He's the guy who goes on flipping through his magazine when the
airplane hits heavy turbulence, the dude who casually takes cover
in a doorway when the earthquake strikes. For nearly a year now
we've been hearing that Drew Brees, the San Diego Chargers'
23-year-old quarterback, is preternaturally calm in times of
crisis, and on Sunday the theory was put to its sternest test.
With 2:24 left in the Chargers' AFC West showdown against the
Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego trailed by six points. Brees
entered the huddle with no timeouts remaining and 71 yards
standing between him and NFL adulthood.
"Let's get it done, right now," he told his teammates, flashing a
sly grin. "You know we're going to win this game."
Never mind that Brees had already thrown two ugly interceptions,
part of a giveaway-fest that nearly gave first-year Chargers
coach Marty Schottenheimer a migraine. The kid was hell-bent for
a happy ending, and when he spoke in the huddle, the other 10 men
there got almost as excited as the 58,995 fans at Qualcomm
Stadium. Yeah, Drew, we're with you! Come on, baby, do your
"We just felt it," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who
finished with 78 yards rushing and another 78 receiving. "He was
cool. Cool Brees."
Seven plays later, when Brees connected with rookie wideout Reche
Caldwell on a two-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds to go, the
winds of change had officially swept through this battered
football town. Blown away by San Diego's 35-34 victory were the
haunting images of Ryan Leaf and one of the longest Super Bowl
hangovers in history. When the dust had settled, the Chargers
(5-1) stood alone atop football's toughest division, with another
monster clash looming in Oakland this Sunday against the 4-1
In San Diego the time has come to start anew with Drew. Call it
Revolution Number 9. "I love our belief in one another," Brees
said after beating the Chiefs (3-3). "When the offense falters,
the defense is there to pick us up, and vice versa. We're doing
this together, and we're so confident that we can find a way to
The game ended with linebacker Donnie Edwards's interception of
Kansas City quarterback Trent Green's Hail Mary. The jubilant
Chargers rushed onto the field, and the stadium rocked as it
seldom has in the past seven years. Chiefs linebacker Lew Bush,
who played for San Diego from 1993 through '99 (including the
team's AFC title season, '94), looked up in wonder and said,
"This reminds me of the Super Bowl year. They've got it rolling
If the comparison seems a little extreme--remember, the previous
Sunday the Chargers had been crushed 26-9 in Denver by the
Broncos--forgive San Diego fans for daring to dream. A season
certainly seems magical when you win a game despite five
turnovers, a blocked punt that led to a first-quarter touchdown,
and a rash of injuries to the defense, most notably to All-Pro
linebacker Junior Seau, who missed most of the second half with a
left foot injury.
Thanks to a little luck (a Kansas City timeout with 19 seconds
left saved San Diego from a certain delay-of-game penalty) and
plenty of pluck, the Chargers survived their mistakes. "We shot
ourselves in the foot so many times," said All-Pro defensive end
Marcellus Wiley, who missed the game with a groin injury, "but
the way we fought back showed the character and the courage of
It must be noted that San Diego raced to a 5-2 start last season
before losing its final nine games, which ensured the departure
of coach Mike Riley. "Last year, a lot of guys were like, 'Oh, my
God, we won'--they didn't know what to do," says 39-year-old
quarterback Doug Flutie, the 2001 starter who was beaten out by
Brees in training camp. "This year it's a more businesslike
approach. We expect to win."
Adds long snapper Dave Binn,"I think we got full of ourselves
early [last year] and started slacking off. We thought we were
better than we were. Marty's not letting that happen."
Though Schottenheimer undoubtedly appreciated Sunday's victory
over his former team, it was the kind of game that made him
reflect longingly on his brief stint as a TV analyst. Over the
years Schottenheimer's teams have consistently led or been near
the top of the league in turnover margin; on Sunday the Chargers
might as well have been handling fly balls in the Metrodome. The
giveaways were two off-target tosses by Brees near the K.C. goal
line, a pair of fumbles by wideout Curtis Conway and a coughed-up
punt return by Tamarick Vanover.
When All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez caught a three-yard
touchdown pass with 8:06 left, putting the Chiefs up 31-21, it
looked like a good time to make one last trip to the fish-taco
stand and bolt for the freeway. But Brees wasn't having any of
that. Number 9? Number 9? "He's a football player, man," says
veteran safety Keith Lyle, whose third-quarter interception
return to the Chiefs' nine was San Diego's lone takeaway until
the final play. "That's why we like the guy so much."
Though the Chiefs tried to rattle him both verbally and
physically, Brees (28 of 41 for 319 yards and two touchdowns),
whose resting pulse rate is a reported 38 beats per minute,
stayed cool all day. Just before the start of the second half, he
looked on the stadium's video screen and recognized the pretty
blonde sitting in a luxury box. "Hey," he said, nudging
Tomlinson, "that's Trista, the girl from The Bachelor. Dude,
check it out, she's wearing your jersey."
With 4:07 to go, Brees threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to wideout
Tim Dwight to complete a nine-play, 65-yard drive and cut K.C.'s
lead to 31-28. The Chiefs then made it 34-28 on Morten Andersen's
43-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining.
It was time for the kid to rock, and Brees never flinched,
completing five consecutive passes to set up second-and-one at
the Kansas City two. After a pass to Conway (who had eight
catches for 129 yards) fell incomplete, both teams became
flustered. San Diego's play call was 989 Stops. The formation
features four wideouts running comeback routes, but blocking
tight end Ed Ellis mistakenly entered the huddle. With 12 men on
the field and the play clock down to its final seconds, the
Chargers were resigned to a delay-of-game penalty--until the
confused Chiefs called timeout.
Brees was not just lucky, he was also good: From the shotgun he
threw a perfect pass to Caldwell's outside shoulder, and the
rookie juked defensive back Eric Warfield and skated into the end
zone. Steve Christie's extra point provided the final margin, and
the only remaining question was which of the NFL's most frequent
weepers--Schottenheimer or Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil--would be the
first to shed a tear. Schottenheimer nearly did, getting choked
up as he told his team, "There's a lot of character in this room.
I'd rather have good people than good players."
It was all a bit heavy for Brees, who had one more connection to
make. An hour after the game he returned to the field to greet
the lovely Trista, now cast as The Bachelorette, with a film crew
in tow. After she and Brees chatted for a few minutes, the
quarterback, perhaps mindful that he soon won't be a bachelor,
jogged over to his fiancee, Brittany Dudchenko, and said, "Come
on over and meet her."
"Absolutely not," Brittany replied, frowning.
Brees, however, was just getting warmed up. He set up a
long-throwing contest for the Bachelorette's five male suitors,
jumping up and down excitedly when the dude wearing a Brees
jersey won with a 50-yard heave. All the while, Flutie was
standing across the field with a mischievous smile, flinging
footballs in his direction.
"Hey, you know what we should do?" Brees said to no one in
particular. "Let's get a big flag-football game going out here."
The calmest 23-year-old in San Diego playfully cocked his arm,
looking for the open man.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM KURTZ/AFP IN CHARGE Having passed a major test against the Chiefs, Brees can now point toward a showdown with the Raiders.
COLOR PHOTO: DENIS POROY/AP STEPPING OUT Caldwell danced into the end zone for the victory, and San Diego was off to its best start since the 1994 season.