There is no sound quite like the trilling of a telephone on draft day, a beautiful noise with the power to transform anxiety into fulfillment. When the call came for Drew Brees at 3:30 last Saturday afternoon, the former Purdue quarterback was washing dishes in his kitchen, trying to distract himself from the torture of waiting. The cordless handset chirped twice before Brees's girlfriend, Brittany Dudchenko, snatched it off the living-room floor and shouted, "Drew, the phone's ringing!" On the television screen disembodied voices informed viewers that the San Diego Chargers were next on the draft clock, with the first pick of the second round, the 32nd overall. The room became a still life.
This is how the waiting ends. Nearly 16 weeks after playing his final college game, Brees would at last find out where football would take him next. It had been a strange and tumultuous time, spent in a no-man's land between collegian and professional, where a player's stock rises and falls, buoying him one week, mocking him the next. For Brees the ride had been measured in increments as short as an eighth of an inch in height and as long as the 70 yards a ball sails when thrown by a passer with an NFL-approved arm. He had juggled the demands of a college curriculum and those of 31 NFL teams, and never had he felt in control.
JANUARY 1, PASADENA
Brees's college career ends on the pristine grass of the Rose Bowl, where Purdue loses 34-24 to Washington. Brees completes 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but his counterpart, Huskies senior Marques Tuiasosopo, completes 16 of 22 for 138 yards and a touchdown, runs for 75 yards and another touchdown and is named the game's MVP.
Brees could be deflated, but he's not. When he decided a year earlier to return for his senior season, he set his mind on winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl. Purdue had done neither in 32 years. "How many players can set goals like that and achieve them?" Brees says. In the locker room, and outside the stadium, he implores teammates to take pride in the season. "Don't let this ruin what we did this year," he tells them.
Brees leaves Purdue as the most productive quarterback in Big Ten history, with league records for career passing yards (11,792) and touchdown passes (90) among his 34 school, conference and NCAA marks. He threw for only 232 yards as a freshman, yet only three college quarterbacks have amassed more total yards than Brees. "No regrets," he says. "I wouldn't do a thing differently."
JANUARY 3-5, AUSTIN
Brees's transition from amateur to professional is almost instantaneous. He is home in Austin to deliberate with his parents on the choice of an agent. Mina and Chip Brees, who are divorced, are both attorneys. Agents have chased Drew since his sophomore year, when he became Purdue's starting quarterback and passed for 3,983 yards and 39 touchdowns. Player representation is a cutthroat business; there are more than 1,100 NFL-approved agents, far more than players entering the league each year. Brees's parents shielded him from overtures. By the start of his senior year, only three suitors remained in the race: Tom Condon of IMG, Texas-based Vann McElroy, and Leigh Steinberg.
Brees met with Steinberg at a motel near the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, Ind., in August, one week before the start of fall practice. Steinberg showed him the rookie contracts he negotiated for Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer and Ryan Leaf. "It was impressive," Brees says. "The guy seemed pretty innovative in the way he structured things." Brees also saw McElroy last summer but did not sit down with Condon until November, after Purdue's last regular-season game.
In the end Brees chooses Condon, with whom he feels he has a better personal connection than with McElroy or Steinberg. Brees is also swayed by the fact that IMG has 35 offices around the country—"Wherever I play, they'll be close," he says—and by the agency's commercial connections, but his decision is based largely on instinct. "I got a good feel from the IMG guys," he says. It will be widely speculated that Brees chose Condon because Condon represents Peyton Manning, who is a friend of Brees's. Not true. "I haven't talked to Peyton in months," says Brees. "He got a new cell phone, and I don't have the number."