When asked if he enjoyed seeing a fellow 40-something win the Super Bowl when Tom Brady won his sixth ring in February, Brees admitted, “No. I was still pissed.”
Maybe the Saints will never be able to get over the way they lost that NFC title game -- the victims of the infamous “no-call” that led to drastic changes in the NFL’s pass-interference replay rules.
But they have begun the process of moving past it.
The Saints returned to the practice field for OTAs last week. And by most accounts, they aren’t consumed by anger or disappointment. ... Well, not all the time, anyway.
“You always try to take your experiences from the year before and turn it into something positive. Use it as momentum, use it as motivation, a chip on your shoulder, unfinished business -- whatever you want to term it,” said Brees, who said he took a little more down time than usual with his family to decompress after last season.
“The bottom line is, there’s only one team that’s walking away happy. Everybody else feels like they fell off the mountain and they’re sitting down at the bottom and now here goes the climb, one step at a time.”
The Saints don’t have a slogan for the 2019 season yet.
The giant “Prove Them Right” banner that hung outside of their practice facility last year as Sean Payton’s way of embracing high expectations is no longer there.
But Payton said it’s too early to start developing a theme or mindset for this year, because it’s a new team and a new season.
When asked if he has wrestled over whether to embrace and channel the way last season ended or try to move past it, Payton said, “I feel like it’s the same question you might’ve asked a year ago” (when New Orleans was also trying to bounce back from the heartbreaking “Minneapolis Miracle” playoff loss).
“There’s no secret message to start the spring. As we get a little closer to training camp, we’ll get a little more focused as to how we approach the season,” said Payton, who rejected the idea that the Saints have to worry about constant reminders of the way last season ended.
“I don’t look at it as something we’re dwelling on at all,” Payton said.
Hopefully Payton is right, because the Saints’ ability to process the crushing defeats of the last two seasons will be the biggest challenge facing this Super Bowl-caliber team.
Yes, they proved last year that they could get over the “Minneapolis Miracle” in very impressive fashion. They secured the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 13-2 start that ensured they wouldn’t have to go on the road again in the playoffs. They even jumped to a 13-0 lead over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game before things went awry.
But it has to be even harder for them to be starting back at square one again this year.
"You always try to take your experiences from the year before and turn it into something positive." Drew Brees
Still, Brees and veteran linebacker Demario Davis were among those who insisted that’s what all teams know they have to do at this time of year.
“We’re just now putting the first bricks on the ground,” Davis said. “And we start there, with that foundation, a good work ethic, how we’re gonna show up, guys trying to get better.
“You gotta do that every year. You gotta push that rock back up the hill whether you won a Super Bowl or finished at the bottom. You gotta push that rock back up the hill, and it’s a long way to go.”
“I’m not thinking about February of 2020 right now,” Brees added. “That’s a long way away and that’s an overwhelming feeling if you decide to look to there. So I’m just focused on the here and now, staying in the moment.”
I asked defensive end Cameron Jordan if the Saints might take on some sort of “us against the world” mentality -- like the one that seemed to work for the 16-0 New England Patriots in the wake of the Spygate scandal.
“It’s always been the Saints vs. everybody. I expect this season to be no different,” Jordan said. “When you talk about last year was what, ‘Live up to expectations?’ Then of course we were one game away. We’ve gotta continue doing exactly what we’ve been doing.”
But Jordan did inadvertently suggest a possible slogan for the 2019 season when he pointed out that New Orleans has now had to figure out how to channel a devastating loss two years in a row.
“At some point, it feels like it takes a miracle to beat the Saints,” Jordan said. “And I’m OK with that.”