Celizic: ‘Magnificent' game cements Brees in NFL lore

Drew Brees may or may not be six feet tall. His surgically repaired arm isn’t the strongest in the game. And while he had piled up some impressive statistics in his career, how many Super Bowl rings did he have?

Saturday night, the number was zero. After Sunday, it was one — the same number as the tall and strong-armed fellow on the other side of the field.

Peyton Manning’s the guy who’s seen as the prototypical quarterback and is perhaps the player every NFL general manager seeks when assembling a team. Perhaps that will start to change now that Brees out-performed Manning on the NFL’s biggest stage.

Brees’ coach, Sean Payton, managed to boil it down to three words: “Brees was magnificent.”

That’s pretty much it. You can go on for weeks talking about how cool he was, how adroitly he managed the New Orleans offense, how fearless he and his teammates were. Before opening day next year, books will be written about how Brees and the Saints erased more than four decades of bad memories and won the biggest prize in American sports.

None of those books will improve on Payton’s assessment.

The MVP of Super Bowl XLIV threw 39 passes and completed 32 of them. Of the seven he missed, at least one was dropped and another was a spike. Two passes went for touchdowns. He also threw for a two-point conversion.

“What can I say? I tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time, and it’s better than expected,” he said.

On the drive that put the Saints ahead of the Colts, he was 7-for-7, including the go-ahead two-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Shockey. There was some poetry in that connection. Brees was the guy San Diego didn’t want, and Shockey was the guy who the Giants had no more use for. A couple of rejects went out and won the Super Bowl.

This is why we love sports. They give the little guys a chance to beat the big boys and rejects second chances. They throw adversity at people and then give them an opportunity to overcome it.

Brees referred to that after the game, noting that the Saints have several players whose original teams let them go. The Saints took them in and gave them a chance to succeed. And most of them went through the Katrina aftermath, sharing the pain and the loss and the struggle to come back.

“You use it as motivation. You use it a strength,” Brees said. “That’s what molds you. That’s what gives you that mental toughness. Going through those hard times is what gives you the opportunity to do something like this.”

The Chargers drafted Brees, and he was a starter by his second season. But he suffered horrible damage to his shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season. He was a free agent at season’s end, and as he went to get his shoulder rebuilt, the Chargers went to the draft and took Philip Rivers. Rivers has been a Pro Bowl quarterback.

But Brees has been better.

When he signed with New Orleans, he was the wrecked quarterback who chose to play in a wrecked city. He’s been great every season, never throwing for less than 4,000 yards and never completing fewer than 64 percent of his passes.

But as great as his statistics have been, when he came to the Super Bowl, he was back to being a reject. Peyton Manning was the league’s greatest quarterback, the analysts said, and he was at the absolute peak of his game. As good as Brees might be, he wasn’t going to beat Manning.

For one quarter, it looked as if that’s the way it would be. Brees and the Saints did nothing and Manning built a 10-0 lead. Yet Brees ensured the Saints outscored the Colts 31-14 after that. The defense contributed, but it was mostly Brees. Now he’s a Super Bowl champion, the David who slew the Goliath who wears No. 18 for the Indianapolis Colts.

“Four years ago, who ever thought this would happen?” Brees asked afterward.

He’s due for a contract extension. It will be a big one. Brees has already earned every penny of it.

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