Brees, Manning each on path to perfection
METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees was a senior quarterback at Purdue, still riding the emotional high from one of the biggest victories of his college career, when he received a phone message that he remembers fondly to this day.
"After we beat Ohio State — we came back in the end to beat them — and all of a sudden on my voice mail after the game I have a call from Peyton Manning that said, 'Hey man, I watched the game, congratulations,"' Brees recalled. "I became a Peyton Manning fan ever since based on that he called a young college guy like me to tell me congratulations."
Nearly a decade after the win that helped put Purdue in the Rose Bowl, Brees and Manning are two of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL in both yards passing and touchdown passes. They've also combined to make NFL history by leading the only two teams to go undefeated through 12 games in the same season.
There's even a possibility their parallel pursuits of perfection could collide in a first Super Bowl between undefeated teams.
"I would love for that to happen," Brees said. "It would be great."
With Purdue's campus in West Lafayette, Ind., Brees said he had a few chances during his college years to go to Indianapolis to watch Manning play for the Colts.
Their ties only grew when Brees signed as a free agent with the Saints in 2006, moving to Manning's hometown and stepping into the role Manning's father, Archie, held for 11 seasons.
It did not take long before Archie Manning and Brees became friends, with the patriarch of New Orleans' first family of football showing Brees around the historic Uptown neighborhood where the Mannings live and where Brees eventually bought a century-old fixer-upper.
Early on, Brees would lean on Archie for advice on everything from where to go out to eat to where to get his hair cut. He also became friends with Archie Manning's oldest son, Cooper, who lives in New Orleans, and their wives are friends as well.
Archie Manning and Brees regularly exchange text messages during the season.
Peyton Manning, meanwhile, said he has enjoyed watching Brees' success from afar this year, knowing that the long suffering fans in his hometown finally have an elite team playing in the Louisiana Superdome.
"Drew and I are friends," Peyton Manning said this week. "My family's gotten to know him, and he's a great guy. He's had a great year, playing at a high level this year, and I've been following him for a long time."
Last week, Brees passed Archie Manning for second in touchdown passes for the Saints. Brees now has 117 to the elder Manning's 115. With four more TD tosses, Brees will pass franchise leader Aaron Brooks.
Archie Manning didn't even entertain a debate of who is the best Saints quarterback of all time, calling Brees "the best quarterback they've ever had, period."
Although the elder Manning has one son playing for Indianapolis and another, Eli, playing for the New York Giants, he said he probably enjoys football most while watching the Saints.
"If you want to know the truth, it's six hours of stress on Sunday afternoons if one of the boys is playing at 1 and the other at 4. It's hard watching your kids in that hard, tough, physical environment," Archie Manning said. "It's different when you've got a son playing and then you have the team where you grew up playing. Drew has done a wonderful job here ... and he is a classy young man."
Brees has thrown for 3,536 yards and a league-leading 29 TDs this season. Peyton Manning has thrown for league-leading 3,686 yards and 25 TDs.
Archie Manning said he did not think it would be fair to get into comparisons over who was having a better season, but added that the Saints and Colts "have done the best job of the 32 teams this year, and there's no question about that."
For Brees, getting to 12-0 for the first time in what is now his ninth season has instilled in him a sense of wonder regarding the steady success Peyton Manning and the Colts have enjoyed year after year.
"The interesting thing is we're sitting here 12-0 and this is uncharted territory for a lot of us," Brees said of the Saints. "How many times have the Colts started off 8-0, 9-0, 10-0, 13-0, 12-0 now. ... People forget how hard this is to do and yet the Colts seem to find a way to be in that mix every year. They've won 12 or more games the last seven years in a row. That's unbelievable."
Brees said that because of some common opponents the Saints and Colts have every now and then, he winds up watching film of Manning. Although Brees' primary purpose is to learn more about a defense he'll be facing, "I'm also watching (Manning) a little bit as a fan, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy and he's one of the best to have ever played the game," he said.