Brees has been a
ubiquitous presence in the city, donating time and money to charities. He also
made his commitment known by living in Uptown, where few Saints have ever
resided. (Most on the current team own homes in suburbs or near the practice
facility.) "The community's view of Drew is that he knew what he was
getting into when he came here, and he came here anyway," says Michael
Whelan, 32, a New Orleans commodities trader who has played golf with Brees and
is a friend of Loomis's and Payton's. "We really have a long, long way to
go in the city, but the Saints are a part of the fabric of New Orleans, and
Drew has just been unbelievably visible."
On Saturday, Brees
watched the movie Crank--"I can't even remember who was in it," he said
later--at the airport hotel where the team stays on the night before games. He
thought back to his first game at the Superdome, when he got caught in traffic
and was 30 minutes late despite an escort that had him driving on sidewalks
approaching the stadium. And he remembered his only previous playoff game, a
three-point loss to the New York Jets in January 2005.
The Saints' game
plan emphasized power running to help slow the Eagles' pass rush. In the first
meeting between the teams, a 27--24 New Orleans victory on Oct. 15,
Philadelphia didn't sack Brees once. They got to him three times on Saturday,
but the Saints' ground game was punishing from the start, finishing with 208
yards, a total New Orleans exceeded only once in the regular season. "The
Eagles were a tired team," said Stinchcomb. "Tough game last week [a
wild-card win over the Giants], tough season."
It was past 11 p.m.
when Brees left the locker room. In the Superdome labyrinth he stopped to
embrace Tom Benson, the Saints' 79-year-old owner, who raised two fingers
toward the quarterback as they separated. "Two more games for the Super
Bowl," said Brees as he walked away, again speaking in wonder. "What a