The end of Drew Brees’ epic career in January came quietly, without last-minute heroics to snatch a playoff victory from Tom Brady and the Bucs, and without the decibel-busting ovation that, in a year sans COVID-19, would have marked an appropriate sendoff after 15 glorious seasons, many records and one unforgettable Super Bowl run.
Instead, our last image of Brees on the Superdome field was an intimate one, of a late-night game of catch in a deserted stadium with his wife Brittany and their kids.
It felt just right, yet also wrong. While Brees is very much a family man, he’s also a favorite son of a Saints Nation in need of closure, which will finally come Thursday when the team will formally honor its star quarterback at halftime of a nationally televised contest against the Buffalo Bills.
That the big public sendoff will happen on Thanksgiving is fitting. Brees’ years in New Orleans, beginning the dark days just after Hurricane Katrina, gave the region much to be thankful for, both on and off the gridiron.
The story is well-known yet worth retelling. Brees came to a devastated city after he’d suffered a potentially career-ending shoulder injury, and like New Orleans, he had much to prove to the world about pride, hard work, and resilience in the face of immense challenge. Starting with the exhilarating "Domecoming" victory over Atlanta on Monday Night Football, up to the glorious 2009 championship season and continuing through last year’s health struggles — ours and his — Brees embraced his adopted community, and it embraced him right back.
Nearly a year after that last playoff loss, the Texas native has embarked on a new career in the NBC broadcast booth, and his old coach and teammates are still finding their way without him calling the plays, a challenge made all the more daunting by Jameis Winston’s season-ending injury. Time marches on, which is why the annual national pause to count our blessings is so resonant.
For Saints fans and for New Orleans, the Brees era was a blessing worth savoring.