Last Sunday, Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass – and helped lead the struggling New Orleans Saints to their first win of the season, a 31-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. During a bye week, Brees spoke to TIME about the pressures of breaking the record, playing without suspended coach Sean Payton, his thoughts on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and his endorsement work Xbox.
Talk about what you’re doing with Xbox.
It’s the 60 Million Minute Challenge. Our goal is to recruit one million kids to be active for 60 minutes a day. Kids of all ages can log onto the 60 million minute app or the Xbox Facebook page or Xbox Live console to sign a pledge to commit to being active for 60 minutes a day. If you sign up on the Facebook page, you have a chance to win a social autograph from me, or other NFL players, that you can post directly to your Facebook wall.
What interested you about this?
This is something I’ve been involved with the last five years. I’ve been a spokesperson for NFL Play 60, I’m on President Obama’s Council for Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition — one of the co-chairmen — and I’ve been connected with Kinect Xbox 360 for the past two years. They’re kind of a new addition. In the past, when you’ve thought about being active, you’ve thought about going outside, playing sports. Hiking, biking, running, that kind of thing. Now with the interactive gaming phenomenon, you can sit in your living room and do Dance Central 3, or Nike Flex training, or all these interactive games where you’re up on your feet, swinging your arms and dancing, moving, sweating. It’s just like being outside playing football.
Johnny Unitas’ son, Joe, was in New Orleans on Sunday to watch you break his father’s record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. What did that mean to you?
It was such a classy move. Not necessary at all, and just that fact that Joe Unitas reached out to me the week before with a very touching letter, talking about how the family was rooting for me, and that Johnny Unitas would have been proud of the things we were doing on the field as well as off the field, just to be on hand and so supportive, was really, really classy.
The Unitas family was there, exceptions were made to get your coach, Sean Payton – who is suspended for the year — and others in the building – what was it like dealing with the pressure? Was there a feeling like, ‘geez, I’d better throw a touchdown pass tonight?’
Here’s something for you. One of the gifts that Joe Unitas gave me was a script for a movie about his father, called “Unitas We Stand.” It details and chronicles his life and his career. And at the end of it, it talks about when he retired, he held 22 NFL records, and probably the biggest one was the consecutive game touchdown record. And he gave it to me the day before the game, and he said, “I want you to read the back page because I changed the wording this week.” He changed it to, basically, ‘my father Johnny Unitas holds all these records, the most prominent of which was the consecutive touchdown record, which was broken by Drew Brees.”
And so this is before the game, we haven’t even played it yet, and he’s changed the script, you know? [Laughs] And the fact that my coach, and [suspended Saints general manager] Mickey Loomis, [suspended assistant coach] Joe Vitt, Sunday Night Football, playing my old team, all these things, just the speculation of ‘he’s going to do it’ … man, it’s not easy. You don’t just step on the field and it happens.
Plenty of issues have faced the NFL and your team. What are your thoughts about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?
I’d say disappointed with a lot of what’s transpired, especially recently. I’m disappointed with the way that he’s handled the bounty investigation. I don’t feel like the process has been fair at all. I feel like there’s been a lot of biased opinion. I don’t feel it’s been based on facts, or credible information.
Disappointed with the way that the replacement referee situation went down. Really a lack of accountability from the top down. Also, I feel like, in large part, this bounty scandal, so to speak, is a big facade, and a way to cover up the shortcomings of the league, and the commissioner, with regards to player health and safety over the last three years.
Is it a real concern among players that the commissioner has too much power?
Yeah, it is. Just the fact that, these unilateral decisions can be made without any kind of oversight, just seems like there’s — and I’m not talking about the decisions that are made when a guy gets a DUI, or when a guy gets a weapons charge, or gets caught making bad decision in that regard. You know, it seems like there’s just this abuse of power in a lot of ways when it comes to things like certainly the bounty allegations and accusations.
You made a special request to the commissioner that Payton, Loomis, and Vitt be allowed to attend your record-breaking game. How did that go down?
Here’s the thing – one thing that was so unique about this record is it spans across four seasons. It’s not like it’s just a one season thing – 2009, 10, 11 and now 12. There are so many players and coaches involved in this. Not just guys from this year. There is nobody more instrumental than Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt. These are guys that brought me to the Saints back in 2006. So it felt very appropriate that they be there. It meant a lot to me that they be there, or at least have the opportunity to be there. I wanted them to know that they were as big a part of this as anybody.
And so, how that went down, I wrote an email to Roger, to Commissioner Goodell, early in the week, requesting that they be there, and requesting the opportunity to see them afterwards to celebrate the historic moment, if and when we were able to accomplish it. He said he’d get back to me. Next thing you know it was a big media thing.
Your team got its first win on the board last week. But the Saints started 0-4, so it’s easy to make a connection between the poor start and the absence of your coach, Payton. Honestly, is there something to that?
You know what, I’ m not going to give us that excuse. I don’t believe that. Listen, it’s hard, it’s difficult, of course it is. You’re taking away the guy who helped build the foundation of our team. One of the greatest offensive minds in the game. A guy who I have a tremendous relationship with – not just a professional relationship, but a personal relationship. You’re used to working with a guy very closely, every day, for preparation, and he’s helped me develop in so many ways as a quarterback. So yeah, there’s an adjustment, for sure. But hey, I’ m not going to give us an excuse.
We’re better than how we were playing early on. We were getting better every week, unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to result in a win until this last week. I thought it was one of our most complete games, we beat a good football team, the San Diego Chargers. They were 3 and 1 when they came in.
So I feel like we’re a much better team than what our record shows. Unfortunately, you are what your record says you are. But there’s still a lot of football left. When I look around the league, the parity is such that, man, if you just hang around, if you play your best football at the end of the season, you get in the playoffs somehow, you have as a good a shot as anybody. That’s our mentality.