Scooter Hobbs (American Press)

Funny, but you don't hear much about the Aints anymore.

It was the delightfully perfect alternate nickname for a zany New Orleans Saints organization that, in truth, was probably more often hapless than lovable.

In covering the Saints on and off through the many years, even on those occasions when the stars aligned and they raised their fleur de lis into semi-respectability, it was more of an oddity.

And it was always worth revisiting the Aintdom days, just for context. I reverted to it often, a knee-jerk reaction. "These ain't the Aints" and other key strokes of brilliance. Lazy, too-easy journalism, perhaps, but probably fitting for all that bad football.

Then Drew Brees came along.

And everything forever changed.

After his long-awaited official retirement on Sunday, it's hard now to imagine the Saints without the too-short Brees licking his fingers, then going to his tiptoes to see over his linemen, then the 6-inch sidestep to avoid the rush before delivering a perfect touchdown strike through the maze.

It will take some getting used to.

Flash forward to retirement and …

The biggest knock about the Brees tenure with the Saints was that he won only one Super Bowl.

Let that sink in for a minute — for an organization and fan base that, for a good portion of its slapstick existence since its inception in 1967, just wondered wistfully how nutty it might be to ever make the postseason, then gradually allowed itself to ponder what it might be like to win one of those playoff suckers.

The thought of a Super Bowl, although physically often played in New Orleans, was just inconceivable, at least with a rooting interest. It was something other teams did in some other far-off galaxy.

With Brees, it morphed its way into becoming news when the Saints were not contending for the Super Bowl.

The Saints and fans didn't dream of Super Bowls anymore, they got mad when they came up short (probably the officials, sometimes buzzard's luck).

But at least you knew there was always a chance with No. 9 back there. They were always in the national discussion.

It's not about the Superdome full of records Brees retired with.

With Brees the Saints always seemed to have one of the NFL's best "locker rooms," which translates to chemistry.

It's doubtful any team has had its leadership more clearly defined, more dominated by one humble personality.

Who gets in that pre-game chant-scrum now?

But Brees went well beyond even that, of course.

I started this exercise with the idea of tossing out the theory that no athlete in any team sport has meant more to any single organization than Drew Brees has meant to the Saints.

I abandoned that notion. Amended it, anyway.

Forget football. I'd now suggest, if it please the court, that no single athlete has ever meant more to any city than Brees has meant to New Orleans. And while you're at it, you might as well throw in the whole state.

But Drew Brees IS New Orleans.

Granted, he doesn't quite fit the profile.

The Face of The City That Care Forgot really ought to be grimy and covered with tattoos, probably hawking something tacky in Jackson Square and holding or spilling a go-cup of something near-flammable.

Yet, Brees, this clean-cut, soft-spoken straight-arrow perfect husband and father pulled it off.

By way of Austin, Texas, and Purdue and San Diego, this ever-prepared Boy Scout wandered in and quickly owned a funky, quirky, devil-may-care banana republic, pot holes and all.

Crazy thing was, again, he made it look so effortless, looked so at ease in the role while not forcing it on anybody.

And the timing. Could it have been better?

Remember, Brees arrived in a city just beginning to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He came to a team with its stadium still in shambles — the Superdome was as good a symbol as any of the hurricane devastation.

He chose the city. He wanted to come to New Orleans at a time when even Saints owner Tom Benson was making eyes at his adopted hometown of San Antonio as a convenient opt-out for a team that was about all the city had left.

Who signs up for that nonsense?

Brees did. And it certainly worked out for both him and the Saints.

Not sure the team, even as handsomely as they've compensated him, could ever repay that. Not sure the fan base, as much as they've adored him, could ever show enough love.

Certainly no Saint should ever wear No. 9 again. Maybe a monument in front of the Dome.

Better yet, don't focus it on the football glory. He was so much more.

I understand there's an opening for a statue down the road at Lee Circle.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.com

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