- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2010

MIAMI | By helping New Orleans’ renaissance following Hurricane Katrina through wide-ranging charity work and his constant promotion of the region’s cultural assets, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is clearly one of the city’s adopted sons.

Indeed, he is so popular that candidates in Saturday’s mayoral election joked during the campaign that they would drop out of the race if Brees decided to run.

Winning Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts would only enhance his status.

That’s saying a lot because the First Family of Football — the Mannings — live there, too, and are all but regarded as royalty in the Big Easy.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning isn’t just an opponent, he’s practically a neighbor.

“My parents have gotten to know Drew and his family,” Manning said. “I just have an appreciation for guys that play for the New Orleans Saints, that live there in the offseason, that commit to the city year-round as opposed to just playing there.”

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Manning’s parents, Archie and Olivia, did all of that, quarterbacking for the Saints and putting down roots in the city.

“Drew has committed his efforts in the philanthropy part of it to the city, to the rebuilding of the city. As a native of New Orleans, I certainly appreciate that,” Manning continued.

Brees, along with wife Brittany and 1-year-old son, Baylen, are well on their way to achieving similar Manning status.

Brees often compares the resurgence of his career after a serious shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season — when only the Saints believed he’d recover — to the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit that same year.

When he first came to New Orleans in the spring of 2006, much of the area was still a wreck. And even though hospitals, supermarkets and basic services were still disrupted, that didn’t stop him from calling New Orleans home.

He bought and renovated a century-old house near the Mannings in the historic Uptown neighborhood and, along with Brittany, started leading efforts to rebuild schools, playgrounds and athletic fields.

“I’ve embraced the community of New Orleans just because it is a special place, and they’ve embraced me and my wife in a way that I can’t even describe,” Brees said. “There is nothing more that I want for them than a championship.”

At 6 feet (1.83 meters), Brees is a few inches (centimeters) shorter than the prototypical quarterback. He looks more like a regular guy than a world-class athlete and has been underestimated for much of his athletic career. Although he grew up in Texas, the only universities to recruit him seriously were Kentucky and Purdue. Brees chose the latter, but despite leading Purdue to its first Rose Bowl in more than three decades and becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, most NFL teams passed on him before the San Diego Chargers took him with its second-round draft pick in 2001.

In the past four years since nearly everyone wrote him off, Brees has passed for 18,298 yards, the most of any quarterback during that span. In 2008, his 5,069 yards passing made him only the second quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 in a season and left him 16 yards short of breaking Dan Marino’s 1984 all-time NFL single-season record.

He has twice led the Saints to an NFC Championship game and now to the Super Bowl.

His professional triumphs this season, however, have been offset by a personal blow.

His mother, Mina, an attorney from Austin, died of a prescription drug overdose last summer and her death was later ruled a suicide. The two had been estranged, and Brees has said he prefers to keep his feelings about his mother private.

“He’s a real strong person and that’s what makes him somewhat unique,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I lost my mother in 2002 when I was (an assistant coach) in New York. Sometimes the season and the league can rob you of something because of how consuming it is. … That’s some of the uniqueness in Drew Brees that he was able to put that (grieving) somewhere, grieve and still continue with all of the responsibilities that he had.”

Brees threw for 4,388 yards and a league-leading 34 touchdowns in 15 games this season, sitting out the last one of the regular-season because New Orleans had already wrapped up the NFC’s top playoff seed.

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