The touchdown pass landed in New Orleans but it started in San Diego.
Drew Brees, a Del Mar resident, etched his name in the NFL record books with his 540th scoring pass on Monday night. He surpassed Peyton Manning’s all-time mark in a career which had its roots in America’s Finest City.
Brees was part of the bounty the Chargers collected after their most dismal season in franchise history. In 2000 the only thing saving them from a winless season was a clutch field goal by Olivenhain’s John Carney. They went a nearly imperfect 1-15 but followed it with a nearly perfect draft.
The Chargers selected future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5 and then snagged Brees in the second round.
How the Chargers didn’t parlay that tandem into a Super Bowl or two is baffling. But Tomlinson and Brees did lead them to the 2004 AFC West title.
Unfortunately, Brees was hurt in the 2005 season finale, in part because of a blitz by the Broncos’ John Lynch, the former Torrey Pines High star who’s now the 49ers general manager.
The Chargers GM, A.J. Smith, decided to let a mending Brees flee that offseason as a free agent, knowing he had a gold nugget in Philip Rivers. Rivers would shine while Brees landed with the Saints. It was a fortuitous turn of events for Brees and the Saints, as both were rebounding.
Brees was eager to prove his career wasn’t kaput after a serious shoulder injury. That he threw a reeling city which was recently battered by Hurricane Katrina on those broad shoulders during his amazing resurrection only solidified his legendary status in Louisiana.
While Brees would direct the Saints to a Super Bowl win he never departed North County. He maintained a Del Mar residence and for years was the host of a charity golf tournament in Rancho Santa Fe.
So, as Brees waved to the crowd and blew kisses to his wife, Brittany, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, after his historic completion just maybe he was acknowledging his San Diego boosters, too.
“It just kind of makes your whole life and career flash before your eyes, because I never thought I’d have a chance to be part of something like this,” Brees said afterward.
This reporter’s life flashed — in jest — before his eyes once when approached by Brees years ago. He wanted to speak with me privately, which is seldom a positive for a writer not shy about telling the truth.
Brees, like any player, had his ups and downs. But he was always fair and accessible to the media. So, when he requested a chat by his locker, I didn’t know what to expect.
Then I recalled being on a Southwest flight to a Chargers game which also had Brittany aboard. I had become friendly with her when doing a story about the couple being college sweethearts from Purdue.
That day at 35,000 feet I had a stack of soon-to-be expired drink tickets. I ordered a refreshment and walked a few rows up and asked Brittany if she would like a complimentary social sparkler, too.
She politely declined, her smile and the tone of her voice relaying how appreciative she was with the offer.
But the Brees who threw footballs for a living? Not so much.
“Hey, what’s this I hear about you trying to get my wife drunk,” Brees said.
Brees presented the question with his famous game-day stare. But he couldn’t hold it and he broke into a smile, accompanied by a playful punch to my gut.
I laughed, Brees laughed and so did Brittany when the story reached her.
So, when Brees connected with tight end John Hill on Monday, it was a milestone pass which came with a memory. If those drink tickets weren’t expired, I would salute Brees with a toast.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports