'COOL BREES' IGNITED PURDUE, BUT CAN HE GENERATE ENOUGH HEAT TO BURN UP THE NFL?
THE BREES FILE
BORN: Jan. 15, 1979
RESIDES: Austin, Texas
SIZE: 6'0", 220 pounds
COLLEGE STATS: 1,003 completions in 1,639 attempts, 11,517 yards passing, 88 passing touchdowns, 12,442 yards total offense.
Big numbers? You bet-and all of them Big Ten records. Yet for all his accomplishments and the accolades he got in four years at Purdue, Brees is hearing questions about whether he can hack it in the pros. Critics say he lacks the size and arm strength to be a top QB in the NFL. Supporters say he's a two-time Heisman finalist, and that counts for something. (Exactly what, they don't make clear.) Is this soon-to-be firstround pick merely the beneficiary of Purdue's spread offense? Or will Drew slip into a pro set like a cool Brees?
Sure, the nickname is obvious. But it's also on the money. Among Drew's desirable qualities is his ability to bounce back after a bad play. "I don't know if it's something innate or something I just trained myself on," he says. "My approach is you can never go back and change anything. If I throw an INT one series, I'm thinking about getting into the end zone the next series." That's exactly what happened against Ohio State last October. After unloading an INT that set up a go-ahead score by the Buckeyes, Brees threw the game-winning TD two plays later.
Brees stands six feet tall, which is a hair shorter than the projected No.1 pick, some QB from Virginia Tech. Yet while ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. raves about Michael Vick, he says this about Brees' height (or lack thereof): "The things that Drew lacks, you can't change." Double standard? Brees thinks so-and he doesn't care: "I've seen lots of tall guys who can't play, and lots of short guys who are great. Height doesn't mean a thing."
KISSED BY AN ANGEL
That's how Drew's dad, Chip, explains the hairy birthmark on his son's right cheek. Once a woman Brees was dancing with at a club tried to rub it off with her thumb. Another time, his Purdue teammates showed up at a photo shoot with their own inked-on marks. They even had a name for the mark: "Pernick," after former walk-on Matt Pernick, who led the conference in bad hair days. "Sometimes I trim it, sometimes I let it grow long," Brees says. "Guys used to rub it for good luck."
What about Drew's arm? One camp thinks he lacks sufficient strength, a characteristic that Kiper says "you can't work on-you either have it or you don't." Nonsense, says Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who thinks Drew's arm is the least of his concerns. "He's got adequate arm strength, certainly enough to get the job done. Arm strength is irrelevant if you can't find the guy. Brees makes some quick reads, and he's a smart player." Drew's read on this? "A lot of guys have strong arms. But if you don't know where to throw the ball, it doesn't matter."
Wyoming QB Josh Wallwork, playing under coach Joe Tiller, led the nation in total offense in 1996- but never played in the NFL. Is Brees the second coming of Wallwork, i.e., a mere by-product of the spread offense that Tiller brought with him to Purdue? Michigan coach Lloyd Carr won't give the system all the credit: "Drew's not only gifted athletically, he's gifted intellectually. He knows coverages and he makes great decisions." (Oh, in case you were wondering, Wallwork was recently spotted taking snaps in the Arena League.)
Sacked just seven times while running a pass-happy offense, Brees was the Boilermakers' second-leading rusher (546 yards, 6 per carry). "Instead of trying to force the ball in there," says Brees, "I'd just tuck it and run. I wanted to keep the chains moving and the clock running." In the process, he led the nation in total offense (358.1 yards per game).
His granddad, Ray Akins, was a legendary Texas high school coach. His dad, Chip, played hoops at Texas A&M and his mom, Mina, played tennis there. So everybody figured that Brees, after leading Austin Westlake High to a state title and never losing in two years as a starter, would end up an Aggie. Brees made an unofficial visit to College Station, where he says he was told he'd get a scholarship if a kid named Major Applewhite backed out. Applewhite did, but Brees didn't. Forgive Chip a little bitterness when he describes his alma mater today as "a quarterback graveyard."
Everybody agrees he's the second-best QB in the draft. So how come there's not more buzz? While some analysts see Brees as a late first-round pick, two teams that need a QB-the Raiders and the Dolphins-skipped his March 21 workout. The Chargers, the Chiefs and the Falcons were present though, and, considering the current NFL infatuation with mobile snap-takers, he won't last long. "Obviously, I'd like to go in the first round," Brees says. "But, really, it's all just a matter of getting with the right team."