WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (GoldandBlack.com) - On NFL Draft Day 2001, Joe Tiller and Purdue's football coachingstaff was confounded and, quite frankly, a little mad.
Their star quarterback, Drew Brees, had just fallen into thesecond round, where he was picked by the San Diego Chargers, aftera college career in which he led the resurgence of the Boilermakerprogram and became one of college football's finest players.
"We were all disappointed - Joe was very disappointed - aboutthat draft, that he wasn't taken high in that first round," saidGreg Olson, Brees' quarterbacks coach at Purdue before moving on tothe NFL's San Francisco 49ers and ultimately to his current post asthe Tampa Bay Buccanneers' offensive coordinator. "He was soaccurate and so intelligent and had so many differentqualities.
"I hadn't coached in the NFL (yet) so I remember being unsureabout (how good) the guys were who were playing at that level.Then, after my first year with San Francisco and coaching JeffGarcia, 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 withOlson's curiosity. He was just upset.
"To me, it's been vindicating what he's done in the NFL," saidthe now retired coach, before running down a laundry list of whatpro scouts said they thought Brees couldn't do. "I was reallydisappointed that day he wasn't a first-rounder. No one was moredisappointed than me he made it through the first round. I found itunbelievable.
"I just don't think people could accept the fact that a6-foot-tall guy could be as good as he is. And so, as a result, itwas, 'We have to start finding limitations in him. He must havelimitations. He can't be that good.' It was a fallacy, because heis that good."
Overcoming doubters is something Brees has always done, andthrived on, whether it was after he wrecked his knee in highschool, blew up his shoulder in his last game with the Chargers orfaced skeptical scouts' demerits prior to that draft.
He'll face more doubts Sunday, when Brees' Saints will beunderdogs in the Super Bowl, when New Orleans faces theIndianapolis Colts in Miami.
In as compelling a quarterback matchup as the big game has seenin some time, it'll be the 6-foot Brees - thrown on the figurativescrap 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-rocketarm and football mind like no other.
Chances are, Brees will not be intimidated.
"Any type of adversity that comes his way, he loves it," saidJim Chaney, Brees' offensive coordinator at Purdue and nowTennessee's. "Any competitive environment, that's when he's at hisbest.
"Peyton's the same way. That's why this is such as interestingball game. You're talking about two creatures cut from the samecloth here: competitive, intelligent, passionate. There's anobvious reason both those teams are there."
Since leaving San Diego, Brees has become one of the NFL's bestquarterbacks, let loose in a system devised by Coach Sean Paytonthat plays to Brees' strengths, Olson said, in that it allows himto throw downfield more than the Chargers ever did. When Brees wasin San Diego, it rode star running LaDainian Tomlinson and askedits 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 andcollege," Olson said. "He's always been more comfortable in theshotgun. Not that he couldn't go under center, but you can do a lotof 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 theNFL, he's never thrown for fewer than the 4,388 regular-seasonyards he passed for in 15 games this year.
During the past four seasons, no NFL quarterback has thrown formore yards. This season, Brees set an NFL single-season record forcompletion percentage at 70.6 percent.
Sunday's game could be a pivotal one in the determination ofBrees' NFL legacy, perhaps the lynchpin of a compelling Hall ofFame résumé, assuming continued success for at least afew more years.
If Brees and New Orleans win the Super Bowl, they will have doneso by defeating Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, a trioof 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. Butwhen the time comes, it certainly won't hurt the Texan's case thathe's also regarded as one of the league's finest people, maybe thesingular face of his adopted home city as it's risen from thepost-Katrina ashes.
No one who's ever been associated with Brees is surprised by hiscitizenship. And in Purdue circles, no one is surprised by hisimprobable success as a player.
"Success is a process for Drew Brees," Chaney said. "It justhappens naturally. With how hard he works and as goal-driven as heis, it's just inevitable. Success for him is just inevitable.
He'sthat type of kid."
Last week, Tiller fielded at least five phone calls at hisretirement home in Wyoming from media to talk about Brees. He jokedthat after a highly successful four-and-a-half-decade career incoaching, he's been summed up simply as "The guy who coached DrewBrees."
But all of the coaches who worked with Brees at Purdue agreed itwas an honor to have even been associated with him.
"Every coach that has a chance to work with a player of thatcaliber feels that way," Chaney said. "You might not even realizeit at the time, but as the years go past, and you're with otherplayers, you realize how special those years were."
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