The inside scoop on the Boilermakers football and basketball …
Drew Brees takes on Peyton Manning in Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami.
Updated: Friday, 05 Feb 2010, 12:10 PM EST
Published : Friday, 05 Feb 2010, 12:10 PM EST
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (GoldandBlack.com) - On NFL Draft Day 2001, Joe Tiller and Purdue's football coaching staff was confounded and, quite frankly, a little mad.
Their star quarterback, Drew Brees, had just fallen into the second round, where he was picked by the San Diego Chargers, after a college career in which he led the resurgence of the Boilermaker program and became one of college football's finest players.
"We were all disappointed - Joe was very disappointed - about that draft, that he wasn't taken high in that first round," said Greg Olson, Brees' quarterbacks coach at Purdue before moving on to the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and ultimately to his current post as the Tampa Bay Buccanneers' offensive coordinator. "He was so accurate and so intelligent and had so many different qualities.
"I hadn't coached in the NFL (yet) so I remember being unsure about (how good) the guys were who were playing at that level. Then, after my first year with San Francisco and coaching Jeff Garcia, I remember thinking, 'Drew has as good a chance, or better, than this player and he's a Pro Bowler.'"
Tiller, the Boilermakers' head coach, didn't look at it with Olson's curiosity. He was just upset.
"To me, it's been vindicating what he's done in the NFL," said the now retired coach, before running down a laundry list of what pro scouts said they thought Brees couldn't do. "I was really disappointed that day he wasn't a first-rounder. No one was more disappointed than me he made it through the first round. I found it unbelievable.
"I just don't think people could accept the fact that a 6-foot-tall guy could be as good as he is. And so, as a result, it was, 'We have to start finding limitations in him. He must have limitations. He can't be that good.' It was a fallacy, because he is that good."
Overcoming doubters is something Brees has always done, and thrived on, whether it was after he wrecked his knee in high school, blew up his shoulder in his last game with the Chargers or faced skeptical scouts' demerits prior to that draft.
He'll face more doubts Sunday, when Brees' Saints will be underdogs in the Super Bowl, when New Orleans faces the Indianapolis Colts in Miami.
In as compelling a quarterback matchup as the big game has seen in some time, it'll be the 6-foot Brees - thrown on the figurative scrap heap how many times now? - and his moxie vs. Peyton Manning, born and bred to be an NFL star from birth, 6-5 with a laser-rocket arm and football mind like no other.
Chances are, Brees will not be intimidated.
"Any type of adversity that comes his way, he loves it," said Jim Chaney, Brees' offensive coordinator at Purdue and now Tennessee's. "Any competitive environment, that's when he's at his best.
"Peyton's the same way. That's why this is such as interesting ball game. You're talking about two creatures cut from the same cloth here: competitive, intelligent, passionate. There's an obvious reason both those teams are there."
Since leaving San Diego, Brees has become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, let loose in a system devised by Coach Sean Payton that plays to Brees' strengths, Olson said, in that it allows him to throw downfield more than the Chargers ever did. When Brees was in San Diego, it rode star running LaDainian Tomlinson and asked its QB mainly to operate a short passing game that limited Brees' playmaking ability.
"It's more of an offense that he'd run in high school and college," Olson said. "He's always been more comfortable in the shotgun. Not that he couldn't go under center, but you can do a lot of things with him in the shotgun, with five wide (receivers)."
Brees' numbers in recent years have been astronomical.
Without the benefit of any receivers you'd call "stars" in the NFL, he's never thrown for fewer than the 4,388 regular-season yards he passed for in 15 games this year.
During the past four seasons, no NFL quarterback has thrown for more yards. This season, Brees set an NFL single-season record for completion percentage at 70.6 percent.
Sunday's game could be a pivotal one in the determination of Brees' NFL legacy, perhaps the lynchpin of a compelling Hall of Fame résumé, assuming continued success for at least a few more years.
If Brees and New Orleans win the Super Bowl, they will have done so by defeating Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, a trio of future Hall of Fame QBs, in the span of a month.
The Hall of Fame discussion is probably premature, though. Brees is only 31 and lots of football remains to be played. But when the time comes, it certainly won't hurt the Texan's case that he's also regarded as one of the league's finest people, maybe the singular face of his adopted home city as it's risen from the post-Katrina ashes.
No one who's ever been associated with Brees is surprised by his citizenship. And in Purdue circles, no one is surprised by his improbable success as a player.
"Success is a process for Drew Brees," Chaney said. "It just happens naturally. With how hard
he works and as goal-driven as he is, it's just inevitable. Success for him is just inevitable. He's that type of kid."
Last week, Tiller fielded at least five phone calls at his retirement home in Wyoming from media to talk about Brees. He joked that after a highly successful four-and-a-half-decade career in coaching, he's been summed up simply as "The guy who coached Drew Brees."
But all of the coaches who worked with Brees at Purdue agreed it was an honor to have even been associated with him.
"Every coach that has a chance to work with a player of that caliber feels that way," Chaney said. "You might not even realize it at the time, but as the years go past, and you're with other players, you realize how special those years were."