...but most importantly, he saw me.
Near the end of his speech, he talked about how great New Orleans fans were, and I and the Saints fan next to me cheered and held up autographed replica helmets that the guy had brought. “I see some of the Who Dat Nation is in the house!” Drew said, gesturing at us. Drew them pointed at me, smiled and said, "You can't escape them." Big laugh.
Drew was the featured speaker at the 14th annual Boys & Girls Clubs Steak and Steak Dinner in Springfield. Past speakers include Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bob Gibson, Bob Knight, Dick Vitale and Roy Williams. They get big names each year. The emcee said he wondered how to top them, and also noted that recent speakers had won championships the following year. He then wondered aloud who’d be lucky enough to speak next year. Drew would later suggest he make a repeat appearance.
I sat at one of the assigned individual tables, grouped with others who had bought tickets on their own as opposed to through their companies. The table was on the third row, all the way to the left. Not the best perspective, but there really were no bad seats. I was first at my table, staking out the best vantage chair. I then got up to spit out my gum in a nearby trash can and ran right back. In that time, a woman arrived and commandeered my chair and three others. I was nice enough about it, as was she, but it was clear she expected me to move all of my stuff. And how do YOU do?
That did, however, set me up to sit next to a guy wearing a cool Saints tie who came armed with a full-sized replica Saints helmet and two smaller ones. The two autographed helmets featured signatures by current players including Pierre Thomas, Courtney Roby, Bobby McCray, Troy Evans and past players such as Aaron Brooks (“Probably lowers the value, but I’m never selling it.”) He told me he was a New Orleans-area native who grew up in Springfield and is now based in Joplin. Like me, he works as an editor. Small, awesome world. He, his father and I had a great time swapping Saints (and Vikings) stories.
Prior to Drew’s turn on stage, we watched videos and heard from some of the kids who benefited from the Clubs. One young girl presented to Drew a gift for “Baylen and the mystery baby.” Awwww.
Following that was a live auction, where everything went for ridiculous prices. The auctioneer scanned the audience so thoroughly that several people scratching their heads nearly placed $2,000 bids. I had to be extra-vigilant, especially after the man sitting directly in front of me won a trip to see The Tonight Show with a $1,900 bid (on purpose). “You are the sexiest man in the room right now,” the auctioneer said, I presume to him.
But donors saved the big bucks for the Brees swag, which included two autographed footballs, pictures, hugs and more. A framed Brees jersey - one that Drew himself signed personally for the winner and, as my new friend pointed out, seemed to have upside-down E’s - fetched $4,200.
Drew issued his footballs, hugs and John Hancocks, then took the stage to thunderous applause. He said it was his first time in Springfield, except when he'd drive through from Lafayette to Kansas City. Hey, we have that in common!
He spoke of the need for the Boys & Girls Clubs and, getting personal, talked about the parallel redemptions of New Orleans and himself following Hurricane Katrina and his 2005 injury. No Saints fan is unfamiliar with the story, though it never ages one minute through repeated tellings.
He mentioned how former Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel was developing strongly as his backup, and that he hopes he can carry on the winning tradition. “But not too soon,” I said to myself.
Drew assured Springfieldians it was OK for them to be Saints fans, and that they could rationalize it conference-wise. “The Chiefs can be your AFC team!”
Drew talked about his son Baylen, and how the best moment of his life was holding him up after the Super Bowl win. He said he looks forward to telling Baylen about that moment, and that “when he’s in first grade, he’ll be waving the Sports Illustrated cover around, like, ‘Yeah yeah. Anybody else?’ I’m gonna have to figure out a way to humble him.”
He also mentioned Coach Sean Payton’s love for Juicy Fruit, and how at the absolute climax of the Super Bowl, Payton wanted a piece. Of course, that exchange is preserved for all time in the NFL Films Super Bowl XLIV segment.
Following the speech, Drew took questions. I was not at all prepared for this, and my new friend and I joked that our questions would resemble those heard on The Chris Farley Show. “Remember...remember when you won the Super Bowl? That...was awesome!”
Nevertheless, my friend shouted the first question: “What is your favorite restaurant in New Orleans?” Drew said he loved the oysters at a restaurant whose name escapes me (crap!), but which brought a huge cheer. I’m sure I’d remember it if you guys named it.
Somebody else asked him about Treme, for some reason.
In response to another question, Drew said just the communication on his helmet mike alone would make for a hilarious and successful TV series.
Afterward, Drew received a standing ovation and hung around for a few minutes. We crept closer to the stage. While we talked to a woman from Baton Rouge dressed in a form-fitting, black-and-gold sequined dress, Drew and his phalanx of suits swept right past us. I didn’t realize this until I noticed the woman had suddenly forgotten we existed. Drew was hustled out the door as if the sight of us Saints fans had freaked him out. Not that I blame him.
“He’s been whisked around all day,” the woman told us.
On my way out, I discovered I hadn’t won the silent auction in which I had bid $50 for an autographed Super Bowl XLIV program (though I had been the highest bidder for as long as I’d kept track). I waited in line for quite a while before glimpsing the bid sheet of the guy behind me, who had a much higher price on that item. Nuts. I’m just grateful that Brees is better at winning championships than I am at winning auctions for things I really, really want.
Anything for the children.
And because some of you asked, here’s a picture of me dressed up for the event. It doesn’t happen often, so savor it. Who Dat!