Nobody was suspicious enough to check the birthmark on Drew Brees' face just to make sure this really was the New Orleans Saints' quarterback, but doubt naturally accompanied the news that an NFL star was coming to the Beaver County Correctional Facility that summer day.
Yeah, right. Drew Brees is visiting Beaver, Utah?
He showed up, all right. So nothing they hear about the good things Brees is doing in New Orleans surprises the staff and inmates who met him in June 2007. The popular portrayal of Brees as a humble, socially conscious person who uses his status as a positive community force is "exactly true," said Sgt. Curt Heslington, who oversees the facility's residential treatment program for substance abusers.
This guy gets it. He's not the only pro athlete who looks beyond himself, but few consider their place of employment a "calling," as Brees labeled his choice of post-Katrina New Orleans.
"Drew understands that with celebrity comes responsibility," said veteran quarterback Mark Brunell, now Brees' backup. "He cares. ... He's always doing things to make a difference in the lives of a lot of people."
That impact once went beyond New Orleans to Beaver, where Brees came as a favor to a friend whose son was in the treatment program, flying into Las Vegas and riding 220 miles north on I-15. He spent about three hours at the facility, speaking to two groups and telling his story of being injured in high school in Texas, playing for Purdue after being lightly recruited by colleges and overcoming his shoulder injury in San Diego to become a star for the Saints, although he probably did not use that description.
"I was absolutely blown away," said Heslington, who still receives letters from former residents citing Brees' influence. "He deserves every accolade, as far as what he does for people."
New Orleans is blessed to have him, after everything the city went through with the hurricane of 2005. After that season, when the Saints sank to a 3-13 record while based in San Antonio, Brees chose between Miami and New Orleans as his next destination.
The Saints are in Miami this week for Super Bowl XLIV and New Orleans is recovering, and everybody can thank Brees on both counts. The Brees Dream Foundation has raised or committed some $3 million to community efforts and the quarterback is personally dedicated to the city's comeback.
Coming to New Orleans was "a calling -- an opportunity to come and not only be a part of the rebuilding of the organization ... but to be part of the rebuilding of the city and the region," Brees said. "You just don't understand the magnitude of what happened until you actually come down and see it with your own eyes."
Brees did, and he was moved enough to move there and lead the biggest comeback of his career.
He could have settled for succeeding on the field, satisfied to know that the Saints' play was inspiring residents and lifting the city's spirits. Yet he never was content to stop there, instead investing himself in New Orleans and rallying others to join him, as only a quarterback could do.
"I want to be somebody who is not only a leader on my football team, but a leader in the community, somebody who is going to follow through with what I say I am going to do, be accountable, show integrity and give back," Brees said.
He's doing all of that, contributing to a city that's thankful this quarterback came along when it needed him most.
"How many people get that opportunity in their life to be a part of something like that?" Brees said.
Whatever that number is, even fewer respond the way he did.
An anti-abortion ad featuring Florida football star Tim Tebow that is to run during the Super Bowl dramatically raises the visibility of a decades-long mission by evangelical Christians to change faith culture through big-time sports, says author Tom Krattenmaker. › A1
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. at Miami. TV » Ch. 2
New Orleans vs. Indianapolis