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Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Cool Brees on hot day in Times Square

By Jane McManus

NEW YORK -- There may be glory in being named the cover athlete for Electronic Arts' "Madden" video game. But you better not be superstitious. Think of Troy Polamalu's knee injury after he appeared on the cover last season, or Brett Favre before his ignominious year with the New York Jets.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus parked off Times Square on Tuesday, said that he would risk the curse because the fans voted for him to receive the honor. As a man of the people, Brees just couldn't say no.

Drew Brees
Drew Brees, filming a commercial in Times Square on Tuesday, hopes to avoid the "Madden" Curse.

"If they want to put me on the cover then it's meant to be," Brees said.

Question is, how will fate get back at those fans?

How about having them wait for two hours behind a barricade on a 100-degree day while Brees chills out on the bus? It's a start!

Electronic Arts filmed part of its commercial for the newest version of one of the most successful video-game franchises in history on Tuesday in Times Square. The concept was "Madden to the People," and NFL players like Brees, Justin Tuck and Larry Fitzgerald are bringing the game to regular folks, plenty of whom are being played by regular actors.

The Times Square crowd on Tuesday was made up of extras, but once passersby heard that Brees was in the vicinity, a bunch parked in front of the makeshift living-room set and waited. But it was hot. Page Medlin of Mount Holly, N.J., and her kids tried to wait it out. At 2:09 p.m. they saw the EA bus pull up Broadway. But it sat there until 2:24, when it turned left to circle the block.

"We keep saying we're going to give it five more minutes," Medlin said, debating whether to sign the release to appear in the commercial as she considered how wilted she felt.

The black leather couch on the set had to be covered with white fabric to keep it from vaporizing.

"I think I'm going to give up on this," said Tina Young of Mount Aerie, Md. But just then the bus started moving. It pulled up at 2:36, for real this time. Behind four cheerleaders and Gumbo the mascot, there was Brees, looking fresh despite the heat and wearing -- get this -- a black Saints jersey, denim jeans and black shoes.

And a Super Bowl ring that appeared to weigh about as much as a full-grown Rottweiler.

What stifling heat? The energy level immediately picked up. Brees connected right away with the crowd, playing "Madden" with extras and demographically varied fans before picking up dozens of boxes containing vouchers for "Madden NFL 11" and flicking them like frisbees into the crowd.

A few more people wandered by.

"Oh, that's Drew [expletive] Brees, [expletive]!" one fan exclaimed.

Things have changed for Brees since leading his team to a Super Bowl victory. His Q rating is a heck of a lot higher, and after NFL fans saw him lift up his son to bask in the win, he is enjoying a pretty personal connection with strangers.

"It hasn't changed the way I approach how I live my life," Brees said. "If anything I've gotten a lot of pretty neat opportunities because of it. There's a balance there that I try to maintain."

Brees is trying to leverage his celebrity and the Saints' success into more funding for the Gulf Coast, fighting to maintain the health of its water and shoreline in the middle of a massive oil spill. He is part of an effort to raffle off a Saints Super Bowl ring created just to raise money for the relief effort.

And Brees said he thinks his team is well-positioned to repeat as Super Bowl champs, despite knowing just how tough that is.

As for the "Madden" commercial, the filming will continue on Wednesday, and Fitzgerald will be at Rye Playland sometime between 2 and 5 p.m. to film another segment.

There may be a wait involved, and it may be hot enough to melt a plastic spork on the sidewalk, but there is a payoff in the end.

Because even though there was casting, cameras and confetti -- and not every touchdown reaction shot involved an actual touchdown on the giant video screen overlooking Times Square -- Brees really did bring the game to the fans.

Now, if only he can avoid the curse.

Jane McManus is a columnist for Follow her on Twitter.

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