Drew Brees – “Coming Back Stronger”

I didn’t realize that Drew Brees had written a book.  If I did, I probably would have read it sooner.

I knew he had a great story to tell.  The classic underdog who rises to the top.  Even when he showed he had the tools to be a great NFL quarterback, his team selected another one high in the draft.  He goes through a major shoulder surgery and their are doubts if he’ll ever play at a high level again.   He lands in New Orleans a season after Katrina had displaced the team.  Perenial losers, he transforms them to champions in a few short years.

Brees’s life – and his book – are all about Defying the Odds…

“The ACL injury was a defining moment in my life.  I made a decision not to let something negative control my emotions.  And the interesting thing is that decision led to another that would also follow me the rest of my life.”

I didn’t realize that Brees had dealt with a major injury prior to his shoulder surgery in the NFL.  Just as he led his team through an undefeated junior season in high school, Brees tore his ACL in the third round of the playoffs.   It appeared his career would be over before it even started.  He had earned the starting position because of an injury to the original starting quarterback so he knew that someone was waiting in the wings to take over.

It was a pivotal time, entering his senior season he was looking at a colleges but not only did he have to recover from the surgury, he didn’t fit the mold – he was smaller than most quarterbacks.

Brees responded by bulking up – adding 25 pounds of muscle in his recovery – and then by winning every regular season game.  Approaching the playoffs his offensive coordinator asked him “Drew, is anybody recruiting you?”  – “No, Coach.”

Brees and his team go on to win the next two games as well as the state championship.

“I realized that injury was really the best thing that could have happened to me.  I was stronger.  I was more focused.”

Talk about having perspective!

When he arrived in the NFL in San Diego, he worked his way to the starting quarterback position only to be benched.

“The truth is, you don’t learn much from winning, but losing can make you a lot stronger.”

Brees talks about how it made him evaluate his attiutude.  “Human nature tells me to be resentful and defensive when things don’t go my way – to seek revenge.  I always have to fight that.”  Instead of dwelling on the negative, he focused his attention on the game.  He saw the veteran quarterback Doug Flutie step in and have success by making the good decisions and making the right plays.

“Anyone can see the adversity in a difficult situation, but it takes a stronger person to see the opportunity.”

Brees would get another chance that season, and become the starter again, but in the end the team was 4-12.  A big disappointment that led to buzz that the Chargers would think about taking a quarterback in the draft.

The Chargers acquired Philip Rivers – a highly touted qb prospect.  When a team selects a QB at the top of the draft, it signals the writing is on the wall – its just a matter of time before that pick is given the chance to take over the starting position.  But once again, Brees didn’t look at it like that…

“Immediately following the trade, i specifically remember storming into my garage and jumping on the treadmill.  Maybe it was partly to continue to build my edge and partly just to blow off some steam.  Regardless, I knew that right then I was working and the guy they’d just drafted was probably sipping champagne somewhere.”

Reading that made ME want to get on the treadmill.   Sometimes we want to complain when things don’t go our way – but the truth is we just have to get back to the fundamentals and trust the process.  Nothing beats hard work.  Then Brees takes it a step further…

“It’s easy to spend all our energy trying to prove people wrong.  We can spend our whole lives trying to debunk the naysayers.  But I’m convinced that’s not the best way… I made a choice: instead of being spurred on by those who doubted me, I’d be motivated by those who had faith in me.  These were the people who mentored me, supported me, and believed in me.”

I’m surprised I’ve never heard that more.  Most people talk about getting back at naysayers, but Brees’s perspective is true.  By thinking of the “teachers, coaches, mentors, teammates, and now the city of New Orleans” – he had all the ammunition he needed.

Instead of trying to get back, he said “This is for them.”

The year after the team had selected Philip Rivers, Brees went on to be NFL Comeback player of the year and selected to the Pro Bowl.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing from there.  The team had an average 9-7 record the following year, but what happened in the final game of the year would forever change Brees.  A hit he took from safety John Lynch knocked his shoulder out of his socket and Brees out of the game.  It would be his last play as a Charger.

Then there was the gruelling rehibilitation.  I can’t imagine what Brees would be going through.  Tearing your ACL is one thing, but a shoulder injury means that Brees can’t do the one thing that he loves doing – throwing the football.  As a rapper, its like me losing my voice.  You can take anything from me except that!

Bree’s comeback involved nine hours of rehab each day from eight months.

“A good friend of mine once told me that each morning when you wake up, think about winning the day.  Don’t worry about a week from now or a month from now – just think about one day at a time.  If you are worried about the mountain in the distance, you might trip over the molehill right in front of you.  Win the day!”

When you are going through a tough period its easy to get discouraged by how long the road is – you’ve got to focus on each day.

It’s as much about hard work as it is about faith…

“It’s about knowing that though things may not make sense on paper, you have to trust God to see the bigger picture.  You have to choose to live from the heart and trust what you cannot see.”

Brees would make it back, but even when he returned to the field he still had a way to go.  He had to relearn the mechanics of throwing.  It was like starting over again.

“As I look at the players who make it into the NFL and last more than a couple of years, I notice a consistent thread.  It’s not alwayst he first-round picks and the most naturally gifted players who rise to the top.  It’s often the journeymen – the ones who persevere through trials and are able to handle the unexpected challenges that come their way.”

I love this part.  As a sports fan I’ve seen it time and time again.  I was just watching a profile on Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson who has emerged as one of the best players at his position.  Not only was he undrafted, but the team had spent first round draft picks on running backs. Undeterred, he beat them out and became a dominant player.  Sure you might get a big first contract as a rookie, but that could be it.  In the NFL where contracts aren’t guaranteed, its all about what you do on the field – not just the potential for what you may do.

At this point, the story changes.  It’s not just about Drew and his way back – its about his affect on other people.  First its his teammates…

“One aspect of leadership a lot of people overlook is the importance of showing how much you care.  When other people see that you are genuinely concerned about them and truly invested in them, they’ll trust you… When your teammates know that you have their best interest at heart, the by-product is that they’ll go out there and fight for you.  They’ll win for you.”

“Some people look at their home team and think, if only we had that free agent.  If only our team could pay for that receiver or running back.  I don’t waste time thinking about those kinds of acquisitions.  If those players come to us, great.  But here’s the way I look at it:  I’ll take the less talented guy with the big heart every time.  I love the old saying “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”  Give me someone to depend on so I know what I am getting every time, and I’ll show you a winner.”

As a shorter quarterback, Brees knows what its like to be overlooked.  I don’t think he was taking a shot at a teammate, but what he is saying could be applied to high draft pick Reggie Bush.  Although Bush wasn’t a bust, he wasn’t the ‘destined for the hall of fame’ running back he was pegged to be out of college.  Instead the team had more success with unhearalded Pierre Thomas at the position, as well as wide recievers such as Marques Colston – a six round pick that became a pro bowl receiver with Brees.

Drew would lead the Saints to a division title, and one game short of the Superbowl – the conference championship.  Although they lost, it was a wildly successful year.  The following year, the team had hopes of reaching the Superbowl but they stumbled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs.  The following year they were 8-8.  After their first year of success, it seemed like things were only going to go up, but instead they had gone to becoming average.

“I love this phrase I heard a long time ago:  “Experience is what you gain when you don’t get what you want.”

He had to get back to the basics.

His mentor gave him some advice – “Sometimes you focus so much on the result that you lose track of the process.”

It made Brees realize that he “had forgotten that the game of football is simple.”

Once you have the done the work “you have to relax.  You have to trust what you’ve learned and put your confidence in the people who have put you in your position.”

I’m not ruining the book by telling you that the Saints would go on to win the Superbowl.  Sportsfans will already know that.  The win capped off an amazing turnaround for the Saints franchise, but also provided the validation that Brees wasn’t only one of the top quarterbacks in the game… but one of the best leaders in sport.

http://www.amazon.ca/Coming-Back-Stronger-Unleashing-Adversity/dp/1414339437

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