It's been more than a decade since New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees stepped foot in Qualcomm Stadium.
But ahead of Sunday's match against the San Diego Chargers, Brees admits he still remembers the Q like it was yesterday.
"I have a ton of great memories from there," Brees said. "I can close my eyes and visualize the stadium; I can visualize the ring of honor, all the names (on) it, the scoreboard (and) the flags that wave up on the top of the stadium. I can visualize all the jets flying over for the pregame, the national anthem, people parachuting in and just kind of the feel of it all. I can still visualize it like it was yesterday."
Sunday also marks the third time Brees and Philip Rivers will meet on the field. As Chargers fans know, Rivers sat behind Brees for two years before eventually taking over the reins at starting quarterback. Rivers has continued to say those two seasons were key to his development as a quarterback. Brees echoed similar sentiments citing the competition in the QB room was second to none in the league at the time.
"Our quarterback room at the time was me, Philip, Doug Flutie, and Cleo Lemon…that was a great quarterback room. I think we all had a ton of fun and we all had very similar traits: we loved football, we loved to compete and we loved to have fun with what we were doing. Brian Schottenheimer was our quarterbacks coach and we had some great times in that room. We also pushed each other, competed against one another and we were there to get the best out of each other and to make ourselves better. I have great memories from those days."
Although Brees and his family still reside in San Diego during parts of the offseason, he has no idea what kind of reaction he'll get when he takes the field. What he does know is that his offense is in for a challenge against the Bolts' defense.
"I think they have some really good players in the secondary. I think they have a really good pass rush. Melvin Ingram is an extremely impressive player. Really, that whole defensive front…a lot of guys who can make plays on the ball (in the secondary). We have our work cut out for us. I think we have to be ultra-efficient in everything we do; run and pass. We need to have a good protection plan. I have a lot of respect for (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano. He was coaching there when I was playing for the Chargers (and then) he became the defensive coordinator. I think he's done a really good job ever since he's been there. I know they like to dial up the pressure at times so we have to be ready for all of that and it's going to be a great challenge for us."
While the Saints are winless, Brees isn't letting the magnitude of returning to play at the home of the team who drafted him get in the way. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton admitted while Qualcomm is the only stadium they haven't played in since Brees came to New Orleans, it's going to be business as usual come Sunday.
"Aside from how much he's going to spend on tickets, I think we're really just trying to focus on a short week of preparation and finding a way to get our first win," Payton said. "I think as time has passed, there was probably some meaning to that London game…but I'm sure San Diego's approach and preparation is to find a way to get to 2-2. They've been in some really close games and in both of those losses, they've been in positions to win. Same thing with us."
"I'm trying to make this just like any other game," Brees added. "It is hard to do that obviously because it is meaningful. But here we are on a short week, coming off a Monday night game and (I'm) just trying to get all my preparation in (while) trying to maybe get all of the emotions out of the way this week before game day."