There is no sound quite like the trilling of a telephone on draft
day, a beautiful noise with the power to transform anxiety into
fulfillment. When the call came for Drew Brees at 3:30 last
Saturday afternoon, the former Purdue quarterback was washing
dishes in his kitchen, trying to distract himself from the
torture of waiting. The cordless handset chirped twice before
Brees's girlfriend, Brittany Dudchenko, snatched it off the
living-room floor and shouted, "Drew, the phone's ringing!" On
the television screen disembodied voices informed viewers that
the San Diego Chargers were next on the draft clock, with the
first pick of the second round, the 32nd overall. The room became
a still life.
This is how the waiting ends. Nearly 16 weeks after playing his
final college game, Brees would at last find out where football
would take him next. It had been a strange and tumultuous time,
spent in a no-man's land between collegian and professional,
where a player's stock rises and falls, buoying him one week,
mocking him the next. For Brees the ride had been measured in
increments as short as an eighth of an inch in height and as long
as the 70 yards a ball sails when thrown by a passer with an
NFL-approved arm. He had juggled the demands of a college
curriculum and those of 31 NFL teams, and never had he felt in
JANUARY 1, PASADENA
Brees's college career ends on the pristine grass of the Rose
Bowl, where Purdue loses 34-24 to Washington. Brees completes 23
of 39 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but his
counterpart, Huskies senior Marques Tuiasosopo, completes 16 of
22 for 138 yards and a touchdown, runs for 75 yards and another
touchdown and is named the game's MVP.
Brees could be deflated, but he's not. When he decided a year
earlier to return for his senior season, he set his mind on
winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl. Purdue had done
neither in 32 years. "How many players can set goals like that
and achieve them?" Brees says. In the locker room, and outside
the stadium, he implores teammates to take pride in the season.
"Don't let this ruin what we did this year," he tells them.
Brees leaves Purdue as the most productive quarterback in Big Ten
history, with league records for career passing yards (11,792)
and touchdown passes (90) among his 34 school, conference and
NCAA marks. He threw for only 232 yards as a freshman, yet only
three college quarterbacks have amassed more total yards than
Brees. "No regrets," he says. "I wouldn't do a thing
JANUARY 3-5, AUSTIN
Brees's transition from amateur to professional is almost
instantaneous. He is home in Austin to deliberate with his
parents on the choice of an agent. Mina and Chip Brees, who are
divorced, are both attorneys. Agents have chased Drew since his
sophomore year, when he became Purdue's starting quarterback and
passed for 3,983 yards and 39 touchdowns. Player representation
is a cutthroat business; there are more than 1,100 NFL-approved
agents, far more than players entering the league each year.
Brees's parents shielded him from overtures. By the start of his
senior year, only three suitors remained in the race: Tom Condon
of IMG, Texas-based Vann McElroy, and Leigh Steinberg.
Brees met with Steinberg at a motel near the Purdue campus in
West Lafayette, Ind., in August, one week before the start of
fall practice. Steinberg showed him the rookie contracts he
negotiated for Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer and Ryan Leaf. "It was
impressive," Brees says. "The guy seemed pretty innovative in the
way he structured things." Brees also saw McElroy last summer but
did not sit down with Condon until November, after Purdue's last
In the end Brees chooses Condon, with whom he feels he has a
better personal connection than with McElroy or Steinberg. Brees
is also swayed by the fact that IMG has 35 offices around the
country--"Wherever I play, they'll be close," he says--and by the
agency's commercial connections, but his decision is based
largely on instinct. "I got a good feel from the IMG guys," he
says. It will be widely speculated that Brees chose Condon
because Condon represents Peyton Manning, who is a friend of
Brees's. Not true. "I haven't talked to Peyton in months," says
Brees. "He got a new cell phone, and I don't have the number."
JANUARY 12, WEST LAFAYETTE
It is common for potential early-round draft picks to leave
college after the fall semester and relocate to a training center
to cram for the NFL scouting combine and for personal workouts.
"I'm training to be a professional football player," Missouri
defensive end Justin Smith will say at the combine, in February.
"I can't mess around with something else at the same time."
Most agents offer comprehensive training as part of their
representation package, and IMG has one of the best programs.
Players are housed and fed at the IMG Academies in Bradenton,
Fla., where they often become efficient workout animals, rising
in the draft and increasing their contract value as a result.
Former NFL assistant coach Larry Kennan works there with
quarterbacks. In 1998 Charlie Batch came to Bradenton as an
unknown out of Eastern Michigan and worked himself into the upper
half of the draft's second round, passing Michigan's Brian
Griese, who'd won a national championship. Cade McNown came out
of UCLA a year later with question marks about his size and arm
strength and was taken 12th, by the Chicago Bears. By early
January many of Condon's top clients are in Bradenton, including
Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Thomas of Michigan, Freddie Mitchell
of UCLA, LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU, Kenyatta Walker of Florida
and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke of Florida State.
Brees is still at Purdue. He is enrolled for the spring semester
to graduate on time, in four years. It wasn't an easy decision
for him to make. He is projected as a mid- to low first-round
draft choice, but draftniks and NFL scouts have questions about
him: Were his big college numbers a product of Purdue's spread
offense? Is Brees, barely 6-feet tall, gifted enough to overcome
his size? Does he have quick feet and passable sprinting speed?
The combine will be important, and Brees would benefit from boot
camp. Instead, he will train alone at Purdue. This is a source of
minor frustration for IMG, but, Condon says, "How can you
criticize a guy for wanting to graduate?" Brees intends to be
every bit as prepared for the combine as the prospects who train
in Bradenton, but it will be hard.
"I'd love to be down there working out all day, every day,
because this is the only time in my life that I'm going to be
drafted by the NFL," he says. But he's also a 3.42 student,
majoring in industrial management, and an NCAA postgraduate
scholarship winner whose good citizenship has resulted in the
naming of a street, Brees Way, in his honor in West Lafayette.
"Hopefully, I can set an example," he says. "I can show that it's
possible to play football at a high level, graduate and still go
on to the NFL."
He will have a busy winter. He will soon leave for a week in Maui
to play in the Hula Bowl, the first of many diversions from his
academic quest. As he walks toward the glass doors of the
Mollenkopf Athletic Center, Purdue's football complex, he reaches
for the bronze bust of former Boilermakers coach Jack Mollenkopf
and touches the brim of the old man's fedora, as he did for good
luck all season. "Going to be a wild ride," says Brees, stepping
into the cold air.
JANUARY 14-20, MAUI
If it weren't for the presence of scouts, the Hula Bowl would be
the alltime postseason boondoggle: exotic locale, great weather,
free afternoons and nightly luaus. All a college player has to do
in return is show up for practice every morning and, on Saturday,
play in a glorified scrimmage at a high school stadium. However,
the 60 NFL scouts and personnel executives turn this week from
Club Med into Survivor.
Most players in Maui are marginal draft fodder. "The talent level
is just O.K.," says the Dallas Cowboys' director of college and
pro scouting, Larry Lacewell. "Most agents put their best kids in
the Senior Bowl." (That's why more than 800 NFL reps are in
Mobile the same week.) The Hula Bowl awakens sleepers such as
running back R.J. Bowers of Division III Grove City (Pa.)
College, the leading rusher in NCAA history, who proves himself a
potential NFL fullback, and Miami cornerback Leonard Myers, who
is regarded as the best prospect at the game.
Other than Brees, that is. Brees is the only college star in
Maui. He is here as a favor to his Purdue coach, Joe Tiller, who
is one of the Hula Bowl coaches, and game organizers used Brees's
name to sell tickets. Brees calls the visit "a business trip,"
and on the first day of practice he snaps teammates out of their
island reveries by barking at Ohio State wideout Reggie Germany
for dropping a pass. "Wow, talk about presence," says coach Bob
Ford of Division I-AA Albany in New York. "One series after we
started, you knew every kid on that offense would follow Brees
Mostly, though, it's scouts who follow him. On the flight out,
Brees took four hours' worth of inane written tests. (Sample
question: Choose A or B: A) I'm a competitive person. B) I like
to win. "What's that about?" asked Brees.) In Maui NFL people
interview him ceaselessly. "He's the one guy here who everybody
wants to get on paper," says Tampa Bay Bucs scout Ruston Webster.
After one practice each player is weighed and measured. This is a
big moment for Brees. He was listed at 6'1" throughout his
college career. The height question hangs over him like a dark
cloud because the NFL treats short quarterbacks like the Ebola
virus. Inside a dank youth recreation center near the practice
fields, a parade of players walks across a stage. Scouts sit at
tables, like patrons at a Las Vegas revue. Heights are shouted in
succession. The scouts scribble. These numbers will be logged
into the NFL's master computer system and regarded as official,
at least until the combine.
When Brees is measured, the attendant pauses before barking,
"Five-eleven-seven [5'11 7/8"]." The audience groans. Brees steps
back and stares at the scale and its operator. He asks to be
measured again. "Six even!" bellows the attendant. Scouts
applaud. "He's a good kid; we all want him to be a 6-footer,"
Most scouts in Maui have seen Brees play many college games and
watched miles of tape featuring him. "What I'm seeing here [in
practices] reaffirms what we already know," says the Miami
Dolphins' director of college scouting, Tom Braatz. "The guy is
totally accurate, smart, avoids the rush, and he's a gamer. He's
not big, but if you like him, that doesn't matter."
Who likes him? Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown, whose
team has the fourth pick in the draft, has sent assistant coach
John Garrett to meet and watch Brees, even though the Bengals
took quarterback Akili Smith with the third choice of the draft
two years ago. "I like a lot of things about Drew," Garrett says.
"He's got a great foundation--good anticipatory thrower, keeps his
eyes downfield. He wouldn't be the top arm in the NFL, but he's
got enough arm. [The Bengals] are just going to have to decide
whether to fish or cut bait with Akili."
The Seattle Seahawks' director of player personnel, John
Schneider, spends hours talking to Brees in Maui. "We need a
quarterback, and there aren't many in the draft," Schneider says.
"But just because there's only one girl at the party, you don't
have to ask her to dance, right? I like Drew, I really do. Still,
we have to decide, how high do you take him?"
On a splendid tropical Saturday, Brees throws for a modest 119
yards and one touchdown in his team's 31-23 win in the Hula Bowl.
By 10 p.m. he is on a plane back to the mainland.
JANUARY 26-29, TAMPA
A taste of the big time. IMG flies its top prospective draftees
into Tampa for the Super Bowl. On the day before the game Brees
signs autographs in a booth at a fan fest, the first time he has
been paid for writing his name. For three hours' work he earns
$2,500, and he's paid on the spot. "I know it doesn't sound like
a lot of money," Brees says, "but it's the biggest check I've
On Sunday evening Brees sits in Raymond James Stadium, nine rows
from the field on the 25-yard line, as the spectacle of the Super
Bowl unfolds. It is intoxicating for a college senior who plans
to play in the NFL. "I had to pinch myself," Brees says. "We were
on the Giants' side of the field, and when they came out of the
tunnel, I imagined myself out there someday."
FEBRUARY 8, WEST LAFAYETTE
On an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, Brees stands with
Purdue strength and conditioning coach Jim Lathrop on the
sidewalk of North University Drive, which runs between Mackey
Arena, where the Boilermakers play basketball, and Ross-Ade
Stadium, where Brees set all those passing records. After a group
of runners passes, Brees breaks into the first of a half-dozen
uphill 100-meter sprints. Passing students rubberneck from car
windows, shocked at seeing Mr. Purdue himself in this setting.
Four times a week Brees lifts in the Purdue weight room, with an
emphasis on maintaining strength, not building muscle mass. Often
he has trouble finding a partner to spot his lifts because Purdue
players are lifting as a team at times that conflict with his
schedule. Five times a week he runs sprints and does exercises to
improve his sprint technique because he knows he can't afford a
slow 40 time at the combine. Last year Louisville quarterback
Chris Redman's plodding 5.35-second 40 spooked teams into
dropping him from the bottom of the first round into the third.
Brees doesn't lack speed. In three seasons he ran for 891 yards,
including 521 as a senior. Trouble is, he doesn't run as fast for
a stopwatch as he does on the field. "In a game he's plenty
quick," says Lathrop. "Drew's problem is that when he's running
for time, he gets his arms up high and tightens up, which causes
him to slow down. I'm trying to get him to keep his arms loose."
Almost every day Brees throws. "He probably throws too much,"
says Condon. Often his arm is sore and tired.
Brees is carrying a full load of five classes. Two of them, Wine
Appreciation (taught by, no lie, Dr. Vine) and Job Design, are
jokes. But three others--Strategic Management, Labor Relations and
Database Systems--are upper-level management classes. They require
attention and preparation. "I'm just hoping to make C's this
semester," says Brees. "I want to graduate, but pro football is
my future, so I'm compromising in some areas. I have to."
It is nearly 8 p.m. when Brees arrives at the modest apartment he
shares with Dudchenko, his girlfriend of more than two years. The
place is neat and white-glove clean. "That's Brittany, not me,"
says Brees. They live like a married couple. Drew goes to class,
works out, comes home. Dudchenko, a Purdue graduate, is a travel
agent. They eat dinner together almost every night, like Dharma
and Greg. They will go wherever the NFL takes Brees. Tonight they
watch Friends before Brees retires to the bedroom to study.
FEBRUARY 9-12, LAS VEGAS
Brees spends a long weekend in Vegas for the ESPY Awards. The
following Saturday he will be in Ohio to receive the Big Ten MVP
award from the Touchdown Club of Columbus, and three days after
that he'll be in Philadelphia to accept the Maxwell Award as the
country's top college football player. "It's hard to say no," he
says of the various invitations. "The ESPYs are a great time, the
people in Columbus have invited me three years in a row, and the
Maxwell Award is very prestigious."
The combine begins two days after the Maxwell presentation.
FEBRUARY 14, DAVIE, FLA.
In his office at the Dolphins' complex, Rick Spielman, Miami's
vice president of player personnel, pops in a videocassette of
the 2000 Purdue-Minnesota game. He draws a nine-square grid on a
white board and begins charting Brees's throws. Short, medium,
long. Right, center, left. "That's a catch, nice release,"
Spielman says. "That's a drop. That's underthrown a little."
After only three series, Spielman's grid is full of notations.
January and February are video months for NFL personnel staffs.
They sit in front of TV monitors charting the top college players
in almost lunatic detail. If a guard scratches his butt before
pulling on sweeps to the left, they will know it.
Brees started 37 games and threw 1,678 passes at Purdue. "At
least three people on our staff have seen every snap in his
career," says Spielman. The Dolphins do medical and security
checks and personality tests on the top 100 players available for
the draft and give each a grade: A, B or C. "We will have a
substantial file on Brees before we interview him at the combine
in Indianapolis," says Spielman. To illustrate, he takes a writer
into a meeting room. One wall is filled with loose-leaf binders
labeled by year. There are at least 15 pages of notes on each
player, plus pictures. Most teams have as much. They may make
mistakes in drafting, but not for lack of preparation.
With less than two weeks to go before the combine, a leaguewide
consensus on Brees has formed: good head, decent feet, average
arm. He will need to run reasonably fast and throw well in
Indianapolis to improve his file.
FEBRUARY 25, HIGHWAY 65 NORTH, INDIANA
The 1997 Chevy Tahoe, a gift from Chip Brees to his son when he
won a scholarship to Purdue, blasts through the darkness on the
way from Indianapolis back to West Lafayette. Drew is talking on
his cell phone to his mother: "It wasn't great, Mom.... It wasn't
like I expected.... I'm tired, really tired.... I'm glad it's
over." Brees tells his mother he loves her, flips the phone shut,
swings into the left lane and pushes the speedometer past 80 mph.
It's been a lousy day, and the sooner it ends, the better.
Brees went to the NFL scouting combine with high expectations and
Forty-yard dash: 4.79 seconds, .07 faster than Marshall
quarterback Chad Pennington ran in the 2000 combine. (Brees's
actual time: somewhere between 4.73 and 4.83. Not bad.)
Five-10-five-yard shuttle: 4.15 seconds. (Actual time: 4.19.
"L" shuttle: 7.05 seconds. (Actual time: 7.09. Also acceptable.)
Vertical jump: Low 30s. (Actual height: 32 inches. Right on.)
Bottom line: Brees proved himself a good enough athlete to
satisfy most doubters, and he delivered under pressure. He even
measured a hair taller, 6'1/4". That's the good news. The bad
news: Brees had one other goal for Indianapolis--"I don't want any
incompletes in the passing drills"--but he didn't come close.
SI was allowed to watch a day of drills at the five-day combine,
which is usually off-limits to journalists. The scene inside the
RCA Dome was surreal as several hundred NFL scouts, executives
and coaches were scattered among the 56,127 seats. The hum of the
fans that keep the dome inflated was punctuated only by a buzz
from onlookers when something significant happened, as when
Nebraska defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch ran a scorching
4.68-second 40. The atmosphere was that of an SAT exam rather
than a football game. "It's totally disorienting," said Weinke.
The heart of the quarterbacks' workout was a series of 20 throws:
two pass attempts on each of 10 patterns. Brees was prepared to
work at full speed, taking a hard drop and throwing on rhythm,
before the receiver broke. However, Seahawks quarterbacks coach
Jim Zorn, who ran the session, told the passers, "Just ease up
and complete balls. Don't worry about anything else."
Brees was confused. Some quarterbacks took Zorn's advice and
threw three-quarter-speed spirals to wideouts long after the
receivers came out of their breaks. Balls like those would get
picked off in a game, but they were safe passes in this arena.
Brees stuck with his game plan and threw on rhythm. Some wideouts
made sharp breaks, others didn't. Of Brees's 20 balls, 11 were
solid throws and nine were poor. He one-hopped a simple out-cut
and overthrew another. His long throws--the post-corner and the
streak--were wobbly, setting off alarms throughout the league.
Hours later, Brees sits in the Tahoe, idling in the parking lot
of a West Lafayette hotel. During his three days in Indianapolis,
almost all teams in the league interviewed him. The Bengals, the
Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders and the
Washington Redskins, most of whom are unsettled at quarterback,
had long sessions with him. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren
interviewed Brees for more than an hour. The two men seemed to
connect. "I'd love to play for Coach Holmgren," Brees says. He is
silent for a long time. This is familiar territory for him. He
was lightly recruited in high school and had to establish himself
at Purdue. "Now," he says, "I have to prove myself all over
FEBRUARY 27, KANSAS CITY, MO.
At IMG football headquarters, reaction to Brees's combine
performance is swift. "He took a step back, no question," says
Condon. "I don't think he hurt his status as the Number 2
quarterback in the draft, but he didn't have a good day." If
Brees held his draft position, it's because there is little else
to choose from at quarterback after the presumed No. 1, Michael
Vick. Mel Kiper Jr., who ranked Brees No. 16 before the combine,
drops him out of his top 25 prospects.
Brees wants to audition again soon. Purdue seniors will work out
for NFL scouts on March 8, and Brees wants to throw on that day,
as well as in a private workout on March 21. Condon puts his foot
down and tells Brees to channel all his energy into preparing for
the March 21 session. They also make plans to get Brees to
Bradenton during his spring break to work with Kennan. "I wish it
were tomorrow," says Brees.
MARCH 8, WEST LAFAYETTE
Even though Brees and Condon have faxed, called and e-mailed all
NFL teams several times to remind them that he will not work out
during the Boilermakers' pro day, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom
Coughlin wants to see Brees throw. Coughlin is none too happy.
Midway through the afternoon, he sidles over to Brees. "Come on,
just throw a couple," Coughlin jokes.
"Sorry, Coach," says Brees.
MARCH 9, WEST LAFAYETTE
NFL free-agent signings are giving Brees a headache. On March 2
the Seahawks acquired Matt Hasselbeck from the Green Bay Packers
in a trade. Does that mean Seattle won't pick Brees? He is
disappointed. "Does Holmgren think Hasselbeck is the guy?" Brees
asks. "I could see him and me fighting for the job. Then again,
Jim Zorn was running my drills in Indy, and I stunk, so maybe
they're not interested in me. I don't know. Nobody calls to tell
you. There's no feedback."
Three days after the Hasselbeck deal, Brad Johnson signed with
the Buccaneers. Yesterday the Bengals picked up Jon Kitna, who
had been with Seattle. It looks as if the Chargers will sign Doug
Flutie, whom the Bills let go in favor of Rob Johnson. Should
Brees scratch all these teams? "It's crazy," he says. "I'm trying
to keep an open mind, but every signing seems to affect my
In two days he will leave for Bradenton, and he can't wait.
Randall Lane, who played with Brees in '98 and '99 and was
hanging around the campus, has gone off to prepare for NFL
Europe. Senior wideout Vinny Sutherland went to Cancun for spring
break. "There's nobody for me to throw to," says Brees.
MARCH 11-18, BRADENTON
Over 15 years Kennan was an offensive coach for six NFL teams.
The last was the New England Patriots, in 1997. He is now
executive director of the NFL coaches' association, but for three
years he has also been a hired gun for IMG, tutoring college
quarterbacks before their individual workouts with NFL teams.
Brees spends a week in Bradenton rehearsing with Kennan. "I'm not
changing anything Drew does," Kennan says. "I'll give him some
drills he can use or not use, but mostly he'll practice throwing
the routes he'll throw in his workout next week."
They work on a high school's practice field across a highway from
the IMG Academies. Brees and Weinke throw routes to Charlie
Jones, a four-year NFL veteran who is looking to sign as a free
agent. To rest Jones, Kennan has three high school players run
patterns for Brees and Weinke. One of them slips and slides along
the short grass in shiny spit-and-polish ROTC shoes, yet he moves
with grace and speed. "Florida athletes," says Brees.
The two quarterbacks throw for an hour, more than 100 balls
apiece. They run and lift every afternoon too, but the emphasis
here is on throwing the patterns that NFL people want to see.
"They're going to want to see the deep comeback, even though no
team in the league uses it," says Kennan. "They're going to want
to see the skinny post, the deep post-corner, and they're going
to want to see Drew fling it 60 yards, just to be sure he's got
enough arm." After five days Kennan and Brees sit down and script
his workout for the pros. Kennan will fly to Purdue to conduct
the session, and Jones will be one of Brees's two receivers.
"I expect to have butterflies next Wednesday, but that's good,"
Brees says, sitting on a trainer's rubbing table in the IMG
complex. He pounds the table with his fist. "I want the chance to
MARCH 21, WEST LAFAYETTE
By 10:45 a.m. representatives of seven NFL teams are at one end
of the Mollenkopf Center's 100-yard indoor practice field. Almost
the entire brain trust of the Kansas City Chiefs is here:
president Carl Peterson, coach Dick Vermeil, offensive
coordinator Al Saunders and quarterbacks coach Terry Shea. This
stands to reason, because the Chiefs have lost Elvis Grbac to
free agency and haven't succeeded in trading for Trent Green. San
Diego, which has the first pick in the draft, is represented by
coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Garrett
and offensive coordinator Ken Anderson are in from Cincinnati.
The Bills, the Cowboys, the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina
Panthers are also here. Peterson walks over to IMG's Ken Kremer
and says, "Well, we all wish he were a couple inches taller, but
what can you do?"
At 11:06 Kennan says, "We'll start now. Drew is going to make 75
or 80 throws, and I think you'll all see everything you need to
see." The tension is palpable: A player's future is on the line.
Brees will throw the same pattern twice, once to Jones and once
to Purdue senior Keith Dawson, and then jog to the other end of
the field and throw the same pattern in the opposite direction.
He begins with short outs and slants and progresses to modest
fades and skinny posts. Every throw is on target, and Brees runs
quickly from end to end. Eleven minutes into the workout, Kennan
calls for Jones to run a 17-yard comeback to the left sideline.
Brees takes a seven-step drop as Jones runs 20 yards, turns and
peels back toward the line of scrimmage while veering toward the
sideline. The ball must be released before Jones turns, and it
must travel nearly 40 yards in the air. It's a long, tough pass
that requires timing and arm strength--a litmus-test throw. Brees
uncoils a spiral so tight and hard that you can hear the football
hum in the dead air. It hits Jones in the hands at nose level, a
perfect pass. Somebody whistles softly in approval.
For the next 20 minutes, Brees is in an ungodly zone. He throws a
total of 74 balls, and only two hit the ground by his doing.
(Dawson drops several others.) He finishes by launching two
70-yard bombs, hitting the receivers in stride. "He threw the s---
out of it, in case you couldn't tell," Kennan says. "It was about
the best individual workout I've ever seen."