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Saints program cover story: Drew Brees

Saints great keeps holding off Father Time

Top 100 photos of Drew Brees during the 2016 season.

Don't think Father Time hasn't tried.

He has soft-peddled his pitch via the aches and pains of the profession, which singularly may constitute little more than a nagging nuisance, but which collectively can drip, drip and drip, until they drain away an athlete's desire to continue the journey.

And when that hasn't worked, he has been a bit more aggressive in his approach: a core injury during training camp, which curtailed the preparation of a man who is borderline maniacal regarding his preparation; a shoulder injury in 2015 which caused that man to miss the first and only game of his 11-year New Orleans Saints career due to injury; and later that same season, a torn plantar fascia in his right (plant foot) that left the man hobbled and a bit vulnerable during the battle, and usually demands rest regardless of the recuperative powers of the afflicted.

But Drew Brees has a cement-pillar caliber stiff-arm.

Perhaps Brees hasn't shown it on the field that often during a career that will ensure his induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, likely in his first year of eligibility, because scrambling and elusiveness haven't been major parts of his calling card.

But when it comes to warding off time, to keeping the degenerative process at bay, to playing as well now as he did five or 10 years ago even though past test cases scream that, chronologically, he perhaps should be about 25 percent to 50 percent as productive – and that still would be a pretty good season – yes, Brees has unleashed one of the all-time best stiff arms.

Understandably, as the Saints play their 2017 home opener Sunday, Sept. 17 against New England in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there is earned respect for the quarterback who directs the opposing huddle. The Patriots' Tom Brady is a five-time Super Bowl champion who, at 40 and in his 18th season, also appears not to have slowed as his career has advanced.

But roll call is short in this class. And in Brees, New Orleans' franchise and fans have been able to witness the feats of one of the students.

Brees entered this season third on the all-time list in passing yards (currently 66,402, trailing all-time leader Peyton Manning's 71,940), third in passing touchdowns (466, trailing Manning's record 539) and already the owner of more 5,000-yard passing seasons (five) than others collectively have compiled in league history (four).

At the age of 38, and entering the second game of his 17th season, you'd have to search long and hard for signs of slippage from Brees.

"My focus every offseason is to get better," Brees said. "It's not to hang on as long as I can or just to get by. I'm always looking for ways to improve.

"I think that as long as that's my mind-set, why shouldn't I keep getting better? Why shouldn't I be playing the best football of my career?"

Well, that's exactly what he's doing.

Brees had his second-most passing yards (5,208), fourth-most touchdowns (37) and third-highest completion percentage (70.0) last year, when he set an NFL single-season record with 471 completions.

Four of his 5,000-yard seasons have come in the last six years – and in 2015, when he missed the game due to his shoulder injury, he threw for 4,870 yards in 15 games.

When the Saints have won, he has been the primary reason offensively. When they have not, he has been the primary reason that many games have been within reach. And when he has had the rare man-bites-dog, three-interception day, he generally has followed it with brilliance.

A three-touchdown performance after a three-interception game in 2006; a four-touchdown explosion two weeks after a three-pick outing in 2008; after a five- and two-interception eye-opener in consecutive games in '12, consecutive games of four, three and four touchdowns (with one interception) to finish out the regular season; and after consecutive three-interception games last year, a regular-season finish of seven touchdowns and one interception in the last three games.

In the same way that Brees has manipulated defenses over the years and bounced back with excellence, he also appears to have bent time to his liking.

"Well, it's a challenge," he said. "It's hard. Every offseason, I take a look at my training regimen and my recovery regimen and what I need to do to continue to get stronger, continue to be wiser, continue to recover at as good a rate as I possibly can, and diet, nutrition, sleep habits, all that stuff.

"It is a constant challenge, though, because Father Time gets you at some point. But I think a lot of it is psychological. A lot of it is psychological. I feel like I can play for as long as I want to play, as long as I'm willing to make the sacrifices – to take care of my body, to make good decisions, take care of myself, prepare the right way. Just to have a great process. That's what I call all of those things wrapped up into one. It's a process – how do I manage the process to the best of my abilities."

As he alluded, the process includes Brees' diet. He's meticulous about the care of the body that he believes can have him playing productive football for the next several years.

"I do blood tests ever so often, they give me my allergy test," he said. "I listen to my body, I think that's the biggest thing. There's no magic formula. I think a lot of it is common sense.

"You can take blood tests that help identify maybe things that your body does not agree with. You know the foods that are good for you that are anti-inflammatory foods, and I try to consume those. I try to get the proper amount of protein, proper amount of carbs and smart fats, I eat a lot of vegetables.

"I just pay attention to what my body is telling me. If my body is hungry, I eat. I probably eat six times a day, but I'm not overeating. If I eat something and I don't feel good afterward, well then, it's my body telling me you know what, that food is probably not something that I should be eating. I'm a common-sense dieter."

But he's an uncommon player, one who has been able to stave off the decline that has been common for others half a decade younger than him.

Ask him how far he's willing to go to win, and the answer is simple:

"As far as I need to go. Because I know that this only lasts so long. This is our finite amount of time. This is our window, and I feel like we do have a great window here over the next few years. And I want to maximize that."

Expect to see him issuing a few more stiff-arms along the way.

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