Orlando – As expected, the ball-boy job for the NFC Pro Bowl team turned out to be a Brees.
With the sons of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees filling the role, and splitting time between filling holes and tackling Pro Bowlers and fulfilling their duties, it was the kind of magical experience that Brees likely imagined it would be for sons Bowen, Baylen and Callen.
Day 1 on Wednesday got off to a shoeless, but understandable start. Baylen did his work in his socks so as to not dirty the new LeBrons he was given for his birthday (and, really, who among us wouldn't take a similar approach?).
Otherwise, Brees and his sons cherished the opportunity.
"It's been awesome," Brees said Saturday, after the final practice at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. "Better than I could have imagined.
"It clicked for them not too long ago, where they just became football-obsessed. Obviously, they love all the players on our (Saints) team but they're huge fans of guys around the league. So for them to go from seeing highlights of those players to actually getting a chance to meet them in person and talk to them, it was just a dream come true for them.
Saints players and staff prepare for the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl during NFC practice on Friday, Jan. 27.
"I think we all look at moments when we were a kid, those defining moments – those moments where you had a chance to meet somebody or we saw something, or something just resonated with us that might have inspired us to become who we became. I think these are opportunities for those types of defining moments. Maybe my son was exposed to something this week, met somebody this week on the teams here that just makes them want to pursue whatever it is. Inspire them. That's what it's all about."
The bonding experience only was rivaled by the accumulation of swag.
"It's awesome," Brees said, smiling. "With my boys, this is stuff – they'll talk about this forever. And they'll have the memorabilia to prove it, too.
"They were just, like, combing both locker rooms, talking to guys, trying to take their gloves, trade jerseys with them. Every player that they liked, they would go up to them and say, 'Hey, my Dad will trade a jersey with you if you'll sign one for me.' It's pretty funny."