NFL Nation: Mark McGwire

Drew Brees focused on wins, not record

December, 25, 2011
Drew BreesTom Dahlin/Getty ImagesDrew Brees doesn't want to talk about Dan Marino's record or his contract. He just wants to win.

Even if you had Drew Brees' cell phone number, there’s no way you could reach him right now.

You wouldn't even get a ring, you'd hear “This mailbox is full.’’ It’s been that way for weeks now and you can’t really blame the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.

Contract talks? They can wait until after the season.

Dan Marino? He can wait, too.

“(Marino) actually reached out to me this week and wanted to do something, but I’d really like to just focus on the game,’’ Brees told the New Orleans media Thursday. “I respectfully just kind of said let’s wait here and just kind of let everything fall into place the way it is and then we’ll definitely sit down. I would love to do that.’’

There’s no disrespect toward Marino intended and we will get to how much respect Brees has for Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards in a season in a minute. You also can bet Brees will be more than willing to resume the contract talks he tabled weeks ago.

Just, not right now!

The way Brees is approaching life these days is pretty much the same way he approaches a drop back. He’s still looking at his first read.

A contract extension that could make him the highest-paid player in history and sitting down with a Hall of Famer are also in the playbook. But they’re down the list of progressions and Brees isn’t ready to check off anytime soon.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireDrew Brees needs just 305 yards in his final two games to surpass Dan Marino's NFL record for passing yards in a season.
It may sound corny or cliché, but Brees is focused entirely on one thing. He wants what he and the Saints got in the 2009 season. He wants a Super Bowl championship.

“Honestly, I’ve tried to just kind of numb my senses to the whole thing right now and just think about winning football games, executing this offense, being prepared as I can be, focusing on the process and just knowing that the result will take care of itself,’’ Brees said.

If you’ve spent much time around Brees, you’d know that what might seem corny and cliché from others is simply Brees being himself. You can’t shake Brees on the field with an 11-man blitz and it’s the same way off the field.

Brees is every bit as aware as the rest of us that he needs only 305 passing yards to break the record Marino set in 1984. He’s also very aware his contract expires the moment the season ends, and he’s smart enough to know he has as much market value as any football player on the planet.

But Brees only wants to talk about one thing. He wants to talk about the “Monday Night Football’’ game with the Atlanta Falcons. If the Saints (11-3) win, they clinch the NFC South title. Brees has been locked on this progression for months.

“We all looked at the calendar prior to the season starting,’’ Brees said. “We all said, 'Hey, Monday night. The day after Christmas. Atlanta. Week 17. That’s going to be a meaningful game obviously within the division.' Then you add on some of the other stuff and it just makes it more meaningful. I guess we can’t make this game any bigger than it already is.’’

Even though that’s precisely what Brees is trying to avoid, you can make Monday night much bigger than he describes it. Brees is on the verge of breaking a record that was set just before he celebrated his fifth birthday.

This is football’s version of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record or Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire slugging it out. This is history and Brees has been down this road before. In 2008, he spent much of the season on pace to break Marino’s record.

But he finished that season with 5,069 yards, which seemed appropriate at the time because that New Orleans team was mediocre and didn’t make the playoffs. At that point, Brees did sit down with Marino, who took his team to the Super Bowl in his record-setting season.

“We talked about it after the ’08 season,’’ Brees said. “At the time it was kind of just like, ‘OK, we made our run at it and the chances of that happening again are probably really, really slim.'"

Well, it’s happening again. The Saints are winning and, in Brees’ eyes, it won’t be a shame if he breaks the record this time around, as long as some other things happen.

“Is that a significant record?’’ Brees said. “Yeah, I’d say that’s very significant. ... All those are significant records, but the most important thing is winning this game to win the division, to continue our win streak and also stay in line with our goals to continue to progress as we move towards the playoffs here.’’

Critics have said breaking Marino’s record won’t mean a lot. They say the league has changed to make life easier for quarterbacks and much more difficult for defenses. They also point to the fact that New England’s Tom Brady also is on pace to break the record and Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning aren’t far off.

There’s some validity to the argument about the game changing to favor offenses. But you can’t blame Brees for that.

The guy just happened to come along and hook up with coach Sean Payton, an offensive mastermind, who probably could have taken Brees and exploited defenses in any era.

“Having Sean Payton has been everything for me,’’ Brees said. “Having the opportunity here to be with him, to be coached by him and mentored by him. I think he brought out a confidence in me that I didn’t have before. I’ve always been a really confident guy, but I think there were certain things that might not have ever come out unless I was with him. I think that that has showed. Each and every year I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better and that’s always been my goal, was just to get a little bit better. And statistics don’t always show that. But in my heart, I know that that’s true and he’s a huge part of that.’’

The statistics are showing that Brees is getting better. In his heart, the record and the new contract will mean a lot more if they come in tandem with another championship.

Fabric of the game does big business

July, 6, 2011
TomlinsonAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe gloves LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a win over the Denver Broncos in Week 6 last season are for sale.
For sports card collectors, perfection is the goal. All four corners must be sharp. The photo needs to be centered. It has to be just so. Thankfully, there's hasn't been threat of bubblegum stains for decades.

In today's memorabilia market, however, cardboard is about as mundane as it gets. There are bigger thrills than busting open a pack to find another high-gloss Rated Rookie who might never crack a starting lineup.

Jarrod Oldridge looks for a bigger jolt. He buys his memorabilia by the shipping container.

"You open that box up and the smell comes out, the aroma of the unwashed apparel with the grass and mud and blood," Oldridge said. "You smell the game.

"You get goose bumps. Your heart's pounding."

Oldridge is involved in one of the hottest segments of the memorabilia industry -- game-used equipment.

He owns J.O. Sports Co. in Las Vegas and has exclusive contracts with several NFL teams to sell helmets, jerseys, spikes, gloves, game balls and just about everything else you can imagine from the field. Three of his clients are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Oldridge's website isn't quite as personal as Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey at a kid in exchange for a Coke, but fans have access to the fabric of the game. Many of the game-worn jerseys -- and in some cases full uniforms -- are unwashed. That's the way collectors prefer them.

"You want the thing ripped off the guy's back," said Oldridge, who pitched for Emporia State. "It's a new wave of collecting. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, I'd get a Mark McGwire rookie or a Bo Jackson. That was the best feeling you could have as a collector. You got the prized possession.

"Back then, you never could've thought you could own the jersey Adrian Peterson's wearing on his card."

Rich Mueller, managing editor of Sports Collectors Daily, can't think of another way collectors can get closer to the action than game-used equipment.

I suppose a hobbyist can make the experience more personal by collecting DNA samples. Then again, much of Oldridge's inventory is suitable for forensics inspection. Perhaps the next step is scraping some blood off a jersey to clone an NFL star and watch the game with him in your man cave.

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe jersey from Steve Johnson's three-touchdown game against the Bengals last season is available for purchase.
"If you've got in your hands the uniform the guy was wearing when he broke the tackle to score the touchdown and win the game, how much closer can you get than that?" Mueller said. "That's part of the allure. Collectors want a tangible memory of a game.

"And a lot of them are one-of-a-kind items. The T206 Honus Wagner card is one of the rarest collectibles on the market, but there are 75 to 100 of those in existence. Brett Favre wore only one helmet from his final game. That's a piece of NFL history."

Of particular interest to AFC East fans might be the jersey Bills receiver Steve Johnson wore when he scored three touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. He lifted that jersey to expose his "Why so serious?" T-shirt underneath. The jersey Lee Evans wore when he caught three touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens is for sale, too.

Also available are jerseys All-Pro center Nick Mangold wore last year against the Dolphins, the gloves Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery wore when he snagged a touchdown to help beat the New England Patriots in Week 2 and the gloves Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a four-point victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

Dolphins material is limited because J.O. Sports Co. reached its agreement with them a couple weeks ago. As for the Patriots, Oldridge might need to strap on a helmet to protect his forehead from repeatedly striking a wall.

"Every team is different," Oldridge said. "The Patriots have just been notoriously difficult when it comes to their uniforms."

The big four sports handle game-used equipment differently, much to Mueller's wonderment. These items are commodities. Leagues presumably would maximize revenues if they handled them internally. Major League Baseball does, hiring on-site authenticators to affix holograms to merchandise for resale.

The MeiGray Group, a company founded by a pair of passionate collectors in 1997, has worked out deals to sell game-used NBA and NHL items. They also dominate the minor-league hockey ranks.

And to think clubs used to recycle uniforms until they fell apart, would pass them along to farm teams or sell them to sandlot groups. Mueller wrote about a pile of 1938 New York Yankees jerseys given to a church softball team for $9 apiece. In the bunch were game-worn Lou Gehrig pinstripes.

Today, uniforms are scooped up almost the minute they land in the hamper or fall to the locker-room floor as a player walks to the showers.

"It may sound sick," Oldridge said. "But as a man who played sports, the collectors, everybody who ever slid into second base or got his bell rung on the field, it's just great."