When Brees took off and picked up a sliding first down in the second series, I could almost hear Sean Payton’s sphincter puckering all the way from Indianapolis. The fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, okay, but not a meaningless exhibition game. It is so obvious that Brees is the lynchpin for the local heroes that the specter of injury can’t even be contemplated. But this is the NFL, and it happens. Just ask the folks in St. Louis today who are scrambling to find a quarterback after losing starter Sam Bradford for the season Saturday night against Cleveland. Bradford tore the same ACL that shortened his 2013 season which now leaves the Rams in the hands of Shaun Hill, a 13-year journeyman from Maryland. I have a masters degree from Maryland, and I’ve never heard of Shaun Hill!
Speaking of Maryland, while I was working on the degree, I was covering the Baltimore Colts who had won three straight AFC Eastern Division titles. It was 1978 and the team thought they were positioned to finally snap the Steelers’ AFC stranglehold when they headed into the last preseason game, at Detroit. But their hopes evaporated when Lions’ rookie DE Bubba Baker grabbed QB Bert Jones and drove him into Silverdome’s concrete-hard surface. Jones’ throwing shoulder was separated, and he was out for the season. Enter backup QB Bill Troup, and the Colts’ were done, finishing 5-11.
That is what can happen when a team loses its starting quarterback. An NFL team doesn’t go into a Sunday like a “Weekend at Bernie’s” where they can prop their injured star in an easy chair and expect everything around him to progress normally. An example was obvious Saturday after Brees put on a baseball cap with minutes remaining in the first quarter. What happened? Not much, thanks to his backups, Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin, who played the last three-plus quarters. McCown made a couple of nice runs but completed only three of ten pass attempts while Griffin, the Great Greenie hope from Tulane, hit eight of thirteen attempts but only produced one field goal.
Brees’ health was the last thing on anyone’s minds after he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated looking for all the world like a Megatron warrior, waving two gigantic ship’s ropes and surrounded by all manner of sadistic contraptions. The story trumpeted his great condition, which he followed with talk about playing until he’s 45. All that instantly disintegrated with an injury to some obscure muscle called an “oblique,” which infused even more irony since the muscle is located near what we mere mortals affectionately call our “love handles.” That fatty tire around most of our waists does not exist on the svelte quarterback, but neither have most of us suffered an oblique injury.
I know, I should be satisfied that Brees is back and playing like the Brees we all expect to take the Saints deep into the playoffs. But this is the NFL, and I know what can happen.