To help kick-off the Football ‘N’ America (FNA) program’s fall season, New Orleans Saints quarterback, San Diego resident and FNA co-founder Drew Brees spoke to a small group of young athletes, July 16 on the La Jolla High School athletic field.
The FNA program is intended to provide a safe place for young athletes to play flag football, while learning the skills that will help transition to tackle football; with uniform rules across the country. The program started in New Orleans in 2017 with three leagues, and has since grown to 21 leagues nationwide. Locally, there are leagues in Carmel Valley and La Jolla.
Registration is now open for the La Jolla league at playfna.com and to help celebrate, the 2010 Super Bowl winner met with the children, answered questions, signed autographs and took photos.
Questions from the athletes — who were more knowledgeable than Brees was perhaps prepared for — ranged from how he got into football, his history on the New Orleans Saints, his secret to football success and that now-infamous National Football Conference (NFC) Championship call.
Chuckling and shaking his head, he addressed the “NFC call” (which was actually a no-call when a Rams player hit a Saints player with his helmet during the 2019 NFC Championship game, leading many to believe there should have been a pass interference call in the fourth quarter. The lack of a call was considered a factor in the Rams win) with “I was pretty upset. Yeah, it was tough.”
He explained: “It was obvious there was a penalty. But do the officials always make the right call? No. Do I control what the officials call? No. So can I really get mad about something I cannot control? No, so it’s move on to the next play. That’s just life sometimes.”
Another question: “Who is your best friend on the Saints?” was also met with endeared chuckles.
“I’m kind of the old guy on the team. I’m 40 and most of the guys I am playing with are 23 and 24 years old, so there is a generation gap. One of my best buddies, Max Unger, just retired. Actually, my other best buddy retired two years ago. Mark Ingram was a good buddy, but he just moved to the Ravens. But I maintain friendships with these guys and they will always be my friends.”
Coping with injury
Brees has been with the New Orleans Saints for longer than most — if not all — the young athletes have been alive, at 13 years. But before that, he played for the San Diego Chargers. And it was there he hurt his shoulder — badly.
“Out of 32 teams in the NFL, 30 of them told me they didn’t think I would play again,” he said. “The two teams that thought I could were the Saints and the Miami Dolphins. And at the last minute, the Dolphins said, ‘well we actually think you are too hurt.’ But the Saints believed in me and allowed me to heal, and I have been with them ever since.”
To help him reach his current athletic prowess, Brees said he played baseball, basketball, track, soccer, tennis, ping-pong and ran track.
“Kids, play as many sports as you can for as long as you can,” he advised. “Don’t let anyone tell you, you have to specialize in something. Every sport requires different skill sets, and there is a sport in every season.”
To answer the question of what one sport helped Brees to become a better football player, he relied on those who follow him on Instagram.
“What did I post about on Sunday?” he asked.
A small voice from the stands yelled, “Tennis!”
Brees replied: “I think tennis is a great sport. It helped me the most as a quarterback. You have to hit forehand and backhand, so you have to use your right hand and your left hand. The lateral movement and holding on the racket is also great for your shoulder stabilization. But all sports complement each other.”
Answering a question from a concerned parent about the overall safety of tackle football, he added that with more knowledge about head injuries and removing the “warrior attitude” of having injured players go right back out before they are healed, the game has come a long way in terms of safety.
But, he told the crowd, he still wouldn’t let his sons play tackle football until middle school. “At that point, their bodies are ready for the physical element,” he said.
Among those excitedly waiting in the autograph line, 10-year-old Cole Weiss said it was “awesome” he got to meet Brees. “I’m a huge fan of his. He’s a nice guy.”
— Learn more about Football ‘N’ America at playfna.com