Prior to Drew Brees's first NFL season in the broadcast booth and no longer behind center, he visited the team that drafted him back in 2001: the Chargers. This story ran following Drew Brees's Chargers Training Camp visit on August 19, 2021. All quotes are from an interview with Brees that day.
Drew Brees's career began like many great quarterbacks: a high school state championship (in Texas, nonetheless), and a successful college career at a Big Ten school, Purdue. At 22, he was selected by the Chargers as the first pick of the second round — the second overall quarterback to come off the board that year behind Michael Vick.
Brees was with the Chargers for five seasons, playing backup to Doug Flutie his rookie season before taking over as the starter in 2002. By 2004, Brees had led the Chargers to a 12-4 record while putting the NFL on notice by posting the third best quarterback rating (QBR) that season behind league MVP Peyton Manning and passing leader Daunte Culpepper.
Brees had arrived.
In an exclusive interview with the the team, Brees recently opened up about what it was like to spend his formative football years in a Chargers' uniform — his journey, his bond with his teammates and the leaders that influenced his growth as a player and brought out his inner greatness.
The Second QB Selection of the 2001 NFL Draft
In 2001, the Chargers were in the middle of a five-year playoff drought and in search of a long-term solution at quarterback. Heading into the draft that year, Head Coach Mike Riley and General Manager John Butler believed Brees was the guy for the job.
"It was a dream come true," Brees said about being drafted by the Chargers.
"I think you start off as a young, immature college player thinking, 'Well, my goal is just to get drafted as high as possible;' I think the competitor in you says that. But what I grew to realize — through the advice of many — was it's not how high you get drafted, it's about going to the right team, being in the right situation — the right environment that's going to put you in the best position to grow and develop and succeed and I absolutely feel like San Diego was that place for me."
The Chargers were patient, and Brees was ultimately selected behind Chargers' Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who was taken fifth overall. Brees and Tomlinson both played high school football in Texas, and were both Heisman finalists in 2000 during their senior years at Purdue and Texas Christian University (TCU), respectively.
"LT and I go back to high school," Brees said. "We played on the same high school all-star team together. We were at the Heisman together, so LT and I kind of had this vision of maybe ending up on the same team. And when it happened it was like, 'Wow, here we go."
And while having Tomlinson in the backfield was certainly somewhat of a dream come true for Brees, his bond with Tomlinson runs deeper than football; it's a friendship that's going strong more than two decades later.
"It's awesome. I mean, very rarely do you get a chance to be around a guy who — I think — just epitomizes everything you would want in a teammate, in a player, in a person, and that's Ladainian Tomlinson," Brees said. "I love that here we are 20 years later…. almost 25 years…. since we were playing in a Texas high school football North-South All-Star game together — it's just amazing to see what we've both been able to experience and accomplish in that time."