We should all have off-seasons like Drew Brees.
Brees and Payton have dueling books out this week: "Home Team,'' by Payton (Penguin Group), with Ellis Henican, and "Coming Back Stronger,'' by Brees (Tyndale), with Chris Fabry. America, it seems, can't get enough of the Saints. Now we'll find out just how much it can read -- and Brees and Payton have a little wager on who sells more books. Hey, they're competitors.
"We put a dinner, and a nice bottle of Caymus, on that,'' Brees told me Friday.
"It's funny. When I was first approached about doing a book, I thought, 'I want to sell a million books.' You know, you become a competitor about it. Then I starting thinking of it the way I thought of the draft. When you come out of college, you want to be drafted as high as possible. But after you get into it, you understand it's more important to go to the best team for you than how high you go. So now, I'm more concerned with how this book will affect people and maybe influencing people facing the same obstacles I had in my career.''
My buddy Don Banks had a very good profile of the Payton book on SI.com last week. The two books are different. Payton's discusses the four-year trek from Katrina to the Super Bowl, with great anecdotes particularly on the home stretch of the championship season. Brees' is more about overcoming the doubters (because of his size) and his devastating 2006 shoulder injury (which caused him to pick New Orleans over Miami) on the way to winning the Super Bowl.
The most enlightening thing about the Brees book, I thought, was the one final conversation he had with Nick Saban before he decided to pick the Saints over Saban's Dolphins in the spring of 2006. We've all heard that the Saints believed unconditionally in Brees' ability to come back from his shoulder surgery, while the Dolphins were skeptical about it. But we hadn't heard about Brees commandeering the situation from his agent, Tom Condon, which, at the end of the negotiations, apparently Brees did.
Brees had significant interest on the table from the Saints. But he wanted to find out if Saban had the same faith in him that Payton and Mickey Loomis had in New Orleans. So Brees picked up the phone and called Saban, who told him the Miami team doctors believed Brees had a 25 percent chance to come back and be the same quarterback, or better, that he'd been before the shoulder surgery.
According to the book, Brees said to Saban: "Coach, I know what your doctors believe about me. My question is, what do you believe?''
Wrote Brees: "Nick Saban paused. That was really all I needed to hear. His pause told me everything. 'Well, Drew,' he said, 'I would still love to have you, but I have to trust what our medical people are saying ...' He went on from there, like he was reading from a script. But I was starting to tune out. By then I had all the information I needed. I had made my decision.''
Brees told Saban thanks, and he'd be going to New Orleans, even though telling Saban that might kill his negotiating position with the Saints.
As Brees told me, "The impression I get from the Dolphins was I should feel lucky they were even looking at me. It just wasn't a welcoming feeling.''
One other interesting Brees note: He played golf with Jack Nicklaus, Dan Marino and Kenny G in March. It had been nine months since he picked up a club. And through 12 holes on a windswept day in Florida, no one had birdied a hole. On the 13th, a par-4, Brees smoked a drive, but he'd had trouble hitting balls into the wind all day. Nicklaus came up to him, dropped three balls and said, "Let me show you something about hitting an iron into the wind.'' Nicklaus choked up on the club, punched a line drive about 10 feet from the pin, then did it twice more.
"So there's a little bit of a gallery there, watching Jack Nicklaus give me these tips about hitting the ball,'' Brees told me, "and so I picked up my club and tried to do it exactly the way he showed me. I stood over the ball, held my club the way he held it, and I hit it exactly the way he hit it -- and then I birdied the hole. Talk about a great feeling. I'm standing there getting a golf lesson from the Golden Bear, I do exactly what he shows me how to do, and then I birdie the hole, with Jack watching. Incredible.''
Brees and son Baylen, together, threw out the first pitch on Fathers Day at Yankees Stadium. And he went on his seventh USO trip, training with the troops -- real training, not training for a publicity shot -- in Djibouti, Africa. And he found out he and wife Brittany are expecting their second child this fall. Nice off-season.
Brees on Favre.
I asked Brees if he thinks he'll be facing Brett Favre when the Saints and Vikings open the season Sept. 9 in New Orleans in their NFC Championship Game rematch.
"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Brett Favre will be quarterbacking the Vikings that night,'' Brees said. "No doubt.''
You would have liked my brother.
For many reasons, and not just because we had some infamous battles in our 16 years as roommates as kids growing up in Enfield, Conn., and Bob put me in my place and made me cry "uncle'' at the end of fights I always lost. (Yes, he made me say it, and I said it, most often bitterly.) He was 1500-on-the-SAT smart but never pretended to know anything more than anyone else. He was the ultimate family guy, a Scoutmaster to his son and all the boys in South Windsor, Conn, and an affable homework monitor and reader and cross-country fan to his daughter. He was a great, involved husband. He was a church deacon, and gave his first sermon about real happiness on the morning he died -- Fathers Day, fittingly.
What I admired most about him was his selflessness, which came through in the days after his death and will continue, I expect, for years to come. Of the 750 people who snaked around the building to pay respects at his wake in South Windsor (I've been to a lot of wakes, and the only one more crowded was Wellington Mara's), I must have heard this a hundred times, in various forms: "Bob was such a good person. He gave me so much, and never asked for anything in return.''
Bob was as likely to give me advice on a book ("You've got to read 'The Prisoner of Guantanamo!' '') as temperance ("You don't need that fifth beer, Peter!''), as prone to bird-watching (on our March spring-training tour in Sarasota, he looked for ospreys as much as home runs) as he was to old TV shows (we were "Leave it to Beaver'' addicts). I wasn't the only one who he tutored. One high-schooler who hadn't found a girlfriend in South Windsor asked him meekly on a recent scouting trip, "Can you give me some advice on how to pick up girls?''
And what he left in his wake continues to amaze me. Seven days after he died, two boys he mentored in the Eagle Scout program were at his home, unannounced, and mowed his lawn. The boys and girls of the town scouting program will be at his home Saturday for a day of yardwork and gardening (daughter Laila has already been tending to his beloved vegetables). Every day dinner shows up at their home; a meal schedule, unbeknownst to the family, has been prepared well into the future, so the family can go about the business of healing and planning for the future with one less worry on their plate.
Much of my great sadness has given way to a good feeling about the way Bob lived his life, and the example he set for this and the next generation. That example -- of how real communities should be and neighbors should live their lives -- would have Bob beaming, I'm sure.
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