However, something felt different about Brees’ accomplishment. It wasn’t that his accomplishment wasn’t significant — breaking a 27-year-old record should be cause for pause. It was that Brees’ accomplishment didn’t seem very important because his new record likely won’t even last 27-months, let alone 27-years.
The NFL has changed significantly since Dan Marino set the previous record of 5084 yards in 1984. Unlike Marino’s record setting year in 1984, recent NFL rule changes provide quarterbacks with more protection from late hits and illegal cuts, and defenders are more restricted in jamming and hitting the receivers as they move downfield. As a result, the NFL is now a pass friendly league and Marino’s passing record is now a thing of the past.
Drew Brees came close to beating Marino’s record in 2008 when he was only 15 yards short of the 5,084 yard mark. In 2011, Brees set the new record at 5,476 yards, but he wasn’t the only quarterback to eclipse Marino’s record, Tom Brady also beat Marino’s record in 2011 by throwing for 5,235 yards.
So, although Brees currently holds the single season passing record (and other significant records like highest single season completion percentage at 71.2%), he will probably not be remembered for his record breaking 2011 season. Unlike Marino in 1984, Drew Brees will not win the 2011 NFL MVP (that honour will likely go to Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers and 2010 Superbowl MVP). Passing statistics no longer hold the weight they once did. I mean, if Matthew Stafford, a non-Pro Bowl 3rd year quarterback for the Detroit Lions, can be the 4th quarterback ever to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season, then it is understandable if we don’t remember Brees for a record that he may not even hold until he retires.
If Brees won’t be remembered for his record breaking 2011 season, it begs the question, “what will he be remembered for?” Although Brees’ efforts on the field will likely make him a Hall of Famer, I hope his legacy is as much for his efforts off the field as on the field.
In 2006, Brees won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his excellence on the field and volunteer work in wake of Hurricane Katrina, and in 2010 Brees was award the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award for his Super Bowl MVP and charitable work in rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina.
Even though it is easy to see Brees as a success story, his journey to New Orleans was anything but smooth. In 2005 with the San Diego Chargers, Brees suffered a career threatening shoulder injury that forced the Chargers to turn to the healthy up-and-coming Philip Rivers. Brees has described the injury as “the worst thing that could have ever happened to me, at the worst time.”
However, if Brees never got injured he probably would not have ended up at New Orleans. As it happened, the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins were both interested in Brees, but Miami eventually opted not to sign him on the advice of team doctors. Brees ended up with New Orleans and within a year he went from calling his injury “the worst thing that could have happened” to him, to describing it as “probably the best thing that ever happened to me.” In an interview with Sharing the Victory magazine, Brees described his coming to New Orleans as “a calling” because he saw that his responsibilities as a Christian and a professional athlete went far beyond the playing field. Brees committed himself to the New Orleans community and has been called a “godsend” and “Breesus” in the process.
In modern sports, it is too easily forgotten that the legacy athletes leave off the field is often more important than the legacy they leave on the field. Drew Brees seems to be one of the few athletes who get this. Although on the field records are great, they are also made to be broken. I imagine that when his 2011 passing record is broken, Brees won’t be too concerned because he knows that his calling for New Orleans goes far beyond the football field.