Last week, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, coach Sean Payton and the rest of the Saints showed they were able to think outside — and inside — the box.
Talk about a creative twist of the phrase “Coffin corner.” They filled a mock casket with replicas of 18 awards from their magical 10-6 season, then buried the black-and-gold coffin beneath the sideline of their Metairie practice field.
The final resting place for the feel-good story that fell one game shy of Super Bowl XLI became the 4-by-4 wooden crate that held Brees' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Brees shared the honor with former San Diego teammate LaDainian Tomlinson.
“It was a big, hefty box and they rigged it up to look like a coffin with a lining and on top it said, ‘Drew Brees Man of the Year' in black and gold,” Brees says. “Every single honor that anyone won went in. And we basically said, ‘The 2006 season is buried and in the past.' ”
Saints assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt suggested a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral.
“We had a six-piece blues band, a preacher, a coffin and somber music as our players gathered around,” Payton says. “We dug a hole in the ground right outside on the practice field. The band, the preacher and the pallbearers came out with the casket from the weight room and walked real slow.
“That was the last thing we did as a team, put that casket in the ground before breaking.”
It was Payton's way of reacquiring the here-and-now focus required of each new season.
“I was fired up,” says Rev. Frederick Henderson. “I said, ‘Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. The 2006 season is no longer with us. Your eyes are on the high calling — the prize is the Lombardi Trophy.'
“This team has brought new life to this city. With some of the players who have disgraced their communities, it's refreshing to know Drew Brees is making a difference.”
The quarterback is trying to raise $2.5 million for the children of New Orleans through his Brees Dream Foundation. Brees and his wife, Brittany, hosted a June 16 pep rally kickoff for their initiative at the Lusher Charter School in the city's Uptown section.
Brittany Brees created the “Expect More” pledge the quarterback co-signed with 150 kids, vowing to hold teachers, leaders and themselves more accountable for enacting a better quality of life.
“When you look at all the people who were displaced from New Orleans and even the people that have come back since, things are still not up to par,” Brees says. “We're at this tipping point right now. New Orleans needs something that's going to tip it in the right direction to get people to want to come back to this city.
”We want to provide those things and ease that doubt for parents.“
Lusher's school band played jazz on a stage above the blighted field between two schools where Brees plans a $670,000 football/baseball/soccer field crowned by a Fenway Park-inspired Green Monster. Included among eight initial programs is an edible schoolyard, where kids will learn to grow and tend the food they eat for lunch.
”Drew Brees should run for governor,“ says Lusher quarterback Andrew Lagarde, 15. ”If he did, I'd vote for him.“
On a humid morning, the Brees' received warm applause.
”The kids are the future of New Orleans,“ Brittany says. ”They need to stay here and have their own kids. There's this history here that is the character of New Orleans. We want to keep that going.
“There's been so much negative. This was our best way to make the best impact right now.”
The couple lives in the city they've embraced since the former Chargers quarterback signed a six-year, $60 million deal last March coming off career-threatening surgery on his throwing shoulder.
The couple spent the past year researching the best way to assist their adopted hometown, visiting each site.
“Drew and Brittany are sincere, gracious people who would love their community no matter where they were,” says Saints owner/executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, owner Tom Benson's granddaughter. “We're very fortunate that fate brought us together.
”People ask, 'Why is New Orleans important?' You can live on cruise control anywhere. Literally, everything we do here, every day means something.“
NFL Future: John Brantley John Brantley
In terms of being technically sound, there may not be a better quarterback in the nation than John Brantley. He has a live arm and spins the ball well even on the tougher deep balls and can hit the deep out with consistency. Throws well on the run especially to his right and makes good decisions with the ball.
NFL Future: Ryan Mallet Ryan Mallet In terms of being technically sound, there may not be a better quarterback in the nation than John Brantley. He has a live arm and spins the ball well even on the tougher deep balls and can hit the deep out with consistency. Throws well on the run especially to his right and makes good decisions with the ball.
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