able to throw the ball to a specific place with exceptional accuracy. The windows in the NFL are really, really small, and the speed of the game is really, really fast. The most accurate quarterbacks make it look easy, but it's got to be mind-bogglingly tough to deliver strikes amidst all those big bodies.
One other differentiator he has though is a god-given gift. He has gigantic hands. The picture above gives you a sense of what I'm talking about. You can obviously get by in the NFL without having a cannon for an arm; you can survive if you're not 6'3"; you don't have to be all that mobile; and you don't have to have played college football at a BCS program. You do though have to have big paws. The NFL ball is bigger than in college, and because QBs have to navigate all sorts of inclimate weather in the fall and winter months, you really can't afford to not have a sturdy grip on the ball. Both for accuracy's sake, and for ball security.
And guys like Ben Roethlisberger really benefit from having big and strong enough hands to pump-fake the ball convincingly. Brees is also really good at that at well, though he does so in different ways than Big Ben. As a point of comparison, did you see what happened to Max Hall in the rain in Seattle last week? Hall has well below average hand size for a QB and he just had no command all afternoon. You don't see foot size listed at the NFL Combine. You do see hand size listed, and there's a reason for that regardless of what position you play.
By the time Brees led his high school to a state championship his senior year, it was too late. Programs had committed to other kids and Drew ultimately took his talents to the Midwest at Purdue. All he did there was set Big 10 conference records in passing yards (11,792), touchdowns (90), total offensive yards (12,693), completions (1,026), and attempts (1,678). In 2001, Brees led the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl trip since 1967 with his epic come-from-behind performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes. I watched as many of his games at Purdue as I could, dating back to his first start as a sophomore against USC I believe. My father and I would even pay-per-view a fair number of games that we couldn't see out West. All worth it.
My heart's fluttering.
Next up: My analysis on what's troubling the Saints offense this year and how they may be able to begin turning around their season this coming Sunday night against the Steelers.