There's a level of sports excellence that few people ever reach, in any field, marked by athletes whose very names conjure the idea of greatness. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady.
They have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to reach that mountain top and, because of that, have a unique appreciation when they recognize a similar level of distinction in others.
Perhaps it should be unsurprising then that not long after Drew Brees, a modern NFL icon in his own right, announced his retirement from playing football, it was Brady who was among the first to congratulate him on his remarkable career.
"Congrats my friend on an incredible career," Brady tweeted. "Thank you for the inspiration and dedication on and off the field! Look forward to seeing what’s next."
Brees, who won seven division titles as the New Orleans Saints' quarterback, played what ultimately was the final game of his storied 20-season NFL career against Brady in the divisional round of the playoffs this year.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 18, 2021
But Brady wasn't the only one to wish Brees well on a career that saw him not only notch the most completions and passing yards in NFL history, but become an integral part of the New Orleans community, too.
When Brees arrived, the city was recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- so much so that Saints head coach Sean Payton has recalled getting lost while showing Brees around during his free-agent visit, having to navigate ravaged neighbourhoods. Instead of signing elsewhere, Brees restored a century-old home in uptown New Orleans, and committed to raising millions of dollars to rebuild schools, athletic fields and parks.
Brees' on-field career with the Saints started when they were fresh off a 3-13 season in 2005. The franchise had only one playoff victory in 39 years. That changed. Brees led the Saints to the NFC Championship game in his first year with the team and won his first and only Super Bowl in his fourth.
Like Brady and New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell, fans, players and reporters all celebrated his achievements -- and looked toward what might come next.
Drew Brees' kids helping their dad announce his retirement is just the cutest thing.
: IG/drewbrees pic.twitter.com/1ZxpnWEOP2
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 14, 2021
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 14, 2021
Drew Brees retiring on the anniversary of him signing with the Saints pic.twitter.com/z9VgXyedr8
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) March 14, 2021