Brees ready to build for future
KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Four years ago, Drew Brees came to Hawaii to fight for an NFL job against other college all-stars at the Hula Bowl. Now Brees is back on the islands, practicing with the league's best before his first appearance in the Pro Bowl.
And he's still fighting -- for his job, respect and a long-term contract from the San Diego Chargers.
Less than a year after San Diego all but gave up on him by picking up Philip Rivers on draft day, Brees is still basking in the glow of his superb season and the Chargers' run to the AFC West title.
His performance at the end of his four-year contract earned him a spot alongside Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the AFC roster Sunday. It also made him one of the NFL's most attractive free agents -- but Brees would rather remain with the club that didn't seem eager to stick with him.
"I want to stay in San Diego, absolutely," he said. "I want a long-term deal, because I feel like I'm the guy. I'm the guy that needs to be there and lead us to a championship, so that's the way I feel about it.
"The ball is in their court, obviously, and we'll just see what happens."
Brees' life has changed dramatically in the four years since he represented Purdue in the Hula Bowl.
"I got married, had good seasons and bad seasons, battled for my starting job on two occasions, been benched a few times," he said. "I guess it's been a learning experience, but it has molded me into the person and player that I am now."
Brees was voted the NFL's comeback player of the year after throwing for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in the regular season. In the playoffs, he passed for 319 yards and two TDs in the Chargers' 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Jets.
"We didn't accomplish our ultimate goal to win a championship, but we kind of paved the way for the future," he said. "We have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be happy about. We just have to keep improving."
Teammate LaDainian Tomlinson, who's making his second Pro Bowl appearance, also wants Brees to stay, but the star running back said he has no control over the situation. Tomlinson and Brees are close friends, and they planned to spend much of their free time in Hawaii together with their families.
"He's a leader. That sums it up in one word," Tomlinson said. "He's a good friend and a good teammate."
Brees and Tomlinson are San Diego's first quarterback-running back duo to make the Pro Bowl together since Dan Fouts and Chuck Muncie in the early 1980s. Tight end Antonio Gates also made the trip to Hawaii, earning his first Pro Bowl berth in just his second NFL season.
"Obviously with guys like LT and Gates, I think we built a solid foundation," Brees said. "I think we all see in one another that we can build something special with the Chargers. We want to keep that continuity and keep those familiar faces around."
The Chargers might decide whether to designate Brees as their franchise player this month, giving him a one-year contract offer worth around $9 million. If Brees signs it, the club then could trade him or let him compete for the starting job with Rivers, who was obtained in a draft-day trade with the New York Giants.
Rivers held out for half of training camp, allowing Brees to keep the starting job -- and Brees used the challenge to motivate himself to his best professional season. And just as he did four years ago at the Hula Bowl, when many questioned his future as a 6-foot NFL quarterback, Brees is proving he deserves to be one of the best.
"We don't play to prove people wrong. There is some satisfaction out of that, but I think it's really just a personal fear of failure," he said. "It's the feeling that you want to be the best. Then you just fight, fight, fight to try to be that person, and you don't worry about what other people say."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press