For Brees, Saints, lockout presents opportunities
Drew Brees has a track record of making the best of bad situations.
He sees no reason why the NFL lockout should be any different.
Brees and several dozen of his New Orleans Saints teammates have spent the past four weeks not only working out as a team, but also banding together to raise money for charities and even spending time with fans.
''You can only worry about the things that you can control, and we can't control the fact that we've been locked out,'' Brees said. ''What we can control is finding an alternative and then making the most of it, and I can't speak enough about the guys on our team, the type of character and leadership we have.''
On Wednesday, four winners of a raffle that raised about $43,000 for Louisiana charities had a rare chance to run through drills in player-organized workouts at Tulane University.
The event came one week after fullback Heath Evans hosted a softball game between defensive and offensive players that packed a 10,000-seat minor league baseball stadium and raised more than $200,000 for victims of child sexual abuse.
Evans said that when the lockout initially began, he figured he would not be able to host the softball game, which he'd also held in 2010, because he wasn't sure how many teammates would be around.
He changed his mind when he saw the strong turnout at the workouts organized primarily by Brees, and when fans flooded him with requests to hold the event again.
''This lockout is a horrible situation,'' Evans said. ''We know our fans are stressed, players are stressed, the owners are stressed, so, like great leadership does, you find a way to make something good out of something bad, kind of turn some garbage into gold, and that's what Drew's done.''
Brees was the driving force behind the ''Be a Professional Football Player for a Day'' raffle, which raised more than $10,000 a day over a little more than three days of selling tickets online at $2 apiece.
The four winners were: Shane Dunshee, 35, of Luling; Emily Gilly, 29, a New Orleans-area native who lives in Columbia, Md.; Dawson Schoening, 11, of Forney, Texas; and James Begnaud, 34, of Youngsville.
They were flown in (unless they chose to drive), were allowed each one guest, and were put up in a luxury downtown hotel, where they had breakfast with Brees and several other players. Then they took part in drills with the various position groups, ran pass routes when offensive and defensive players went seven-on-seven, and even got a taste of weight training with the pros.
For Dunshee, the highlight was obvious.
''Catching a pass form Drew Brees was outstanding. I mean, that made my day.''
Because Saints players plan to return to New Orleans for a couple more weeks of workouts in mid June - mirroring the offseason schedule they would have had if there was no lockout - Brees figured there would be an opportunity to re-stage the raffle.
''If you can average $10,000 a day and you can schedule it for June 15 and have a few weeks to prepare for it, well, do the math; we might be near the quarter-million-dollar range,'' Brees said.
Because players are banned from team facilities, there have been no coaches or team officials at their workouts or charity events. The players have been calling all the shots and handling logistical and organizational responsibilities they normally wouldn't.
''It's a lot about self-discovery, finding out who we are as a group and what our leadership's about and the commitment of this group of men,'' right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. ''The numbers (of players in attendance) you see consistently - not one day here, a couple days there, but so far through a four-week program - we've been able to keep a large core group of guys here, pushing and competing and improving.''
In reflecting on their past month together, teammates kept coming back to Brees' leading role.
One might say Brees wrote the book on how to turn setbacks into opportunities to get better.
In 2010, he published ''Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity,'' which recounts a long list of instances in which Brees found himself in undesirable circumstances and emerged better off.
There was San Diego's decision to acquire Philip Rivers in the 2004 draft, which inspired his best season with the Chargers the following fall.
Two years later, when Brees was for practical purposes discarded by San Diego after a career-threatening shoulder injury (the Chargers offered him backup pay), Brees hooked up with the downtrodden Saints in storm-torn New Orleans, worked hard to overcome his injury, and helped set the franchise on the path to its first Super Bowl championship.
For Brees, the experience of bringing teammates together during the lockout is kind of like the chapter that hasn't been written yet.
''We're all growing a lot as leaders and as people,'' Brees said. ''It's bringing us together.''