METAIRIE, La. – Somewhere between all the pats on the back and his upcoming book tour, quarterback Drew Brees(notes) has maintained his focus as the New Orleans Saints try to defend their Super Bowl title.
In fact, Brees remains so intense in practice that he slammed his helmet when things weren't going well during the opening day of the team's minicamp early this month.
This offseason has been a whirlwind. In addition to the recognition, Brees has maintained his interest in the NFL Players Association. He wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post regarding the NFL's loss in the case vs. American Needle. Along the way he wrote a book which is sure to be interesting.
In between, Brees doesn't appear to be losing much of the focus that allowed him to lead the Saints to their first title and helped him set an NFL record for completion percentage at 70.6 percent last season. He sat down to talk about a number of subjects, including the suicide of his mother just before last season:
Jason Cole: How's the book (entitled "Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity" and scheduled for a July 6 release) going?
Drew Brees: Good, really good. It's done … it was the furthest thing from my mind during the season. But then I signed up with the same company (Tyndale House Publishers) that did coach (Tony) Dungy's book and a few others. They've done a lot and I had a few conversations with Coach Dungy leading up to it and he said, "If you're going to do it, this is the way to go." He said, "It's the last thing I ever thought I would do.” … It's pretty interesting how it worked out, but you get a chance to tell your story and you hope it touches a lot of people and can help a lot of people. It's a great thing, a great opportunity.
Cole: How much did you deal with your mom and her suicide in the book?
Brees: Quite a bit. There's a whole chapter in there that talks about it a lot. A lot of things I have never talked about before.
Cole: I have to say I admire you for being able to accomplish something so great while dealing with that.
Brees: It was very deep because a little bit of the history with my mom.
Cole: You were rebuilding your relationship with her after some trying times?
Brees: Yeah, that made it even tougher. Honestly, I probably spent 20 hours on that chapter just because there were so many emotions that came out and how do I put this into words? How do I put it on paper? How can I allow people to understand a little bit of what happened previously in our relationship and where we were at at the time of her death and then all the questions that come up after her death surrounding some of the circumstances, trying to be very sensitive while trying to be very honest and forthright with everything. I spent so much time on it, I feel like there's a lot of people who have those types of issues, whether it's with their parents or dealing with the death of a parent or a loved one. There are people who are struggling with it, so I'm interested to see some of the response to that.
Cole: I think you'll be pleased with how people take it.
Brees: I talked about everything and it was a freeing experience because I felt like I had so much inside for so long that I was able to just breathe and put it out there. There's just a little anxiety I have because you just hope people understand, that it's taken the right way. You just hope that people can identify with it and that it will help people.
Cole: Did you find yourself during the season saying, "I can't deal with this today?"
Brees: It's hard to explain without going into so much detail.
Cole: I don't want you to give away what's in the book.
Brees: It's not so much give it away, it's that we'd be here for hours. Just certain things surrounding her death made me think about her quite often during the season. Really, I know she's watching. It was really like feeling that she was in a much better place. So that put me a little bit at peace. That gave me strength in a lot of ways. But it also wasn't until the end of the season, where here I am at the Super Bowl, every person who has been most important to me in my whole life is there for the most part: family, friends, wife, son, everybody. My two college roommates and all these people who have meant so much to me in my life, yet the one person who is not there is my mother. So it's a feeling of (discomfort). That's real, that's sudden. You're celebrating and you realize she's not there.
Cole: So how do you set your focus on the upcoming year after winning and, almost as importantly, going through the struggle to get here during the past four years?
The Super Bowl MVP enjoys a moment at Disney World.
(Gene Duncan/Disney via Getty Images)
Brees: I think everybody has had an unbelievable last three months. Probably every guy on this team has had a street named after them in their hometown, their high school jersey was retired. It's been one of those things where we've spent enough time having people pat us on the back telling us how great we are. Listen, we did accomplish something very special. Not just because it's hard to win a championship in any sport, certainly the NFL. But then you look at everything it took, everything it symbolizes for the city, everything the City of New Orleans had gone through. That made it even more celebrated. You had even more people patting you on the back for that. But for all of us, it's that ability to stay humble and maintain that inner motivation to almost pretend like we haven't won one, the mindset that you're only as good as your next performance.
Forget the past. We're not entitled to win when we step on the field. Nobody is going to be intimidated by the New Orleans Saints. If anything, it puts more of a bull's eye on us. We're going to get everybody's best game and we felt that a little bit last season when we were 10-0, 11-0, all the way to 13-0. So we felt like that, a little bit. But, here we are, we win it all and human nature is to relax and feel like you've arrived. But you can't fall into that trap. I had a chance to talk to a few people this offseason, who had won repeat championships, or vice versa, to get the "what went wrong?" scenario. I think you're naïve to think you can ignore those issues that are just human nature. You've got to fight that.
Cole: Anybody in particular who you talked to?
Brees: I don't want to mention their names, but they gave really, really good advice. It was three or four guys and most of them had the same message. Some were a little more specific than others. But really it was the thought that it's about the team. Anytime you experience great success, each person played a role in it. No one role is more important than another.
Cole: Come on, some roles are more important than others. Isn't the idea more than you don't announce that one is more important and you make sure each person feels responsibility and appreciation?
Brees: You might say the holder on special teams … you initially say that's one of the least thought about positions on the field, right? For us, that was Mark Brunell(notes) and he had to hold three of the biggest kicks for any of us in that Super Bowl game and he had to hold for the kick that got us through the NFC championship game. So the fact of the matter is that was as important as anybody.
Cole: I understand what you're saying and it's important to recognize each individual contribution and not fall into the trap that one job is more important. Still …
Brees: I just think it's important to always understand that it's about getting better. The moment you think, "I've arrived" and relax, it's over, you're done. It's a constant feeling of, "I've got to get better" and where can I identify those areas and get better.
“But it also wasn't until the end of the season, where here I am at the Super Bowl, every person who has been most important to me in my whole life is there for the most part: family, friends, wife, son, everybody. My two college roommates and all these people who have meant so much to me in my life, yet the one person who is not there is my mother. So it's a feeling of (discomfort). That's real, that's sudden. You're celebrating and you realize she's not there.”
– Drew Brees on the impact of his mother's death
Cole: How long does that take?
Brees: It takes awhile, but you space it out over your workouts and offseason conditioning program. Three times a week I'm going to watch one game after doing workouts. Each game might take an hour, hour and a half, just depends on the type of game it was. Certain plays you might sit there and rewind 10 times. Other plays, "Hey, it's clockwork." You look at them one time and fast-forward to the next play.
Cole: So you spend a lot more time on the ones where something didn't work or didn't go exactly according to plan?
Brees: Yeah, it might be something where you say, "Hey, what was I seeing as opposed to what the receiver was seeing?" How can we make sure we get on the same page or is there another adjustment we can come up with off what we saw or is there another route concept we can come up with off this formation? Your mind just starts working and not necessarily about that one play against that coverage. You may start day dreaming about other situations, other coverages. Had they done this, then what?
Cole: You do this alone?
Brees: Yeah, I do it alone a lot. Then we meet during our quarterback school with the offensive coordinator (Pete Carmichael) and quarterback coach (Joe Lombardi) and go through just about every route concept. The good ones, the bad ones, what we like, what we didn't like. We'll introduce new route concepts, make adjustments. All the things they study, that I study, how we're coming together.
Cole: I know you completed (an NFL-record) 70.6 percent of your passes last year, so it wasn't like you weren't playing well most of the time. But have you ever been in a zone before like you were in the Super Bowl?
Brees: It's funny because that was one of those deals where somebody comes up to you after the game and tells you, "Hey, you completed 32 of 39" and you're like, "What?" You're just operating, it's happening, it's one play at a time and you're not thinking about the previous play. Everything I've been taught and coached to do, playing within myself and the offense and the play-calling. Then, all of a sudden, you hit 29 out of 32 and it just happens. You're not thinking, you're just doing. It's muscle memory. It's what I do.
I wouldn't even call it that I was "in a zone" because here's the thing: Every time I'm on the field, I'm in a zone. I block out everything around me and it's just the play in front of me and it's one play at a time. I'm never looking too far ahead or never too far behind me other than, "Hey, they gave us this look earlier or this corner was sitting earlier so later on we're going to come back and run by him." You reference that stuff, but you don't dwell on any negatives that might have happened. It's that short-term memory. It's the next play or the next situation.
Cole: When did you feel like you were a leader?
Brees: I've always felt that way. From the first time I stepped on the field, I always felt like that. I've always been involved in athletics. When I played baseball, I was the pitcher or I was the shortstop. I was hitting in the 3 hole. If I was playing basketball, I was the point guard. In football, I was the quarterback. I was always the guy with the ball in my hands or wanting the ball in my hands and I know with that comes the responsibility of being the leader. Everybody is looking at you to make the play, make the shot, whatever it may be. I've always had that feeling that that was my role.
Brees had great protection throughout Super Bowl XLIV.
(Ronald Martinez/ Getty Images)
Cole: Roger Staubach talked about how when he was in high school, his coach asked him to play quarterback because his coach saw that everyone listened to Roger. Does that happen for you?
Brees: Well, I …
Cole: I'm not trying to put you on a pedestal, but this is what happens.
Brees: I hear people tell me that.
Cole: When you hear people tell you that, you feel … ?
Brees: Even more responsibility. When you know people listen to you and you know people respect you … I very much have that feeling like I don't want to let people down. I don't want to let my teammates down. I don't want to let the city down, I don't want to let the fans down, just all those things. That's part of the motivation, just that fear of failure that so many people are looking to you to be that person. That motivates you to want to succeed at it.
Cole: They're heaping it on and you're not afraid to take that on.
Brees: No, somebody has to.