Brees has New Orleans howling

Updated: January 14, 2007, 1:02 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees has talked about how much he's grown to love New Orleans.

After leading the Saints to their first NFC championship game, the feeling is mutual for the most beloved quarterback in the Big Easy since Archie Manning.

And with no need to quiet a frenzied crowd as he came to the line of scrimmage to run out the clock on the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night, Brees waved his arms skyward, inciting the ecstatic fans even more.

"I wanted us all to enjoy the moment, us as players, but also the fans, so I was just trying to get it as loud as possible," Brees said.

It was yet another sweet moment in a brilliant comeback season after some teams dismissed the former San Diego quarterback as too much of a risk following complicated offseason throwing-shoulder surgery.

"Really, the only team that believed in me was the Saints, and I feel like I owe them a big debt of gratitude," Brees said. "I want to give them what they saw in me, which was a guy who could lead this team to a championship."

Brees was 20-of-32 passing for 243 yards and a touchdown on a swing pass to Deuce McAllister. Brees didn't throw an interception.

It was nowhere near a season best, but against a tough Eagles defense, he delivered enough clutch throws to put the Saints over the top in a 27-24 victory. They included a 35-yarder down the sideline to Devery Henderson to set up the Saints' second field goal and an early 6-0 lead. And he showed the veteran savvy to throw where the Eagles weren't expecting, namely to seldom used tight end Billy Miller.

Miller, signed after Ernie Conwell was hurt in midseason, caught four passes for 64 yards, including a 29-yarder over the middle to the 5, setting up McAllister's touchdown run that pulled the Saints to 21-20 in the third quarter.

Brees was sent packing by San Diego after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder in the last game of the 2005 regular season. That ended two years of looking over his shoulder after the Chargers worked a draft-day deal for Philip Rivers in 2004.

The Saints were able to sign Brees as a free agent after Miami backed away, and what appeared to be a risk at the time turned into one of the best gambles the franchise has made.

On the field, he threw for an NFL-leading 4,418 yards this season in leading New Orleans (11-6) into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It meant a first-ever second-round home game for the Saints, and celebration to perhaps exceed all others in the rebuilt Louisiana Superdome after Brees kneeled down for the last time Saturday night.

And in a city that was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina when he arrived, Brees moved into and renovated a historic house in the city's uptown neighborhood (not far from Manning), got involved in community service, hit the famous restaurants and told the world what a special city he felt this was whenever anyone asked.

It's a lot like the way Manning has promoted and stuck by the city during and since his career.

"He represents all that's good," Brees said of the elder Manning. "He text messages me before every game, telling me good luck. ... We love this community, we love the people, we love this town, and hopefully we'll be here for a long, long time -- like he has."

He certainly won't likely have to worry about losing his starting job here for a long time. Keeping fans from swarming him wherever he goes may be another matter.

"I get people stopping me on the street every day, like 20 times a day, telling me how great it makes them feel and how it just helps them go about their day and rebuild their life," Brees said. "It means a tremendous amount."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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