Brees' pursuit of Unitas record reveals much about both men
Drew Brees may break John Unitas' record of throwing a TD in 48 games Sunday
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning's 13th head-to-head duel may be last they play
Saints defense has allowed at least 420 yards of offense every game this season
Five observations on Drew Brees being on the precipice of breaking the time-honored record of John Unitas for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass:
1. I'm amazed it lasted this long -- 52 years -- and I'm amazed Unitas went 47 games (one game shy of four full regular seasons in those days) throwing at least one touchdown pass between 1957 and 1960. Unitas' streak lasted until 1960. The best offense in the Western Conference that year (Green Bay) completed 137 passes with nine touchdown throws. In 2011, the Saints, with Brees at quarterback, completed 472 passes with 46 scoring throws. See what I mean?
2. In Unitas' 47 games, he threw 102 touchdown passes. In Brees' 47, he threw 114. That shows how ahead of his time Unitas was.
3. To illustrate what a different era Unitas played in, just look at some of the passing lines he had during the streak. On Nov. 3, 1957, in a home loss to Pittsburgh, Unitas completed two-of-nine passes. One was a five-yard touchdown toss to Raymond Berry. Against Green Bay in 1958, Unitas completed five balls all day, but two were for touchdowns.
4. And to illustrate what a fluky thing streaks can be, Unitas' ended against a mediocre Ram team on a mild 55-degree December day at the L.A. Coliseum. The Rams allowed 27 points a game in the 11 other games they played that year. But against Unitas that day, the Rams won 10-3 and held Unitas to a frustrating 17-of-38 afternoon.
5. Brees may have company, and soon. Tom Brady's current streak is at 36. If Brady throws a touchdown pass in every game this year, he'll break the Unitas mark at home against the Dolphins in the final regular-season game of the year.
I tried, and failed, to reach Brees to discuss his chase this week. I assume, like Unitas would have done, Brees would have deflected talk about the record and concentrated solely on the fact that the Saints are 0-4 and playing for their lives Sunday night against San Diego. But he's no dummy. He knows the historical significance of the night, and he knows the NFL wouldn't have let his suspended coach and GM, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis, back in the building were it not for an event such as this.
The Unitas family, through son Joe, sent a classy letter to Brees this week, wishing him well as he plays to break the record.
"The way Dad was,'' said Joe Unitas from his home in Las Vegas, "he felt records were made to be broken. I remember his saying once about this, 'I didn't know I was setting any record, and I didn't care. All I cared about was 'Did we win the game?'
"Dad never talked a lot about his football days. I learned mostly when someone came to interview him. I remember standing off to the side when HBO and NFL Films came to interview him, listening to every word. He just wasn't caught up in his football life. I remember literally he cleaned out the house once and had all his old football trophies out by the trash in a big box, and Mom had to go out there and get them before they were thrown away.''
I know Brees some, and I believe he'd be honored if his peers would say about him: He didn't play for records. That's what Joe Unitas tried to get across over the phone. "Drew, I think, sounds a lot like Dad -- a competitor who is all about winning,'' he said. In a game that's become so numbers-driven, I think he's right about Brees.
I strongly recommend you give a listen this weekend to the fifth NFL podcast of the year, with Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson on coach Chuck Pagano, ill with leukemia, and the NFL's receiving-yardage leader after four weeks, Miami's Brian Hartline. Grigson gets emotional. Hartline gets real. As usual, it's available on SI.com and on iTunes.
Grigson on convincing a skeptical Pagano last January to come in for a head-coaching interview when the ill-prepared Pagano thought he was the longest of long shots: "I said, 'Chuck, think about it: Your entire life you've been going from place to place, working your tail off, moving your family ... for this opportunity. So who cares if you have a suit, who cares if you have a note pad or anything or any fancy book, just come here because we want the guy, the person, not all the window dressing and baloney. Just bring your soul here.' And why so many people are drawn to him, and why I was after him after all the people I interviewed, is heart. He's all heart and that comes through. And that's why he's a leader because players identify with that because you can't fake that. And these players are just too smart and know guys that have a big front that are full of baloney and Chuck's not."