Drew Brees makes a point during a brief news conference at Mississippi College Tuesday.

Drew Brees, who turned 40 in January, visited Clinton on a warm spring Tuesday to make a speech at Mississippi College’s spring scholarship dinner. One of his first observations was this:

“It’s not supposed to be this hot in April is it?” Brees said, smiling.

Well, no, it’s not. But, Brees was reminded, Tuesday was an arctic blast compared to what it was like in Jackson in July and August of 2006. Remember that, Drew?

Brees, it should be noted, grimaced at the memory.

“I passed by Fast Freddie (Mississippi College great Fred McAfee) the other day in the locker room, and he was talking to some of our young defensive backs,” Brees said. “Freddie said ‘Hey, Drew, come here and tell these guys how hot it was in Jackson at training camp. They don’t believe me.’”

Rick Cleveland

It was hot as Hades, as anybody who was there will attest. No matter how hot and humid it was one day, the next day seemed hotter and more humid. And the next, and the next, and so on.

“We had 15 straight days of two-a-days in that heat,” Brees said. “Normally, that time a year, you expect to have a practice or two rained out. Never happened. It was miserable, just miserable.

“I can’t say it was a pleasant memory but it strengthened us as a team, it brought us together,” Brees continued. “It was definitely a defining moment for us as a team.”

Hard to believe, that was almost 13 years ago. Remember? Everything, where the Saints were concerned, was so uncertain. They were coming off a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged 3-13 season. They had a new coach in Sean Payton, a new quarterback in Brees and his status was anything but certain. He had suffered what many believed a career-ending shoulder injury the year before in San Diego. The Dolphins and Nick Saban could have signed him. They passed.

There were so many more questions. Deuce McAllister was nearing the end of his splendid Saints run. The offensive line was a patchwork of no-names and question marks. The defense was being built on the fly. Reggie Bush was a rookie. (One of the great moments of that training camp came when McAfee was asked about giving his jersey, number 25, to Bush, and McAfee replied, “Yeah, I thought Reggie did a really good Fast Freddie imitation out there.”)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ right shoulder was often iced down at hot, humid Millsaps in 2006.  

Some of Brees’ early passes fluttered. Some didn’t reach their intended target. Brees, then 27, insisted he would be OK. The shoulder, he said, was 85 percent ready and he’d fix the other 15 percent before the regular season. “That’s what training camp is for,” he told us.

And then, he did it.

In one of the most amazing turn-arounds these eyes have ever witnessed, those patched-together Saints went on to win 10 regular season games and reach the NFC Championship at the other end of I-55 where they lost to the Chicago Bears.

Payton has since coached the Saints to a Super Bowl championship and several playoff seasons, but nothing will equal the job he did that first season. I saw it, still don’t believe it. The Saints went from remarkably abysmal to just plain remarkable over the course of one season.

And Brees showed everyone that his shoulder and arm were just fine. He has since gone on to become the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage and surely the most accurate thrower in the history of the sport.

At 40, he says, he can’t wait for next season. His approach is the same as it has always been. He took February to rest and spend most of the time with his family. In March, he began to reassess his game and determine what he needs to do to improve, to become a better quarterback.

“That’s the process I’m going through right now,” he said.

In a brief news conference before his Tuesday night speech, Brees said he likes what the Saints have done in free agency and with the few choices they had in the draft.

“We got better,” he said.

“No,” he answered, he’s not quite over the way the Saints 2018 season ended with the botched, bordering-on-criminal official’s call in the NFC championship game.

“I’m not sure you ever really get over something like that,” he said.

But he also said he doesn’t dwell on it because “nothing can change what happened.”

“The game is played by imperfect players, coached by imperfect coaches, and officiated by imperfect officials,” he said.

“The league’s competition committee looked at it and changed the rules so plays like that can be be reviewed. Hopefully, something like that won’t happen again.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.