MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Only an occasion as resolutely absurdist as Super Bowl Media Day would cause you to wade into a deep sea of reporters and cameramen to ask a man about the suicide of his mother.
It's my job, of course, and I offer no apology, though hearing my own question does confer some sense of shame. None of it, however, is acknowledged by Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, who suffered the loss almost six months ago.
"I knew that my mom would be with me all season long," he says, quite matter of factly. "That was tough to go through in August when she passed away ... and the circumstances around it. But it's given me peace. It's given me strength to know that she's in a better place, and she's watching down over me and protecting me."
Brees is a devoutly religious fatalist. "Everything is meant to be," he says. "Everything happens for a reason."
Still, I wonder how a man can make sense of own mother's demise.
Drew and Mina Brees had, to put it mildly, a complicated relationship. His parents, attorneys in Austin, Texas, divorced when Drew was just 8. In 2001, when he was drafted, he declined to use her services as an agent, causing them to become estranged. Five years later, with his mother running for a seat in Texas' 3rd Court of Appeals, Brees threatened legal action if she did not remove his image from her campaign ads.
Finally, just days after state authorities subpoenaed her business records, Mina took her life in Colorado. The coroner attributed cause of death to "ingestion of a large quantity of prescription medications."
For Brees, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that he and his mother were finally coming together.
"It was getting better," he was quoted as saying.
At the end of the season, he finds himself a Super Bowl quarterback. That may not qualify as a happy ending, but it's unmistakable evidence of his resilience.
At a listed height of six feet, Brees is the shortest quarterback to start a Super Bowl since Joe Theismann in 1984, though I can't recall one who stood taller.
Brees could always take a hit. Going back to 2004, when he was with the Chargers, he was voted the league's Comeback Player of the Year. In the last game of the following season, he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder and suffered rotator cuff damage.
"I was told by some doctors that I had a 25 percent chance of coming back and ever playing," he says.
Not only did he play, but after signing with New Orleans (the only team that made him a real offer), he threw for 4,418 yards and led the Saints to their first ever NFC championship game appearance. Brees was named a starter for the 2007 Pro Bowl.
By then, he had become a fixture in the municipal life of a city trying to heal after Hurricane Katrina.
Looking back, it's a damn shame that so much time and talk was wasted on guys like Pacman Jones, and not enough on the good works of Drew Brees -- rebuilding schools and fields and lives. "This is a calling for me," he says. "...This was an opportunity that really doesn't come along for most people in their lifetime, and yet here it was staring me in the face ... Our foundation has raised or committed $3 million dollars to the city of New Orleans. That's just the beginning."
Even the game, he says, is more than a game. "We are playing for much more than another 'W' or a Super Bowl," he says. "It's a Super Bowl for our city and our fans and everything they've been through ... There is no organization or city that deserves a champion more than New Orleans."
Toward that end, he had one of the great seasons in the history of quarterbacking: a completion rate better than 70 percent, 34 touchdown passes, and a rating of 109.6.
Still, on the eve of Super Bowl XLIV, Brees is regarded as "the other quarterback."
His opposite number, Peyton Manning, is a victory away from arguable consideration as the best ever. Manning, of course, hails from New Orleans, where his father is the Saints' quarterback emeritus.
It's worth mentioning here that Archie Manning and his wife, Olivia, were of great help to Drew and his wife, Brittany, when they arrived in a battered city four years ago.
"So gracious," Brees said. "They always check up on us. We kind of use them as a sounding board."
The Mannings are the first family of football. They seem, well, perfect. Bear Bryant once called Archie the best college quarterback he had ever seen. Olivia was homecoming queen at Ole Miss. Their progeny include two quarterbacks who've won Super Bowls, Peyton and Eli.
But I figure there's an element in the Manning narrative that Brees can find even more fortifying. It's the knowledge that Archie found the strength to play ball and raise a family after finding his father dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.