"Are we winning or losing?" Payton asked.
"We're winning," said Brees.
Last February in the biggest game of his life, Brees outplayed his surefire Hall of Fame counterpart, the Colts' Peyton Manning. Brees's 82% completion rate was the second best in Super Bowl history. With the game on the line it was Manning, not Brees, who threw a killing pick. And long after the end, Brees rode Saints bus No. 1 back to the team hotel, sitting up front with Payton and assistant coaches Joe Vitt, Greg McMahon, Pete Carmichael and Joe Lombardi, whose grandfather's name was etched into the sterling silver trophy they passed around. "What a special moment," says Brees. "I wished it would never end." It might not, yet. After a 4--3 start the Saints have won four straight, including Thursday's 30--27 comeback win at Dallas, and are battling for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
IT IS CLEARLY VICTORY that drives Brees, and service that moves him. He is a richly compensated professional with more than 20 sponsorship deals beyond his football contract. Yet it is family that fulfills him. Late on a bye-week afternoon he rushed to Danneel Park, a half mile from the Breeses' Uptown home. The new playground at the west end of the park was alive with small children—climbing, running, falling and rising again to play more in that indomitable way that only children can. It was a spectacular autumn day in the city, warm without humidity, windless and clear. Brees walked to where Brittany stood over three-week-old Bowen's stroller. The little guy was blissfully asleep. Brees kissed his wife and then darted off to find Baylen; soon the Saints' franchise quarterback was climbing up the side of a playscape, the biggest kid in the park. "Oh, no," said Brittany. "Drew is going to hurt himself. We better walk over there. I don't want to make that call to Sean Payton."
Part of Brees's rigid daily schedule includes getting home each Monday through Thursday night (NFL players are usually free on Fridays) at 7:30 to read books to Baylen and put him to sleep before resuming tape study. If Brees is delayed at the team's facility, 15 minutes away in suburban Metairie, Brittany brings the boys to see their father before bedtime. (During the reporting of this story, Brees sent an e-mail saying, "Balance in my life is so important with my four priorities: Faith, Family, Football, Philanthropy. The four F's. LOL.") He is collecting game balls for his boys, five so far for Baylen, one for Bowen, painted and inscribed with their names as if they shared in the wins. Brees says he would like to play long enough in the NFL for his sons to see him in action and remember it.
Brees's own childhood was less than idyllic. His parents, Chip and Mina Brees, both successful lawyers in Austin, divorced when Drew was seven years old and his brother, Reid, was nearly five. (The brothers have a sister, Audrey, a 21-year-old junior at Georgia, from Chip's second marriage.) After the divorce the parents agreed that Drew and Reid would split time between their parents' houses. In the spring of 1999 Drew, then a college sophomore, told SI that the arrangement, while palpably delicate even to an interloper, was acceptable. "My parents get along," he said. He now admits they did not. "The situation was challenging, going back and forth like they did," Chip says. "If I could go back in time and do things differently, I would. But I can't."
Lacking a single household, the boys leaned on each other. "He was a great brother and a great friend for me," says Reid, now 29 and a medical-equipment sales rep in Colorado. "He let me hang with his friends. He beat on me a lot, but in a fun way, and he looked out for me. That's Drew. He looks out for other people."
Last February, two days after the Super Bowl, Brittany took a home pregnancy test, confirming that she was expecting. Bowen was born on Oct. 19, a Tuesday, serendipitously the slowest day of the week for NFL players. Drew was there for the delivery. "There's a saying that the greatest gift you can give a boy is a younger brother," says Drew. "We'd like to have more. We'd like to have a big family."
There is a tragic symmetry to his family's growth. Mina Brees died in Granby, Colo., on Aug. 7, 2009, from a prescription drug overdose; her death was ruled a suicide. Brees's relationship with his mother had been intensely complicated. They were clearly close once: During an SI writer's visit to Austin in 1999, Drew played a spirited tennis match with Mina at her private club and ate brunch with her afterward. They had shared a love of sports; Ray Akins is Mina's dad, and Marty Akins, a former quarterback at Texas, is her brother. Yet Drew and Mina grew apart in the intervening years, over a succession of emotional disagreements. In 2006 Drew publicly asked his mother to stop using his image in advertisements for her judgeship campaign. The episode was sad and unseemly. In his book Brees writes extensively of his efforts to understand their conflict and concludes, in part, "The full truth is that my mom and I had a toxic relationship." He suggests that his mother might have suffered from mental illness.
Brees and his mother barely spoke for the last eight years of Mina's life, but when Brittany became pregnant with Baylen, mother and son began to communicate again. "Things were in the process of getting better," says Brees. "Once Baylen was born, I really hoped she could be a part of his life. We had been communicating back and forth about when that first meeting would be, and then all of sudden she was gone."