Drew Brees, entering his 16th season, has managed to maintain elite production, even when the Saints have been inconsistent. Last year, his 75.47 QBR was his best since 2011. Brees recently took a few minutes after an evening team meeting to chat with SI.com about how record-setting temperatures affect performance, how players view an NFL commissioner on the hot seat, his 7-year old son entering the heat of flag-football competition, and more.
Jacob Feldman: July 2016 was the hottest month on record and August hasn’t been much cooler. Give us a sense: what does that kind of heat do to a player and how might a hot September affect games?
Drew Brees: We might play in a dome, but training camp is outside. We practice outside quite a bit. On an August day in New Orleans, we’re talking mid-90s and that’s just the temperature. Throw in the humidity and the heat index is well into the 100s. Then you put all those pads on and a helmet and everything else. I’d venture a guess that we’re talking in the 110’s. It’s funny—well, actually it’s not funny—we used to have training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. My first three years with the Saints there was a turf field we would practice on from time to time during camp. I remember that turf was so hot you literally couldn’t put your hand in the turf. The lineman—it would burn their fingers through their gloves, it would melt the bottom of your shoes. We put a thermometer on the turf and it hit 136. Talk about heat.
That’s where the Mission product comes into play. A lot of my teammates use it, especially throughout training camp. The towel stays cool no matter the temperature outside. You put it around your neck, and it brings your core body temperature back down. Even with the heat index around you, it might be very, very high, but your body is at a nice core temperature. You get in trouble with your core temperature getting higher than it should be, losing fluid, getting dehydrated and all the things that come along with that: dizziness, a lack of focus, and that kind of thing. In our business, performance is at a premium, so you’ve got to find ways to keep your body temperature as even as possible. I think it applies to other jobs too, roofer or construction worker, anybody outside this time of year.
JF:How have things changed in terms of understanding to where you can go grab a special towel and, rather than getting ribbed for it, teammates want a turn?
DB: Absolutely. When I was in high school, we’d get one water break halfway through practice and we’d be out there for what felt like three hours, twice a day, with one water break. That was the mentality: you get water, that’s a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, we’ve seen people have died from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. When the Vikings lineman, Korey Stringer died during training camp from heat exhaustion, I think people realized we had to become smarter about what we are doing. Guys need to stay hydrated. When you are not hydrated, you lose focus, you increase your chance of injury, of serious injury as well as just muscle pulls. It’s very important.
JF: Switching gears from hot temps to hot seats, you were refreshingly honest about your opinion of Roger Goodell in an interview with Maggie Gray this spring, saying you can’t trust any league investigations at this point. What was the reaction you got from other guys around the league after making that statement. Did you get some texts saying, ‘Amen’ or do you think your experiences have left you with a minority opinion?
DB: Honestly, I know how those things go. I served on the executive committee with the Players’ Association eight years and was involved with all of the negotiations with the league back during the 2011 CBA. Obviously we went through the whole Bountygate fiasco and I saw the way that was handled. I’ve made my opinion very clear. I’ve spoken about it.
JF: You were recently in New England for joint practices, and I know you and Tom go back to your days in the Big 10. Given your experience, do you have any advice for how he should handle this unique bit of adversity?
DB: I don’t know about any advice to give. It’s an unfortunate situation all the way around. Listen, I wasn’t privy to exactly what happened or anything so I can’t really comment one way or the other. It’s unfortunate that it’s happening.
JF: It does give you an opportunity to put some ground between yourself and Tom though. You both enter the season tied for third all time with 428 touchdown passes.
DB: Listen, I know I’ve been blessed to play long enough to just have that chance to be in the realm. You play long enough, those numbers add up. The bottom line is every year there is that sense of urgency. You never know when it is going to be your last play so you have to enter every game and every year with a great sense of urgency. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve gotten.
JF:And one game in particular should be pretty cool this year—in Week 3 when the Falcons come in for Monday Night Football to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Saints’ return to the Superdome. What kind of emotions will that bring?
DB: It’s going to be awesome. Obviously that’s a significant thing. Here we are,10 years later, reopening the Dome. That game symbolized the resurgence of the team and the city. How far New Orleans has come over the last 10 years, I hope it is a time to highlight the good things that have happened around the city and talk about the future of New Orleans. And hopefully it’s a win.
JF:What have you seen in New Orleans over the last 10 years?
DB: Obviously what happened was catastrophic and the amount of work needed to be done. It’s a 10, 15, 20-year plan and I think in so many ways the city has come back better than ever. The infrastructure, some of the plans for what they’ve done for the low income housing areas I think is a huge upgrade from what it was. I think the school system is light years better than it was prior to. We always had a strong private school system, but a charter school system took hold and provided a lot of families and a lot of communities with really great public education. I think New Orleans has become a hotbed for entrepreneurial talent. New Orleans has always been a big tourism city and they’ve done a great job re-purposing buildings, making them beautiful and functional, whether they are commercial or apartments, you name it. In so many ways, I feel like you can drive around New Orleans and go, ‘Wow, this came back even better than I ever imagined.’ There are some areas that still need a lot of work, but it’s one step at a time, just keep moving forward.
JF: One last, critical question: I saw you served as the offensive coordinator for your seven-year-old, Braylen, and his flag football team. How’d that go?
DB: Man, it was awesome. So the team was all first-graders playing in a league with first and second graders. We beat all the first-grade teams and lost to the 2nd grade teams.. There’s just such a difference athletically and developmentally. What I was so proud of and loved being a part of, was watching week to week how much better the kids got. They were having a great time, we had a great group of parents. We had one practice a week and then played one game on the weekend and then got together for pizza after the games. It’s everything you dream of when the kids are playing. My son plays receiver. His focus and his attention to detail as we went along, I was really impressed with it. I thought it’d be all over the place but he got locked in.
On his first carry, he was handed a reverse. He took it around the corner and ran out of bounds six inches before the 1st down on 3rd down (and they only get three downs. I went over and said, ‘Braylen, first of all, this is flag football. You’re not going to get hit. Second of all, don’t you ever run out of bounds.’ He never ran out of bounds again. The very next game he got a carry headed out of bounds and he was running so fast, I thought for sure he was going out, but he slammed on the brakes, two defenders went flying right by. He cut it back and scored a touchdown. I was so proud.