"I can't even think about that," says Owen Brennan, executive director of the Krewe of Bacchus, which runs the most storied Mardi Gras parade. Brees was appointed the King of Bacchus for the 2010 edition, the first athlete so honored. "It's a nightmare. Don't even say it. Ooooo. What he's done for this city is absolutely immeasurable."
On the measurable side the Brees Dream Foundation has raised $1.85 million for its Rebuilding Dreams campaign. Some of the money goes to Katrina-related causes, such as athletic-field reconstruction. Some of it goes to needs that would otherwise not be addressed because so much funding has been diverted to hurricane relief. The latter projects include a home for families of cancer patients and the Samuel J. Green Charter School's "edible schoolyard," in which students grow food on campus while studying nutrition and agricultural science. The produce they grow ends up on the school menu.
One of Brees's favorite causes is the Lusher School, a battered 76-year-old facility four miles southwest of the French Quarter. Like the Superdome, Lusher was damaged by wind and water, and it served as a shelter for those made homeless by the storm. Some lived for weeks in the school, which might never have reopened if not for the ambitious efforts of New Orleans educators. "Drew realized that nothing breathes life into a city neighborhood like kids playing," says Lusher CEO Kathy Hurstell-Riedlinger. "We had to rebuild the field, which was dangerous, and show the community that this school was here to stay."
Brees's foundation and two corporate sponsors donated $671,000. In New Orleans, where more than four years after Katrina so much remains to be done, it's a measure of progress that the once-ravaged Lusher looks for the most part like any average American school. BREES FAMILY FIELD, as the scoreboard in one end zone reads, would be the envy of many athletic programs.
"Before, it was a death trap out here," says senior Pierce Wisdom during a break in soccer practice. "I remember wondering if I made the right decision to come back to school here instead of going somewhere with better facilities. We all appreciate what Drew did so much."
Brees knew that to be competitive, Lusher's football program would also need a weight room. Drew and Brittany picked up the $38,000 tab for that. During that bye week visit, while walking through the school, Brees stopped into the weight room as some players were lifting. When he saw junior linebacker Jeremy Bailey using the wrong technique on squats, Brees, dressed in business clothes and dress shoes, showed him the proper method—sitting straight down, not leaning forward. "Think about tightening your core," Brees said as he shouldered the bar and did a squat. "Technique. Always remember technique."
"He's like an uncle who donates a lot of toys," said junior noseguard Caleb Windsay. "The field and the weight room give us a chance to compete. It's an incredible thing for him to do for us."
As Brees left the room, one of the kids yelled out, "Win the Super Bowl!"
"One game at a time," Brees said over his shoulder. "One game at a time."
That philosophy has served Brees well since he signed a six-year, $60 million contract with the Saints. He didn't even miss a preseason game because of that shoulder injury, and over the last four seasons no quarterback has thrown for more yards than Brees (18,298), and only one has as many TDs. (He and Peyton Manning both have 122.) In 2009 Brees set an NFL record for accuracy (70.62%).