It wasn't dull when
Bush misplayed a pitch from Brees as the Saints were trying to kill the clock
late in the fourth quarter, giving Philly one last chance--which was snuffed
out by the New Orleans D, with help from a Philly false-start penalty on fourth
and 10. The safe move would have been to keep the veteran McAllister in, but
throughout the second half he was wracked by dehydration cramps that would
require intravenous fluids after the game. Still, when the Saints needed that
final first down, McAllister was back on the field.
absolutely a warrior," Brees says, "and he's a true teammate in the
strongest sense of the word. At the end of that game the Eagles earned
themselves a big dose of Deuce McAllister."
It's no surprise
that Brees has brought a team to the verge of the Super Bowl. The surprise is
that the team is the Saints. Brees was the quarterback on San Diego teams that
won a combined 21 regular season games in 2004 and '05. With All-Pro running
back LaDainian Tomlinson, whom the Chargers took fifth in that 2001 draft, the
franchise seemed loaded for a string of postseason runs.
But in the final
game of 2005, with the Chargers out of playoff contention, Brees dived for a
fumble in his own end zone, and Gerard Warren, the Denver Broncos' 325-pound
tackle, landed on him. When Brees stood he held his right arm as if he were
resting the elbow on a fireplace mantle, his shoulder gruesomely
More than 1,700
miles away in Birmingham, renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews watched
a replay of Brees going down. "I thought, my God, what an injury," says
Andrews. Four days later he examined Brees and diagnosed a rare 360-degree tear
of the labrum, the ring of cartilage around the entry to the shoulder joint.
During surgery Andrews discovered a deep, partial rotator cuff tear. He says
the damage in Brees's shoulder joint represented "one of the most unique
injuries of any athlete I've ever treated."
Andrews and two
other surgeons mended the labrum with the unheard-of total of 11 surgical
anchors (three or four is common) and also repaired the rotator cuff. The
90-minute procedure was performed arthroscopically--a godsend for Brees. If the
doctors had had to cut through shoulder tissue, his recovery would have been
prolonged by months.
Still, Brees faced
an arduous rehabilitation, with long odds. "Lord, I was just hoping to give
him a functional shoulder," says Andrews. "An average athlete would not
recover from this injury."
Brees off to Kevin Wilk, a physical therapist and clinical director at
Benchmark-Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham who has been rehabbing
Andrews's patients for 18 years. " Dr. Andrews told me, 'You've got your
work cut out for you,'" Wilk says. "I had never seen an injury this
severe in any elite-level throwing athlete. We were in uncharted
Brees attacked his
rehab voraciously. He moved in with his in-laws, Pete and Kathie Dudchenko, who
live in Birmingham, and spent four months of seven-hour days at Wilk's clinic.
Told he could be out of his sling in four weeks, he lost it in two and a half.
Told he would have full range of motion in 12 weeks, he achieved it in eight.
Told he would throw a football in four months, he was outside on the lawn of
the clinic playing catch with New York Giants safety Will Demps, who was
rehabbing an ACL, in a little more than three months.
has been one of the most remarkable of any patient I've ever treated," says
Andrews. "And the biggest thing was Drew's motivation and