Walker: Drew Brees, driven by Super Bowl quest, faces toughest challenge yet in 20th NFL season

 nola.com  08/01/2020 23:13:02 

If the NFL season makes it to February, Drew Bees wants to be right there with it.

Brees knows better than most just how hard it is to get back to the Super Bowl.

The past 10 seasons have taught him that lesson all too well.

Some years, the offense was good enough and the defense wasn't.

Other years  well one year in particular  a call just didn't go the Saints' way.

And then there are seasons like the one a year ago when the Saints simply didn't get it done.

So when Brees walked off the Superdome field in January after a gut punching playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, he had to think longer than usual and harder than usual if that was it for him.

It took a lot of thought, a lot of prayer, a lot of conversations with his wife, Brittany, and several others close to him.

Inevitably, his decision for a 20th NFL season came down to one thing: playing on football's grandest stage six months from now, just three weeks after he turns 42.

"That's why I came back," Brees said on Saturday in his first availability to local media since the season ended. "... I came back for my team and I came back to chase that. And we'll take it one day at a time, one week at a time. And I'm gonna enjoy every second of this journey and value every moment."

Brees desperately wants another ring.

His first one erased four decades of frustration for a franchise starving to get its hands on a Lombardi Trophy.

A second one would surely mean so much more to Brees, especially after the controversy of the past few months and the uncertainty of the next few months.

Getting to Tampa for Super Bowl LV won't be easy for Brees.

The schedule is tougher. Training camp is shorter.

Heck, getting to Tampa won't be easy for the NFL, especially if it faces the same issues that Major League Baseball is experiencing in trying to return outside of a bubble during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think everybody's worried about that," Brees said. "Nobody has the answers. Nobody knows exactly how this is gonna play out... We'll just worry about the things we can control, and we'll take it one day at a time and if we have cases or if we have an outbreak, then I know we'll have a great plan for it."

How COVID-19 affects the season remains to be seen.

How Brees' remarks in June about national anthem protests and social justice that drew criticism from his teammates affects the team may have already been resolved.

"We have reconciled and we have put closure on anything from the past and we are moving forward to focusing on the issues of social justice that face our entire country, especially some of the things that are happening locally," Brees said.

His teammates echoed similar sentiments this week. Assuming that's true, that's one less concern the Saints will have to worry about. It helps that the Saints have all the pieces for what looks like a legitimate Super Bowl run. A shortened training camp without any preseason games shouldn't matter to such a veteran team. Oh, and Brees says he's healthy.

The thumb he damaged in Week 2 last season that caused him to miss five games is fine. The locker room, everyone says, is fine.

Time will tell if that's enough for Brees to get the Saints back to the Super Bowl.

Brees says he hasn't thought about his plans after this season. He's not even looking ahead to next week.

"I'm not looking past one day at a time," Brees said. "With everything, with the new normal, we're navigating that. I am just taking it, literally, one day at a time. I'm excited for this season. There are obviously a lot of unknowns, a lot of variables and a lot of things we are going to have to navigate."

One thing that isn't a variable is who will be running the Saints' offense this season. It'll be the same guy who has run it for the past 14 seasons. A quest for a Super Bowl brought him back for a 15th season in New Orleans.

"My wife and I had this conversation back when I made the decision," Brees said. "Yes, I'm coming back. I want to play for my team. But I also feel that this year is going to be about something much greater than football. And at this point I think that was an understatement."

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