Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
WATFORD, England -- On the edge of a soccer pitch, masquerading as a football field, Drew Brees sold New Orleans.
"Just like London is one of those spots where people feel like they need to visit when they come to Europe," Brees said, "well, New Orleans is one of those spots that if you're European and you're coming to the States and you want to know where to go, hey, come to New Orleans. I think the culture is unlike any other in our country and, certainly, you want to share that with the world."
The quarterback of the Saints suddenly has become the unofficial tourism director for New Orleans. Brees' latest spiel came with about 50 members of the British media in attendance Wednesday after the Saints had finished practice for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
"I think that post-Katrina, maybe a lot of people have kind of forgotten about New Orleans or think that there's still so much damage there that it's not worth going," Brees said. "There are a lot of things that still need to be done. But, in a lot of ways, I think New Orleans has come back better than ever."
For Brees, New Orleans has turned out to be paradise found.
Nearly three years after being cast aside by the Chargers, Brees has established himself as the face of the Saints and an ambassador for New Orleans. He did it in the aftermath of one of the most vicious hurricanes ever to strike the United States.
Weathering difficulty is nothing new for Brees. He dealt with plenty of that in San Diego. He'd been the starting quarterback for three seasons when the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers, a first-round pick, in the Eli Manning trade with the Giants. At that moment, Brees knew that meant his time in San Diego would come to an end at some point.
Brees actually wound up holding onto the starting job as Rivers stood on the sidelines and general manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer feuded over what to do at quarterback and a lot of other things. With Smith favoring Rivers, Brees had two very productive seasons. But a shoulder injury at the end of 2005 made it easy for the Chargers to let him go and clear the way for Rivers.
Brees doesn't dwell on his San Diego days much anymore, but that period is coming up a lot as he prepares to play his former team.
"I guess ever since I signed with New Orleans, I knew the day would come," Brees said. "I feel like I'm still preparing the same way I would for any opponent. I know a lot of those guys, and there might be that extra added motivation to win or put more pressure on myself, but I'm really trying to approach this as just another game that we need to win."
But there's part of Brees that still feels like he was wronged in San Diego.
"I think adversity always makes you better," Brees said. "I'm going to push myself hard regardless. I don't need somebody there behind me to do that for me. But any added motivation is good."
Although there was the potential for the Brees/Rivers relationship to be as dysfunctional as the one between Smith and Schottenheimer, that never happened. Brees and Rivers had a friendly relationship while they were together and still do. Brees keeps an offseason home in San Diego and sees Rivers when he's there. They talk on the telephone periodically and touched base a few weeks ago.
"Things are fine between us," Brees said. "I think everybody always tried to make it awkward between us by saying, 'Shouldn't you guys not like each other because you're competing against each other?' No, because I think in the end, we both made each other better. It was just one of those situations where we were both mature enough to handle it."
Rivers has become a quality starter in San Diego and Brees has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Saints. Before Sunday's ugly loss to Carolina, Brees was off to one of the best statistical starts to a season any quarterback has ever had.
Maybe a win against the Chargers would give Brees a little vindication, but he's already got a good chunk of that. He has landed in an offensive system that is built around his talent and he's the unquestioned franchise quarterback he never truly was in San Diego.
Even more importantly, Brees has found a home.
At this point, everything has worke
d out best for both players and both organizations. Arriving in New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, Brees and his wife bought a home in the heart of the historic district and became intensely involved in rebuilding efforts.
His Brees Dream Foundation has distributed money to children's causes in Louisiana. His effort to raise $2 million to rebuild schools, parks, athletic fields and help mentoring and child-care programs is only $180,000 from its goal.
All that has eased the memories of the difficult times in San Diego.
"This is the worst thing that could ever happen to me," Brees said. "But now that I look back on it, it might have been the best thing that could happen."