METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees did the math while reflecting on how long the game of football had been the primary focus in his life.
Twenty-eight years, dating back to high school.
“That’s two-thirds of my life,” said the 42-year-old Brees, who announced his retirement Sunday after 20 NFL seasons and 15 as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. “Of course it’s a difficult decision.
“I understand why guys have such a hard time with the transition from football. … You can’t replicate the locker room, and you can’t replicate running out of the tunnel. There’s just moments and feelings and emotions that are really hard to replicate after you’ve been a professional football player.”
Brees had long insisted that he believed he could play at a high level until the age of 45 or older. But he went into last season expecting it to be his last. “I felt that it was time,” he said.
“Could I keep playing? Yeah, I’m sure I could. But I’m also looking at my kids, my family, the age of my kids. And just gauging all of those things, there’s a balance there. And I also just felt like I would just feel it — I would feel when it was time,” Brees said during a teleconference Wednesday that introduced him as a new analyst for NBC.
Brees retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yards (80,358) and ranks second all time in touchdown passes (571) and completion percentage (67.7%). He was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIV after leading the Saints to their only championship in franchise history.
“I’ve always said as long as I could play the game at a high level, I’m having fun doing it and able to stay healthy, then this is something I’ll do forever,” said Brees, who missed four games with broken ribs and a punctured lung in 2020 and five games with a thumb injury in 2019 — after missing only one game because of injury in his first 18 seasons. “Obviously, I’ve had some injuries the last two years that have been frustrating — both of them kind of freak things. [But] I don’t think they were injuries that were saying I was getting old.
“Ever since the 2017 season, I have truly approached each season like it could be my last. … What I started to do was start enjoying the little things maybe more. Smell the roses, so to speak, and stay in the moment. So if something happened like an injury and I never played again, I’d know I poured everything into it. I think that served me well. I think I played some of my best football over that time.”
In Brees’ new role at NBC, he will call Notre Dame football games alongside Mike Tirico and serve as a studio analyst during Sunday’s “Football Night In America” show.
NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said there are no long-term plans in place for Brees to replace analyst Cris Collinsworth in the “Sunday Night Football” booth, because Collinsworth “remains among the best to ever have done it, and the plan is to have him in that chair for a long time.”
Brees said his new job will help “ease the transition” for him.
“I get to talk about the game of football. I get to eat, sleep and breathe the game of football still. I get to show my love and passion for the game still, just in a different way,” Brees said. “I’m gonna work as hard at this as I do everything in my life.”
Brees said he started to become seriously intrigued by the idea a few years ago when he was invited to join the broadcast booth during a game between his alma mater, Purdue, and Louisville.
“It was like the light bulb went on: ‘Man, I could do this and I would love it and I could be really good at it,'” said Brees, who acknowledged that he knows he will be measured against former NFL QB-turned-analyst Tony Romo.
“I think what Tony did is he very quickly showed football fans everywhere just the way that an NFL quarterback can see and process the game,” Brees said. “Tony has his own style. The best piece of advice I’ve gotten so far is just to be yourself — and that’s exactly what Tony has done … and all the great broadcasters.”
Brees added that he will be impartial for every one of Notre Dame’s broadcasts — except, of course, when it plays against Purdue.