I remember knowing about football before 2006. My mom didn’t like Donovan McNabb, even though my brother did. The Philadelphia Eagles were my hometown team. I didn’t know much else. Granted, I was five.
2005 was a big year for me. In June, my family moved to New Orleans. After two months of hot and humid southern summer, Hurricane Katrina hit the city in August. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the back of my family’s minivan in endless one-way traffic on a highway full of other confused toddlers as we all evacuated the city before the storm. It was scary, and confusing.
But I was more fortunate than most, and we eventually landed at an apartment in Houston in early September. By my birthday in November, I felt settled into my temporary home, and I had friends there to celebrate with.
I was too young then to fully understand just how fortunate we were, but I do now. My parents both had jobs, and even though I had to share a bedroom with both of my older siblings, we at least had a bedroom to share.
2006 was a big year for me, too.
In January we went back home to New Orleans. In February I had my first Mardi Gras. Five years old is a little young for some of the more debaucherous fun, but the beads, stuffed animals, colorful floats, and energetic (read: drunk) crowds were beyond exciting.
But the city was still broken. There were still thousands of people left homeless by flooding, and even then I knew very well that it was those who had the fewest resources and options that were hit hardest.
In March the New Orleans Saints signed Drew Brees. I honestly don’t remember it. I was little, and while I remember that year better than most people likely remember being five, I definitely wasn’t old enough to pay attention to off-season football.
But he engaged with the city. He gave time and money to schools, to nonprofits helping reconstruct the city, and to churches feeding those who’d lost everything. And he brought energy. He led a team that had been the “Ain’ts” to a conference championship game, and three years later a Superbowl. He helped bring back the energy that New Orleans is so famous for, and the people that make it more than just a party.
I remember when the Superdome reopened. I remember the excitement, and the feeling that the city would come back. I remember going to crawfish boils on the field behind my school and knowing that Drew Brees donated that field. I remember going to parades that next year and how I was more excited for the Saints to be there than for the beads (though the beads were pretty damn exciting).
I wasn’t old enough then to understand what Drew Brees brought to New Orleans, but I was old enough to feel it. And I’m old enough now to understand that Drew Brees did as much for New Orleans as any athlete has ever done for their city. Whatever his flaws, I’ll always be grateful for that. And even though he retired last week, he’ll always be my team’s quarterback.