New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees met with the media following practice, one day after being honored by Sports Illustrated for the Sportsman of the Year. Brees discussed the honor, as well as this week's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
What is your biggest thrill about being named Sportsman of the Year?
"It was unbelievable. Just looking back on it, I feel like it's one of the greatest honors you can receive because when you think about who's eligible: it's every sport, man, woman, team, over the course of a year. You think about all the great things that have happened in sports over a year in 2010 to even be considered amongst that group. It's humbling. I was in awe and in shock when I got the call three weeks ago and was told that I was the Sportsman of the year for 2010. And then I started researching all the past winners. If you look at the past names, it's unbelievable; guys like Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali. You go back to Billie Jean King, the first woman to win the award in 1972 and she shared that with John Wooden, arguably one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, teams such as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, the women's World Cup (soccer) team from the late 1990's."
You know the list well?
"Absolutely, the (2004) Red Sox breaking the so-called curse and here are the Saints winning the Super Bowl. So much of it is a reflection of our team, our city and what we were able to accomplish and a lot of it too is the impact you make off the field. All of those things considered it was really an unbelievable honor and a special night."
You knew about this three weeks ago and didn't tell us?
"Yes. They did a pretty extensive piece. Tim Layden from Sports Illustrated came down and spent a lot of time with me, Brittany and the family. He also talked to my college roommates, a bunch of former coaches of mine, mentors, family members, going all the way back to high school in some cases. There's a lot of people in the article that have been a big part of my life. He really did a great job with it. Some of those people didn't even know what it was. They just thought they were doing a Sports Illustrated article, but I think for me, the fact that it's right in the middle of football season and right towards the end of the regular season, my focus is locked in on the year, each week game by game, going up to New York, being in this room and you see all these people and guys like Joe Montana that came back, Curt Schilling, Mike Eruzione, Bill Russell, Billie Jean King who were there as past winners. They're introduced and they just kind of give you the nod as kind of passing the torch somewhat or you're carrying the torch for them as this year's winner. You just feel a big sense of responsibility to do all of the things that got you there."
Was it a little nicer for you to go there on a four game winning streak?
"Yes, they said they were all rooting for us to win the Dallas game."
Speaking of a four-game win streak, what have you guys been able to do better than when you started 4-3?
"I think part of it was mindset, feeling like maybe you have all these things to manage. All you've heard all offseason was the curse that's kind of put on the teams that go on the Super Bowl from the year before, just the challenge of repeating and all those things. We weren't naive to those things. We looked at them. We studied them and then yet I still think that you have to experience it yourself. You're still going to go through some adversity and growing pains. I think the misconception is that from year to year some say that you pick up where you left off or you kind of start where you finish the year before. No, you're starting all over. You take those experiences from the year before and that confidence and that type of thing but you're still re-establishing your identity. I feel like we struggled a little bit at times. We had some injuries that were probably unexpected early on. We just had to kind of find our groove and our rhythm and establish that identity again. A part of that was let's stop comparing ourselves with last year's team. That's what everybody wants to do because it's easy to sit there and track the numbers and statistics, week by week and the record. The fact is that it's a different year, different team, different league year. You look at the scope of the league this year as opposed to last year, last year you could say that there were two or three teams at the top and now there's about eight or nine teams sitting around 7-4, 8-3, 9-2 with all having a legitimate shot. It's a different year, but one which I think we can be better this year."
Do you feel like you're a team that people are saying we don't want to play right now?
"I don't know about that, but we're certainly not looking at the playoff picture right now other than it's one week at a time. All we can win is one game. There's plenty of big games as we go along in the month of December here. They only get bigger as you get closer to the end of the regular season. For us, it's a matter of staying very focused. We want to keep this win streak going. That breeds confidence, momentum. We want to keep it going."
You have mentioned wanting to improve red zone efficiency. Does a quarterback have a checklist in the red zone of things that you want to do?
"Decisions have to happen typically quicker in the red zone because the windows are much smaller. Everything's compressed and condensed. Safeties aren't as deep because they've run out of room. It's harder to run the ball down there because safeties are now closer to you, so they have extra defenders in and around the line of scrimmage. It's harder to throw because they're tighter windows. All of those things are reasons why when you get into the red zone it's a tougher down. I feel like we made some improvements last week and we can continue to do that."
You talked earlier in the season about improving third down efficiency and you did. Is it a matter of prioritizing it?
"Yes, there's probably three or four critical statistics that you look at each week as far as offensive football. It's ball security, third down efficiency, red zone efficiency, time of possession. If you can at the end of the game look at those things and you've done well, you can pretty much determine the outcome of the game for the most part. That's why we focus on those statistics more so than any ones. I think making it a priority, talking about it, teaching it, not to say that you're abandoning the other ones, that's something that we've talked about now since week three or four as being an emphasis and have struggled with it at times. Hopefully we're headed in the right direction."
Is it safe to say you guys have been a different team since the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh for whatever reason?
"Yes, I think that was a confidence-builder for us. Coming off that tough Cleveland loss, sitting there at 4-3, just wanting to prove to ourselves and everybody else that we are who we think we are. That was important. You look at from the fourth quarter of that game through Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, we've played some of our best football of the season. I still feel like we have plenty of room to grow."
Isn't it weird that for a team coming off a Super Bowl Championship that the light switch can go on and off like that?
"Yes, it's funny how that is. A Super Bowl team, a team that has accomplished the epitome of success and has known that feeling before, it hadn't quite happened yet this season, so all of a sudden you're seven games into the season and you're not there yet. All of a sudden in that eighth game for whatever reason you feel like it's coming together and at times that's the way it is. That's why you can't become frustrated and negative when maybe things aren't going your way. You establish your routine and plan throughout the week. Gradually if you do things the right way long enough, it will happen."
Even though good things don't come out of a loss, is there any kind of dividend in what you're reaping now from Cleveland and Arizona?
"Yes. Absolutely. Those games prove to you that we would argue that in those games we felt like we had the better team and we walk away having lost and lost pretty convincingly. It just goes to show you that you can take nothing for granted and you have to still go out there and execute to perfection and make sure you're not leaving any stone unturned."
Does potentially bad weather affect how you might play the position like a golfer might encounter bad conditions?
Yes, you have to manage that, whether it's wind, rain, snow or cold, how does that affect the passing game, your ability to throw, catch and the way the ball's going to move through the air. You look at those things and gauge it as the week goes on and just kind of create that mindset going into the game."
Do you look at it pre-game?
"You test it, what the weather conditions are, what adjustments you might need to make and sometimes a game starts off like in Tampa in 2008. That started off a nice day. All of a sudden that monsoon came rolling through big game. It was just dumping on you and you have to make the adjustment."
Do you ever try to throw with a glove on either hand?
"Yes. I've done it three times in my career with a glove on my right hand. Once was a blizzard. Once was that monsoon in Tampa just for a quarter because it dumped on us and it stopped and I took the glove off. One time in Kansas City in the cold rain."
How does a glove feel?
"It's fine. Doug Flutie did that quite a bit. I spent time with him in San Diego. That's when I first experimented with it. It's just one of those things I know I have in my back pocket if for some reason the conditions get bad enough to where I feel it's necessary. I'd rather not do it, but I feel comfortable doing it."
Marvin Lewis said he was hoping for a blizzard. Why would he say that?
"Did he? I don't know because they live in it. Maybe he feels like they're used to those conditions us being a domed team and all the things that people would say about dome teams going into tough conditions."
Do you think it hurts Marques Colston's feelings where he has 800 followers on twitter as opposed to 1.5 million for Ochocinco?
"I like Marques just the way he is."
Can you discuss how your receiving corps has a different personality than Cincinnati's?
"Yes, I think our guys are not quite as flamboyant or outspoken. I don't know. I guess everybody has a different personality. I don't think it takes anything away from how competitive our guys are. They are competitive. They work extremely hard. To play the receiver position you do need a little swagger and a little cockiness, confidence and a little edge to you where you want the ball and want the ball every play, but you understand the team concept and at times I'm going to be running the clear-out route for somebody else. If we come off a couple of bad games here where a guy like Marques hasn't caught enough balls or Lance (Moore) or one of these other guys, you're not going to hear about them yapping about it in the media, because I think we all understand the team concept here. We've all bought in. They know their time will come, so whereas in other places the minute something goes wrong somebody's chirping. That's why I love my guys. They're great to work with and they make it fun to come to work every day and we put in a lot of time together to get on the same page and do something really great with our passing game. I think over the last five years, we've been able to do that."
How tough can it be to manage?
"That's part of the job of the head coach. That's part of the job of the quarterback to manage personalities and such on offense. That's just the team. When you have 53 guys on a team and 11 on offense at a time, within the framework of the system, you're trying to give people opportunities and spread the ball around. From game to game for us, you never know who it's going to be. One game Marques catches ten, the other (Jeremy) Shockey's catching ten. You just have to buy in to the system and you believe. I think in that case good things happen. At times, things won't go your way. You might get frustrated. I think the whole thing is to stay positive and understand that there are no agendas around here. We're just trying to win football games and do what's in the best interests of the team."
What is it like to be in Carson Palmer's shoes?
"I don't know. I can't speak for Carson. You look at his career with Chad Ochocinco. They've accomplished some pretty unbelievable things as a tandem. TO's having a great year, so I don't know the dynamics there. I do know Carson was pretty excited to add TO to the mix coming from the season, because I talked to him, just to add another weapon. Obviously TO proved that he's still doing it at age 36 or whatever he is. He's been doing it a long time, but I can't speak for him."
You won Sportsman of the Year because of what you did off the field as well as on. Do you ever envision having a political career when your playing career is over?
"Maybe. I'm not closing any doors, but I'm hoping I can play football for quite a while longer and then we'll take a look at potential opportunities."
It sounds like maybe you've crossed that bridge a little bit?
"There are a lot of things I think about. I want to do this or that. I feel I can make a difference doing this or that. That's one of those things I feel I could make a difference. We'll see. It's a long while (away)."
What have you done individually and the offense done better during this four game win streak?
"I think we've cashed in on more big plays the last four or five games than we were early on. That number's slowly rising. I feel like we've spread it around pretty well. I feel like we've run the ball better. Those are probably the big ones."
What do you think of how Pierre Thomas is looking?
"He looks pretty good right now. I can't wait to see him back out on gameday. He's a quarterback's best friend when it comes to running the football, throwing it to him. He's great in protection, so when that time comes it will be great."