In the fall of 1997 I was a senior in high school and some backup quarterback by the name of Drew Brees was playing mop-up action for the Boilermakers in blowouts. The next fall I would join him on campus. It feels weird to look up to a player and see the end of his career coming when he is only nine months older than I am, but over the past 19 falls I have had the pleasure of watching Brees go from "Freshman backup" to "NFL Hall of Famer". He left West Lafayette in 2000, but today he was back home for only the third time as the Saints played the Colts.
Brees is pretty much the reason I am a Colts season ticket holder. In 2005 he was coming through with San Diego and I wanted to see him. I saw the resale value in getting the entire season instead of just one game and pulled the trigger on getting season tickets. Since then I have regularly sold about half the season (making a nice profit during the prime Manning years) after getting in before there was a season ticket waiting list and enjoying some football at a fraction of the price as a result. Even though the Colts are my team, because of Brees' contributions to Purdue, he has always been a must-see when he has come through Indianapolis.
I was there in 2005 when he ended the Colts' first run at an undefeated season with San Diego. The Colts came in at 13-0, but Brees was 22 of 33 with 255 yards and a touchdown as the Chargers won 26-17. I was there in 2007 when he was 28 of 41 for 192 yards and 2 INTs as the Colts smoked New Orleans 41-10 on the night they opened the NFL season and hung a Super Bowl banner.
It was a long wait, but I was there today in what will probably be his final game ever in the state of Indiana. Since the Saints are in the NFC they won't return to Indianapolis until 2023, and it is unlikely Drew will play that year at age 44. Unless he goes to another team, this was his last hurrah.
It was a bit of a bittersweet day seeing him play in person for the final time. I proudly went in my Saints jersey to show appreciation to a player that means so much to us as Purdue fans. There were a lot of regular Saints fans in my section, who were whooping it up New Orleans went up 27-0, but there were also a lot of Purdue shirts in attendance. Clearly, I was not the only one there to pay homage.
He wasn't at his best. He has been banged up and the Saints are clearly not a great team this year. I won't call him old ebcause dammit I am only 9 months younger and I am not old! He had 255 yards and a bad interception in the end zone, but he threw a touchdown for the 42nd consecutive game. That in itself is amazing. He holds the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 54 games. The older record was 47, so he is approaching that record again after it stood for 49 years. What's even more amazing is that his current run of 42 games started after the game where his previous streak of 54 was broken (and in that game he had a TD pass called back on a penalty. Basically, he has thrown a touchdown pass in 96 of the last 97 career games, and if not for a penalty he would have more than doubled a record that stood for 49 years and many thought was unbreakable.
The fourth quarter was vintage Brees. As the Colts were trying to come back he threaded the needle on a pair of long throws down the sideline for critical first downs. One flipped the field after the Colts pinned the Saints at the one. The other was the game-clinching 1st down.
I don't know how Drew's career will end. That time is coming sometime in the next few years, and as Purdue fans, it will basically be the end of an era. It is rare that you can say you saw one of the best that has ever played the game start his career, but that is how we are with Drew. He has given us so much to be proud of as Purdue fans. He has invested $3 million in our program, and he is pretty much one of most revered alumni. It was great to be able to see him and thank him one more time in person today.
Now retire, come home, be our AD, and save us!