This is a great time of year to be thankful for what we have, where we have been, and what the future holds. Although the Chargers have lost their way a bit in recent years, the month of December used to hold such incredible promise! This advent calendar is an attempt to hearken back to these days of December joy. Each day will bring a new advent from the Bolts’ history that makes it wonderful to be a Chargers fan.
Dec. 14: Drew Brees
Before his historic stint with the Saints, and even before his years in San Diego, Drew Brees left college as one of the most decorated players in Purdue and Big Ten history. He established two NCAA records, 13 Big Ten Conference records, and 19 Purdue University records during that time. As of 2017, he remains the Big Ten record-holder in several passing categories, including completions (1,026), attempts (1,678), and yards (11,792). Drew Brees was always going to be skilled at pro football, but, as Andrew Luck demonstrates, sometimes skill takes a back seat to injury.
Brees's college success led to projections that he would be a mid–late first-round draft pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, but he slipped due to concerns about his relatively short stature for a professional quarterback (6'), a perceived lack of arm strength, and a sense that he had succeeded in college in a spread offense. Brees was the second quarterback, behind Michael Vick of Virginia Tech, selected in the 2001 Draft. He was chosen by the San Diego Chargers as the first pick of the second round (32nd overall).
Remember - The Chargers sucked in 2000. They had the first overall pick. San Diego originally had the first pick in that draft, but traded it to Atlanta in return for the fifth pick of the first round, with which San Diego drafted LaDainian Tomlinson. In the span of 27 NFL picks, the Chargers had drafted two record-breaking hall of fame players. Even if Brees didn’t perform his best work in San Diego, this draft was one of the Chargers’ best of all time.
Drew Brees— the Chargers Starting QB
Brees played in his first professional game on November 4, 2001 against the Kansas City Chiefs. On August 19, 2002, he was named the starter for the 2002 season over Doug Flutie. Brees started all 16 games for the Chargers during the 2002 season, leading the team to an 8–8 record. After a disappointing start to the 2003 season, he was replaced by Flutie, though he regained the job by the end of the season.
The Chargers were not quite sold on Drew Brees. His career with the Chargers was in jeopardy after San Diego acquired NC State's Philip Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft. With a looming quarterback controversy, Brees performed well through training camp and the preseason. Echoing some recent drama, Philip Rivers had held out during training camp, essentially guaranteeing that Drew Brees would begin the season as the starting QB.
The Golden Year
Brees remained the starter throughout the 2004 season, where he started 15 games and led the team to a 12–4 regular season record. Brees posted spectacular numbers, completing 65.5% of his passes for 3,159 yards, with 27 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions, giving him a 104.8 passer rating. The Chargers won the AFC West for the first time in 10 seasons and Brees was selected to the 2004 Pro Bowl. He was named 2004 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
The End of a Short Era
Brees became a free agent after his excellent season and was not expected to return to San Diego, which had already committed a large sum of money to Rivers. The team eventually designated Brees a franchise player, giving him a one-year contract that quadrupled his pay to $8 million for 2005. Under the terms of the franchise player contract, Brees was eligible to be traded or to sign with another team. He was not traded and continued as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2005 season.
Brees continued his productive play in 2005, as he posted a career-high in passing yards with 3,576. Brees also posted an 89.2 rating, 10th best in the NFL. However, in the last game of the 2005 season against the Denver Broncos, Brees tore his labrum while trying to pick up his own fumble after being hit by a Broncos safety. Denver tackle Gerard Warren hit Brees while he was on the ground, causing the injury. Brees underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Subsequent reports mentioned additional rotator cuff damage.
All of This Could’ve—SHOULD’VE—Been Avoided
As our very own John Gennaro has beautifully illustrated, Brees should never have been in for that play. He was the victim, stuck between a stubborn head coach and a Rivers-ready GM (or, more correctly, between Gerard Warren and a bunch of Chagers, Broncos, and turf).
After the season, the Chargers offered Brees a 5-year, $50 million contract that paid $2 million in base salary the first year and the rest heavily based on performance incentives. This was more of a glorified backup-QB contract, and a way to save face with fans by trying to do right by the QB they mangled needlessly. Brees wanted to be a starter, and he used the low contract as his excuse out.
Drew Brees Marches On
After the Chargers refused to increase their offer, Brees met with other teams. The New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins were interested. New Orleans made an offer that included $10 million in guaranteed money the first year and a $12 million option the second year. New head coach Sean Payton essentially promised that Brees would start as QB, sealing the deal. Drew Brees signed a 6-year, $60 million deal with the Saints on March 14, 2006.
The Saints won the Superbowl after the 2009 season. New Orleans has enjoyed the postseason 5 times since this signing, and they are on the verge of punching their sixth ticket. Since drafting Philip Rivers, the Chargers have enjoyed 5 postseason berths, and they are hoping to punch their sixth ticket this Saturday. For all of the ups and downs, it looks like this saga has worked to the benefit of both franchises.
-Jason “Drew a Winning Hand” Michaels