Drew Brees’ Retirement Severed My Last Active Tie To My Grandmother
We bonded over sports and Drew Brees was the last remnant of that connection. But the generational bond he symbolized lives on.
When Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback, announced his retirement I was cleaning out my pantry. I started bawling. I’m not a Saints fan, but Brees was my last continuing link to my beloved grandmother.
Our last conversation was about Drew Brees.
“What do you think of him?,” I asked.
“You know, I’ve been reading in the newspaper that we didn’t make the right choice, but I think he’ll be O.K,” my grandmother replied. A short while later she was gone.
We shared a love for the San Diego Chargers, an affinity that my grandmother instilled from my birth. In the 2001 NFL draft, the Chargers selected Drew Brees in the second round. On the soundtrack of my grandmother’s house, sports talk radio, that pick was panned by many.
The scouting report on Drew Brees was that he didn’t have the arm strength to throw the deep pass, was inaccurate, and too short to be an NFL quarterback. But my grandmother would have none of it.
As I juggled life as a newlywed and junior lawyer, she struggled with endless chemotherapy sessions and exhaustion. We didn’t dwell on these topics, but instead argued the merits and demerits of Drew Brees.
We read the Sports section to analyze the prior week’s Chargers game and scout the following week’s opponent.
From my earliest childhood memories this was a familiar pattern. Knowledge about every sport from football to boxing to horseracing flowed from her to me. As an avid San Diego sports fan since relocating for my grandfather’s stint in the Navy, my grandmother made sure that I knew the rules of the game (whichever game) and rooted for the home team.
This was accomplished not through Chargers t-shirts or Padres felt pennants, but through watching football on TV and listening to baseball on the radio. Together we dissected fumbles, pass interference calls, defensive schemes, and in game coaching decisions.
She was not a fan of Chargers’ head coach Marty Schottenheimer. After a particularly painful Chargers loss (which they all were), her detailed debrief always ended in a hissed, “Well, that’s Martyball.”
Every day after school I stayed at my grandmother’s house until my Mom picked me up after work. Education was paramount, so after I finished my “lessons” we would sometimes go on errands or clean the house, but most often we listened to a baseball game while she made dinner. Or we read the San Diego Union-Tribune Sports section to analyze the prior week’s Chargers game and scout the following week’s opponent.
When I nervously introduced my boyfriend, now husband to my grandmother, she grilled him about his job prospects, his debt load, and told him she would kill him if he hurt me. Then they seamlessly slipped into a discussion of the relative merits of her football team versus his football team (the San Francisco 49ers). He passed the test.
Most of the family didn’t know that she hadn’t been feeling well for some time because she was so fiercely independent. She succumbed to cancer the summer of 2002, just as her quarterback, Drew Brees started training camp.
The sense of loss lessens over time. Before there was Google there was my grandmother, and she knew everything. I’d get her take on the Chargers’ latest foible, the most recent political scandal, her thoughts on New York Fashion Week, or a recipe tweak.
When the Chargers drafted Eli Manning in 2004 and then within the hour traded him to the Giants, I instinctively picked up the phone before I remembered she was gone. What would she think about Eli Manning vs. Phillip Rivers? The Chargers’ decision to move on from Brees? The Chargers’ move to Los Angeles? Brees and the Saints winning the Super Bowl?
The Brees retirement announcement is a symbol of the powerful bond between people, families and generations that common loves and hobbies, particularly sports allegiances build.
After almost twenty years, my memory of my grandmother is fuzzy around the edges. Every year I lose more of her fire, her essence, and her voice in my head. But I can clearly hear her saying, “See, I told you we should have kept him. Look what he did for the Saints!”
This year, the last group of Chargers we discussed so passionately is gone from the field. Phillip Rivers, the quarterback that replaced Brees, retired in January. Marty Schottenheimer died in February. And now, my last active, participatory sports link to my grandmother has retired.
As I stood in the pantry crying, my sixteen year old daughter eyed me warily. “Are you O.K.? Are you going to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show with me?”
The Brees retirement announcement is a symbol of the powerful bond between people, families and generations that common loves and hobbies, particularly sports allegiances build. I’ve successfully passed my grandmother’s love of sports on to my daughter, the granddaughter she never knew.
She loves football, basketball and baseball. Despite my best efforts, her team allegiances skew towards her fathers’ — the San Francisco 49ers and Giants. But she has also developed bonds to sports and teams all on her own that she now shares with us. She is a fan of hockey and the Vegas Golden Knights. She is an English Premier League soccer Chelsea fan. And during the pandemic she discovered the Gold Coast Suns of the Australian Football League.
I know that my future is filled with spirited debates about the Golden Knights’ goalies, and Chelsea coaches, bad refereeing, and the 49ers backfield. And this is just how my grandmother would have wanted it.