Brees ties to Ind campus cause division among fans

First Posted: 2/2/2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - If the Indianapolis Colts beat the Saints in the Super Bowl, many fans in New Orleans will celebrate hometown hero Peyton Manning's second championship.

And if the Saints win, parts of northwest Indiana might resemble Bourbon Street.

Most of Indiana is expected to wear Colts blue on Super Bowl Sunday, but loyalties are split near the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, 65 miles from downtown Indianapolis. Saints quarterback Drew Brees remains an icon in the area since he led the Boilermakers' revival a decade ago.

Brees remains so loyal to his alma mater that he texted Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott the day before last season's game against Ohio State and told him to "shock the world." The Boilermakers beat the seventh-ranked Buckeyes 26-18, adding to Brees' legend.

"Around here, Drew Brees kind of walks on water," said Kevin Green, a Purdue graduate who works at the university. "He was the quarterback who led us back to the Rose Bowl (2001), so he can do no wrong in the area. We know that he cares about here and we care about him. That's why most of the people around here are kind of conflicted."

Brees doesn't just talk. He gave Purdue a $2 million gift in 2007 for the Drew and Brittany Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center, right next to Ross-Ade Stadium and Mackey Arena.

"He's just been a great ambassador for Purdue University," Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter said. "We can't thank him enough for what he's done for our athletic department. Very rarely do you have a guy that gives that much."

Believe it or not, there's a similar conflict among some Saints fans in New Orleans because of Manning's ties to the city. The son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning played at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, as did his brothers, Cooper and Eli. All three wore number 18, the only retired number at the school.

"The Manning family is the heartbeat of our program," Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. "They continue to be involved in our school, and as phenomenal as they are as football players, they're even better people."

Stewart said he's "a divided soul." He wants New Orleans to win because the city went through so much after Hurricane Katrina and the team has struggled for so long. He's also pulling for Manning, his high school teammate for three years.

"As his former teammate, there's never been a game I cheered against him, and I'm not going to start now," Stewart said. "But it would be fantastic for the city of New Orleans to win a Super Bowl."

Brees' history of overcoming obstacles endears him to Purdue fans who recall the days when he led the program past Big Ten bullies Michigan and Ohio State. He was lightly recruited as an undersized quarterback coming out of Texas, and after he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1999 and third in 2000, he slipped into the second round of the NFL draft.

The San Diego Chargers drafted Brees, but later selected Philip Rivers and allowed Brees to go to the Saints.

Brees had a severe shoulder injury in 2005, but he recovered and led the Saints to the NFC championship game in 2007, was named the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year last season and now has led New Orleans to its first Super Bowl.

"He's kind of an underdog," said Craig Dragash, a Purdue graduate who lives in Carmel, Ind. "He's not 6-foot-5 with a laser rocket arm like his counterpart. What he lacks physically, he makes up for with his accuracy."

Brees jerseys are a common sight at Purdue football games - both the No. 15 he wore at Purdue and the No. 9 he wears for the Saints. Purdue and the Saints wear the same black and gold colors, and several No. 9 Saints jerseys could be spotted at Purdue's past two home basketball games.

"I knew there would be a lot of Colts fans here," Susan Lampas, a football season ticket holder who lives in Battle Creek, Mich., said before the Purdue-Wisconsin game last week. "I just thought that I needed to be true to our Drew Brees, so I wore his jersey,"

Dragash, who grew up a Chicago Bears fan in northern Indiana, cheered for the Bears against the Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl. He said he roots for the Colts "whenever they're not playing the Bears or Drew Brees." His wardrobe has heavy doses of Purdue gold and black, and he said he'll be wearing the colors on Sunday in hopes that Brees gets a ring.

"The Colts already got one, and he (Brees) doesn't, so I want to see my boy get one," he said.

Steve Schaffner, a Purdue graduate student who attended the 2001 Rose Bowl, said he'll be happy no matter what happens.

"I've watched Super Bowls where I've said I wish they both could lose," he said. "This one, I wish both could win."

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