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COLUMN: Thanks for the memories, Drew Brees

I was angry Sunday night.

That was my first raw emotion as I slammed my fist against the wall while walking back to my bedroom after Drew Brees threw his third interception, sealing the fate of not only the New Orleans Saints in the 2021 playoffs, but for himself.

Rumors swirling all season gained momentum on Sunday morning that win or lose, Drew Brees was playing his final game inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

An era was ending, whether I or the entire Who Dat Nation wanted it to or not.

As the clock showed triple zeros, signaling Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were moving on to Green Bay and the NFC Championship, it also signaled the end of the greatest run in Saints’ franchise history.

When I was a kid living the panhandle of Florida in the early 90s, the Cowboys were my team. America’s Team. Much like the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan were the national favorite in the NBA, the triplets of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irving were the belles of the NFL ball.

I loved the Cowboys — I even got the chance to throw the football with Troy Aikman at the Jackson Zoo, asking him his thoughts on Deion Sanders joining the team. Deion is now head football coach at Jackson State.

Then in 1996, my family moved to Brandon to be closer to my mother’s family there and in Pearl. Moving to central Mississippi altered my outlook on sports, realizing there was a more local team I could latch my love onto and hang on my hopes of championships.

Nobody warned me the cost of becoming a Saints fan was so steep in emotional currency. But still, I became a member of the Who Dats, watching through the rough years of Aaron Brooks and seeing Ole Miss running back Deuce McAlister turn in his red and blue for the black and gold.

Then, Katrina happened. Nobody knew what the fate of New Orleans, let alone its football franchise, would hold. New Orleans persevered, rebuilding and rising from the ashes of Katrina’s wake. So did the Saints when new head coach Sean Payton landed what would become his greatest signing.

Of course, Brees coming to New Orleans was not one of those done deals that you see reported for days on end before the obligatory holding up of the jersey during a press conference. No, this story was as New Orleans as it gets.

Brees and his wife, Brittany, riding with Payton, got lost and ended up in the Ninth Ward, the worst-hit area from Katrina. The homes destroyed, lives in shambles and people picking up the pieces one by one was all Brees needed to see.

New Orleans was where he needed to be — Miami was also vying for his services, but passed out of fear Brees’ injured shoulder would not heal.

Miami’s loss was the City of New Orleans’ gain.

Brees helped steer one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. Then-St. Louis Rams had been dubbed the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but New Orleans was about to bump the Rams off the stage and grab the spotlight.

Fast forward to 2009. Brees had been with the Saints for three years prior, but 2009 was a season destined to be one New Orleans and Who Dats would never forget.

For the first three months of the season, the Saints were unbeatable. Going 13-0 to start the year, including an impressive win over the infamous Brady and New England Patriots. That success carried into the playoffs, culminating in the team’s first, and only still, Super Bowl Championship.

Brees and the Saints knocked off Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, bringing New Orleans to the promised land.

No longer were fans wearing grocery bags over their heads, ashamed at being seen attending a Saints game. No, now it was a badge of honor to say you made it through those dark days, sticking with the Saints to see them reach the mountain top.

I was not along for all those dark days, but I did witness the rise of Brees and the Saints, seeing him bring a championship to a city that so desperately craved a winning football team.

Since 2009, Brees has etched his name in the record books and all but cemented a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when that time comes. After Sunday’s loss, seeing Brees look up at the Superdome one last time while running back into the tunnel, the clock to a Hall of Fame career could have started ticking right then and there.

I sat at my desk, still seething over a football game. I sat there and thought about all Brees brought to the city and the fan base. My anger turned to solemnity, then to appreciation.

It is time for Brees to hang his helmet up and look back on a career well-played. It is time for him to finally sit back and see what he did for New Orleans and its 15-year impact.

I now say, “Thank You, Drew.”

Thank you for the years of memories and excitement on Sundays. It was a hell of a ride.