Perhaps the secret to NFL perfection is having a former Purdue quarterback on your roster.
The New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts are a combined 18-0 this season, and they are the only unbeaten teams remaining in the league. New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Denver’s Kyle Orton are having career years, while Indianapolis rookie Curtis Painter is learning under Peyton Manning.
It so happens that all three became stars at Purdue under former coach Joe Tiller’s spread offense. And with Purdue senior Joey Elliott leading the Boilermakers past Ohio State two weeks ago, it’s a good time to be a member of a tightly knit Purdue quarterback fraternity that stays in touch and pulls for one another.
Brees text-messaged Elliott the day before the Ohio State game and told him to “shock the world.” Elliott threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns as Purdue stunned the No. 7 Buckeyes 26-18.
“It was awesome,” Brees said. “I just kind of had a feeling it was going to happen and it did.”
Brees is the senior active member of the group, and he takes pride in guiding the younger ones.
“I definitely want to offer any assistance that I can to help them build confidence,” he said. “I go back every year, talk to those guys as much as I can, typically work out with them, go out and throw with them, that kind of stuff.”
The Purdue quarterback tradition is deep. Bob Griese and Len Dawson have won Super Bowls, Mike Phipps was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1969 and Merk Herrmann, Gary Danielson and Jim Everett had lengthy NFL careers. The school calls itself the “Cradle of Quarterbacks.”
The common bond for the latest crop of Purdue passers is Tiller. Brees said Tiller helped him become a man.
“Coming in, 18 years old, you still have a lot a maturing to do,” Brees said, “and a lot of the way that you develop is based on the type of mentorship that you have from your coaches, your head coach, your offensive coordinator, your quarterback coach, the guys that you spend the most time with. I can definitely credit a lot of those people, and coach Tiller especially.”
“He really wasn’t an ‘X and O’ guy at all in school,” he said. “He didn’t even bother with that stuff. But he taught you how to be a quarterback, how to be a leader. He did a great job with that. We had some great quarterbacks go through Purdue and we’d learn from him. He made football fun. He’s a great coach.”
Painter, who holds the Big Ten record for yards passing in a season, is the only backup of the group. He’s fine sitting behind Manning and longtime backup Jim Sorgi.
“You kind of get used to playing, so this is a little different,” Painter said. “At the same time, I just take it as a great learning experience. The guy in front of me (Manning) is pretty good. Hopefully, if the time comes, this time right now will be beneficial in how I do.”
Painter said the efforts of Brees and Orton were important to him as he developed.
“That makes it as nice as anything, just getting to know the guys a little bit,” Painter said. “With me, and now Joey, to have a couple guys at the next level, that really kind of gives you a little motivation, kind of helps you along and gives you that little push.”
Brees, the Big Ten’s all-time leading passer, ranks third in the NFL in quarterback rating and second in touchdown passes, and has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks in recent years. He has remained true to his Purdue roots, donating $2 million for the school’s student-athlete academic center and occasionally returning to the West Lafayette area for community service projects.
After four solid but unspectacular seasons in Chicago, Orton was traded to Denver. Now, he’s seventh in the NFL in passing efficiency and has thrown just one interception, fewest among regular starters.
Brees has followed Orton’s career closely.
“Kyle, I’ve been really happy for he road that he’s traveled,” Brees said. “He’s fought through a lot of adversity, going back to Chicago, having to fight for his job every year and this whole trade thing with (Jay) Cutler, going to Denver. A really rough preseason, and now, they’re one of the undefeated, so hopefully we’ll just keep this Purdue quarterback thing going, you know?”