It was August 7 and the Saints had just wrapped up their annual Black and Gold Scrimmage at the team's training facility in Metairie.
Following the scrimmage, QB Drew Brees spent extra time with the receiving corps, running routes the group felt they needed to fine-tune. Then he spent more than 20 minutes signing autographs for the thousands of fans who battled the 110-degree heat index just to watch their beloved team scrimmage.
After the autograph session, Brees ran to a group of underprivileged children who were making their annual trip to training camp as guests of the Saints. Brees shook hands and smiled with as much enthusiasm as the children who were meeting No. 9. Brees then went to talk to the media, where he stressed his displeasure with his squad's performance.
Despite coming off a record setting season and the team's first Super Bowl victory, Brees said there is always room for improvement. The Super Bowl XLIV MVP was not happy with his performance in the scrimmage.
"I feel like we should score every time we touch the ball and we didn't do that today," said Brees. "That's frustrating. Obviously the defense is playing very well. I think they make us better as an offense. It is fun to compete against them everyday. You either walk off the field feeling like you got the best of them or feeling like they got the best of you. Regardless, there is always a play or two out there that you wish you had done differently."
When Brees finished with his media session, he didn't go back in the locker room. He laced up his helmet and jogged back out to the practice field. Following a two-hour scrimmage in oppressive heat conditions, the 10-year veteran began running sideline-to-sideline sprints – in full pads.
While taking a breather between sprints, Brees spotted a group of kids looking in his direction while holding memorabilia and sharpies.
"I will be with you guys in a minute, alright?" said Brees with a smile. The fan-friendly QB wanted to greet the children, but without interrupting his rhythmic workload.
It was six months to the day after Super Bowl XLIV, and here was Brees doing what he calls "self-penalizing."
"I punish myself from time to time with conditioning or whatever," said the never-satisfied gunslinger. "When you feel like you don't have something down and it needs some work and time. You spend the extra time to get it done and make sure you feel comfortable and confident with it."
"Self-penalizing" is something Brees has done since 2004. He said the type and length of self-inflicted punishment depends on what he missed in practice.
"I usually pick a number and it means something," said Brees. "If I throw a pick, I might say 'for every pick I throw, I will run two extra gassers or for every incompletion or bad decision I am going to do this.' If I ran a two-minute drill that I'm not happy with, I might go back through it again and visualize the defense I saw and run the through the routes that I wish I would have done or the throws I wish I would have made."
As hectic as August 7 might have seemed for Brees, it was no different than any other day. Arguably Brees' most remarkable trait is his time management skills. He always finds a way to balance his responsibilities to his family, team and fans no matter how many different directions he is pulled.
More than anything, Brees understands the impact he has as the leader of the Saints. The "self-punishment" or extra work he and the receivers put in might be the difference in a game-winning drive. He knows a five-second handshake or autograph signing will give that fan something to cherish for the rest of his or her life. He understands when he talks to the media, in reality he is communicating to the thousands of fans who support him and the Saints.
With how humble Brees is and the way he constantly evaluates himself and highlights his mistakes, someone unfamiliar with No. 9 would never believe he was the most publicized NFL player over the past six months.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP is a New York Times best-selling author, cover man for Madden NFL 11, and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview and Men's Health October issue.
WR Marques Colston, who arrived in New Orleans the same year as Brees, said the success has not changed the QB or his approach.
"He is still the same guy that will never settle," said Colston. "He knows better than anybody that it takes a complete team effort to reach the ultimate goal, so he pushes us just as hard as he pushes himself."
NFL Network analyst and New Orleans native Marshall Faulk was on the Rams' 2000 Super Bowl championship team and experience a similar over-the-top media tour and expectations that accompany earning the Vince Lombardi Trophy that Brees has. Faulk said the key ingredient to Brees' success is his balanced lifestyle.
"Drew has always had great balance between his football life and his family life," said Faulk "Now, even after he has won a Super Bowl, I think the balance will continue. He understands where his focus needs to be. I think for him, it was definitely a challenge this offseason because there are fun things you want to do, but you understand what comes first – family then football. After that, you can enjoy the fun things and I think he has done a great job at that."
Earlier this year, Brees received the Professional Football Writers of America's "Good Guy Award" that goes to the player who best helped the media do their job.
"The media is our strongest connection to our fans and it is important that we make ourselves available and be accountable when the time calls for us to meet with the media," said Brees after winning the award. "The media tell our story, and I recognize the important job that they have."
No matter how many media outlets, fans or fellow NFL members applaud Brees for
his work, there will always be one outspoken detractor – himself. The plethora of accolades has not quenched his appetite for success but strengthened his desire to reach new heights.
At 31 years old and entering his 10th year in the league, Brees is at the top of his game and hasn't shown any sign of slowing down because his No. 1 critic won't let him.