Drew Brees enters the Saints Hall of Fame in a class by himself

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As Drew Brees reflected on his path to the Saints Hall of Fame, he listed off things that didn't go his way in the early stages of his athletic career.

“I'm a product of not getting what I want,” Brees said while being introduced Thursday as the hall's lone 2024 inductee. “It got to that point where every day I woke up, I felt like I had something to prove.”

Brees, who retired after the 2020 season at age 42, is in his first year of eligibility for the Saints Hall of Fame, which is run independently from the NFL club and honors players selected by a committee of New Orleans media. The committee agreed unanimously not to consider any other candidates in 2024 so the most accomplished player in franchise history would be in a class by himself.

In 2026, Brees becomes eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and could very well be elected on his first ballot.

He wasn't always viewed as Hall of Fame material.

Brees wanted to play college football in his home state of Texas, but received scholarship offers from just Kentucky and Purdue.

He chose the latter, and expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick after leading the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist. Instead, he wasn't drafted until the top of the second round by the then-San Diego Chargers. Three years later, the Chargers took another quarterback — Philip Rivers — in the first round of the draft and let Brees go into free agency on the heels of a career-threatening throwing-shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season.

There were “all of these examples of me not getting what I wanted, and yet it was molding me and strengthening me and turning me into who I was supposed to be," Brees said while his family looked on from the front row of an auditorium at Saints headquarters. "It was extracting the best out of me.”

In New Orleans, Brees resurrected his career under a coach in Sean Payton who was willing to work collaboratively with his QB in designing and calling the offense.

Brees' 80,358 career yards passing were an NFL record when he retired — a mark since eclipsed by only Tom Brady (89,214). Brees’ 571 career touchdown passes rank second behind Brady’s 649.

Meanwhile, the way Brees' career embodied resilience and renewal made him an inspiration in a city looking for a lift after the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Brees bought and renovated a historic home in the city’s Uptown neighborhood and proceeded to lead the 2006 Saints to 10 regular season wins — a seven-victory improvement — before energized sell-out crowds in the rebuilt Superdome. The storybook season culminated with the franchise's first trip to an NFC title game.

That was the first of nine seasons in which Brees led New Orleans to the playoffs.

The franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance and championship came in the 2009 season, with Brees, selected as the title game’s MVP, memorably celebrating with first child, Baylen, in his arms as confetti floated around them.

Brees not only holds the NFL’s single-season record for completion rate at 74.4% in 2018, but also holds the second-highest mark at 74.3% in 2019 and third-highest at 72% in 2017.

Brees eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark in five seasons, with his career-best 5,476 yards coming in 2011. That mark ranks second all time, a single yard behind Peyton Manning’s 5,477 yards with Denver in 2013.

Brees said moving to New Orleans was “a calling” for him and his wife, Brittany, who strived to “help this community rebuild homes, rebuild lives, rebuild culture.”

“We loved New Orleans,” he added. "And New Orleans loved us back.”