On Feb. 8, 1986, the Endymion parade made its annual Mardi Gras trek through the streets of New Orleans. The theme that year was, “What Might Have Been,” and the floats were about things that were never going to happen.
The most memorable float was the simplest one. It featured a newspaper front page with the blaring headline, “Saints Win Super Bowl.”
It was a hoot — a perfect fit for a parade about things that would never happen.
The Saints had been playing for nearly 20 years, and they were about as far away from the Super Bowl as New Orleans is from Australia. For a team that had never even had a winning season, the Super Bowl was unthinkable.
Flash forward 24 years, almost to the day, to Feb. 7, 2010, when “What Might Have Been” became “Look What Happened:” The Saints, led by quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton, beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to win a Super Bowl.
All this came to mind when Brees announced his retirement Sunday, wrapping up a 20-year NFL career that included 15 years in New Orleans. It is no overstatement to say that he and Payton, arriving in 2006 a few months after Hurricane Katrina had drowned the city, saved the franchise, turned the Saints into a perennial power and gave New Orleans hope.
The superlatives about Brees will continue for a while, but when the fuss dies down, there are a few things Saints fans, and anyone who appreciates the hard work that is required for success of any kind, can remember when they start missing No. 9.
First is that his peers noticed the way Brees focused on excellence. “You’ve done it the right way,” Manning said on a video the night Brees broke Manning’s NFL record for passing yards.
And on Sunday, the Saints’ NFC South rivals Atlanta and Tampa Bay posted kind messages on Twitter. “We thank you, Drew. But we won’t miss you,” said the Falcons — who are 9-21 against the Saints since 2006.
Then there’s the way Brees and Payton gave the Saints and their fans a confidence that rarely appears in sports — and even less rarely sustains itself for 15 years. Third and 12? No problem. Down by 2 with 1:30 left to play? Just get Brees the ball and the Saints will pull it out.
It didn’t always happen that way, of course. But it did often enough. Saints fans knew that with Brees throwing the ball, the Who Dats always had a chance.
Finally, what Brees said to his children on the sidelines in 2018, the night he set the league record for passing yardage, is good advice for everyone with a goal.
“You can accomplish anything in life you’re willing to work for,” he told his three sons, with his wife and daughter looking on.
Luck plays a role, too. Brees almost went to Miami in 2006 — till Nick Saban passed him up. But when Brees had the opportunity to work with an up-and-coming offensive mastermind, he made NFL history. Saints fans will never see the likes of it again.
— From The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal