Let me start off this post with an apostasy: I have never been a big Dan Marino fan, and I don't rate him as highly as other great NFL quarterbacks. To me, Dan Marino doesn't belong in the same league as Joe Montana, or Terry Bradshaw, or Troy Aikman, for one simple reason. Dan Marino, for all his (former) records, all his gaudy statistics, all his legendary exploits, left the NFL with exactly zero championships and a single Super Bowl appearance, in his second season.
Drew Brees, by the way, was heading for an even worse fate than Marino. His was the Tale of Missed Potential.
Do you remember when Drew Brees was coming out of college? I do, because I happened to work with someone who was a proud Purdue alumnus, and could not stop talking about how great Brees was. Not that I didn't know that for myself. Here was a guy who, at age 21, had already done the seemingly impossible - lead the Purdue Boilermakers into the Rose Bowl. Big things were expected.
He wasn't the first quarterback selected - that was Michael Vick, and, frankly, who could blame the Falcons for trading up to get him. What's interesting is the team they traded with - San Diego. The Chargers could have had Vick for their own, but they preferred to trade down, drafting LaDanian Tomlinson, then Brees. However, Brees's five years in San Diego were a mixed bag, and he was considered enough of a disappointment that the Chargers felt the need to obtain Philip Rivers a mere three years after drafting Brees. Two more years in San Diego, and the label was complete. Missed Potential. Even worse, after shoulder surgery, he was also now an Injury Risk.
None of that mattered to Sean Payton. The former Cowboys assistant was finally getting his shot, and he was going to turn the Saints around the only way that made sense - a high-powered passing offense, similar to the ones he ran as a quarterback and assistant coach. But to be a success, Payton needed a quarterback who was comfortable throwing the ball many, many times, who could stay in the pocket while it was collapsing around him, who had a proven track record for fireworks. Someone who was a proven commodity - being the all-time Big Ten passing leader certainly wouldn't hurt. Luckily, that man was available.
Fast forward six years, and Drew Brees is the owner of 18 NFL records, including one of the most hallowed in football history, Most Yards Passing in a Single Season. It was a record he came so close (15 yards) to breaking three years previously. This time around, he will shatter it, because he broke the record with a game left in the season. Not only that, but in the same game against the Falcons last week, Brees also became the first person to notch up two 5,000-yard passing seasons in his career, and reached 40,000 yards for his career, effectively in ten seasons (he played but one game in his first year in the NFL). Were Brees to keep playing for as long as Marino, averaging 3,000 yards a season, that would put him at 61,000 yards. Marino's career total? 61,361.
Before you think that keeping up a 3,000 yard pace is unreasonable, let me share with you Dan Marino's last six seasons, starting with age 33 (Brees, by the way, is 31 this year):
(In Marino's Age 32 season, he was injured and only played in five games. He ended up throwing for 1,218 yards, which pro-rates to a 3,898-yard season over sixteen games.)
The average of Marino's last six seasons, when he is at the age Brees is going into? 3,440 yards. Throw in the pro-rated total for 1993 and it jumps up to 3,506 yards. So a 3,000-yard average for Brees, should he keep playing for seven more years, is certainly reasonable. If he were to average 3,500 yards for the last seven years of his career, just like Dan Marino did, that would put him past Marino and close to the 65,000 yard mark. That's Brett Favre territory, and Favre didn't retire until he was 41.
Am I saying that Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the history of the NFL? No, because his career has yet to be fully written. However, he is a lock for the Hall of Fame, based on all he has accomplished thus far. What's more remarkable, to me, is that unlike Marino, and to a lesser extent Favre, Brees found the most profit in the second act of his career. He truly turned things around after linking up with Sean Payton and the Saints, and long may it continue. As they say in Brees's adopted home town, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Finally, bringing things back to where they were at the beginning of the column, Drew Brees has something Dan Marino does not - a Super Bowl Championship. Want to bet against him getting another? I sure don't.