NEW YORK -- Drew Brees went from forgotten man to one of the NFL's best quarterbacks this season, a turnaround that resulted in him being named The
Associated Press 2004 Comeback Player of the Year.
The San Diego Chargers so doubted Brees after his weak 2003 performance that they added a quarterback in the draft last April -- drafting Eli Manning
with the top pick, then trading him to the New York Giants for the rights to another highly rated quarterback prospect, Phillip Rivers. Had Rivers not
held out for half the preseason, Brees, who wasn't chosen as the starter until six days before the opener, might not have gotten on the field in
And the Chargers might not have gotten into the playoffs.
"Obviously, going back to this offseason, and even last season, I set out with a goal and a purpose in mind," Brees said. "That was, first of all, to
lead this team to a championship. Along with that, to try to become one of the best quarterbacks in this league, although neither of those goals have
been accomplished. But that's the path, that's what I strive for."
Brees made his fourth NFL season by far his best, ranking third in passer rating behind Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper, and making his first Pro
Bowl. The former Purdue star and first choice in the second round of the 2001 draft, Brees completed 262 of 400 passes for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns
and only seven interceptions. His 104.8 rating was a 37.3 point improvement over the previous year.
"There are negative things that are going to happen, and that's all part of the building process. You can't give up," he said. "You always have to
have that attitude that your goals will be achieved. You've just got to keep grinding away. And if not this year, then next year. And if not next
year, then the year after. You just keep believing, and it will happen."
He could parlay his sensational season into some big money as a free agent.
Brees earned 18½ votes from a national panel of writers and broadcasters who cover pro football, easily beating Carolina linebacker Mark Fields, who
received 10 votes. Fields was sidelined last season with Hodgkin's disease.
With Brees the starter for most of 2003, San Diego went 4-12. He played a primary role in that flop with 15 interceptions and just 11 touchdown
passes, was benched for five straight games and yanked from two others.
"I could turn on the film and watch myself last year and say, 'That's not me. That's not the way I play,"' Brees said.
But the Chargers thought otherwise, so they turned to the draft. When San Diego was unable to reach a contract with Rivers, however, Brees had ample
time to prove himself during the summer.
Brees got more serious about his film study, and the Chargers got more serious about upgrading personnel around him. The offensive line is better,
Antonio Gates became a star at tight end and the wide receiver corps was improved.
"I just think it will be very satisfying to him considering the situation that he was in at the end of last season," said backup quarterback Doug
Flutie, who won the first AP Comeback Player award in 1998. "Redemption, a feeling of accomplishment, all that. Just that it's showing a lot of
resolve and bouncing back up off the floor and taking the shots and jumping back in and going after it."
Eight players received votes for the award. Buffalo running back Willis McGahee finished third with six, followed by Pittsburgh RB Jerome Bettis (4½)
and New England's Corey Dillon (4). Atlanta QB Michael Vick had three, while Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese and Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh got
Last year's winner was Cincinnati quarterback Jon Kitna.