Maybe something funny, like when Joe Montana famously broke the tension in the Super Bowl by pointing out John Candy in the stands. Or something inspiring. Or something about how he takes command when the game is on the line.
But it turns out that just about everyone who has played with Brees over the past 14 years has just one story:
He never changes.
“I can guaran-ass-tee you Drew Brees wouldn’t have seen John Candy," former Saints tackle Zach Strief said. “He’s so locked in. He’s like a robot. It’s always the same.”
In fact, Strief recalled a time when tight end Jimmy Graham had the entire huddle bursting out laughing in a tense moment while he recited an internet skit. And when Brees joined them after talking with coach Sean Payton, he looked at everyone like they had lost their minds.
“Then he just rolls right into the playcall, with the whole huddle laughing,” Strief said.
“Hmm,” said Brees’ all-time leading receiver Marques Colston, who played with him for 10 years but was stumped when asked for his favorite memory of Brees in the huddle. “I don’t remember any like movie lines or anything. Just some long-ass play calls, man.”
“He knows when to have laser-like focus, and he knows when to have a little fun, add a little juice [in practice or in the locker room],” said Brees’ current go-to guy, Michael Thomas. “But if we’re in a game, or if we’re in a practice and we’re competing, no sir.”
“I’ve always said you can turn a game on when we’re playing and, if you just studied Drew, you really wouldn’t be able to tell if we were up 14 or down 14,” Payton said. “And that’s a good trait.”
“I don’t know how to put this without sounding weird: It’s almost like Drew is not there,” guard Larry Warford said. “He’s just really focused, like he’s in the game. ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this, this and this.’
“And you believe it. Like, ‘I guess we’re gonna do that.’”
That was a popular answer among Brees’ teammates, past and present: His immense confidence gives them confidence.
"He's just really focused, like he's in the game. 'Hey, we're gonna do this, this and this.' And you believe it. Like, 'I guess we're gonna do that.'" Larry Warford, on how Drew Brees affects teammates in the huddle
“There’s a lot of affirmation there. And it’s not just corny motivational stuff,” Warford said. “It’s affirmation, like, ‘We’re gonna go score ... we’re gonna get this rolling.’ Just reinforcing the fact that we can do whatever we want to, because we can.”
“It kind of puts us in the same mind frame,” tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. “You’re laser-focused.”
“The confidence he exudes, as a skill player with him, you know he’s gonna be on point, you know he’s gonna deliver the ball to the right place at the right time, and it’s really easy for you to just go and play,” said former Saints receiver Lance Moore, who said the Super Bowl was no exception.
“He was the same. ‘This is how we got here, I’m not gonna change now.’”
Ordering the chaos
That’s not an accident.
For one thing, Brees is a creature of habit who believes so strongly in his routines that he once mimicked breaking the huddle on the sideline throughout an entire game when he was out with a shoulder injury in 2015.
Tackle Terron Armstead did an impression of Brees “licking the skin off his hands,” which is one of his signature mannerisms before every play.
But there is also a method to Brees’ lack of madness.
“I try to order the chaos. I try to simplify the chaos,” Brees explained. “So I understand in a lot of cases with the huddle, you’re always up against the clock. You’re trying to get something communicated quickly, but you have to communicate it clearly, and you have to communicate it well. So I think my approach with the huddle is that I just want to make sure everybody knows what to do.
“And so I try to get in there in a calm manner -- but with a sense of urgency. Enunciate the play as best I can, so there’s just no confusion. Because the worst thing that happens is you break the huddle, and someone is like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t hear you’ and there’s indecision. So I just try to be consistent. I just want guys to know what to expect.
“And I like a tight huddle. I like to get in there where I can see everybody and I know they can see me. Like in practice, I try to sit back and wait for conversations to finish between guys from the play before before I step in. Because, again, I want undivided attention.”
Brees laughed as he said the words “undivided attention” because he knew it made him sounds like a strict schoolmarm.
“I just try to keep it simple. I might bust somebody’s balls or just have fun at times during practice. But game time,” he said, snapping his fingers, “it’s like we’re a machine. A well-oiled machine.”
The huddle is just the beginning of Brees' “ordering the chaos.”
As players line up, he often yells out a reminder or an alert to his receivers and running backs to make sure they’re on the same page.
“Our time was really after the huddle broke. If he’s seeing something, if he just wants me to leak out to be an extra guy for him. ‘Hey, look, be quick on this route.’ Or, ‘Look for such and such,’” said former Saints running back Deuce McAllister, who marveled at the things Brees would recognize from opposing defenses.
“You normally go back and watch four games [of an upcoming opponent],” McAllister said. “But he would say, ‘I’ve seen this look. It was two years ago. One defense they ran.’ And he would know tendencies of coaches.”
“He knows what everyone’s doing. That’s what makes him who he is,” Armstead said. “Hall of Fame ability, but his preparation is what makes him who he is.”
'Absolute trust' in Brees
Strief said he had about 150 stories of Brees sliding the offensive line protection in a different direction than what Strief expected based on the defense’s alignment -- only for the QB to be proven right once the ball was snapped.
“Like playing the Ravens. That defense has been developed over two decades and is based so much on deception,” Strief said. “So there’s been plenty of times where I’ve got like a corner or a safety walked up on the line of scrimmage, leaning, where I’m just like, ‘That guy’s coming. I know what that looks like. That guy’s pressuring.’ And Drew flips the protection where I can’t block that guy anymore. And you do for a second say, ‘Umm, did he see him?’ And then the ball is snapped and the whole defense rotates and it comes from the other side and you’re right where you need to be.
“But the big thing for me with Drew that was unique was your absolute trust in what he was telling you to do. And that’s the part, I think, that you don’t have with some guys.”
"But the big thing for me with Drew that was unique was your absolute trust in what he was telling you to do. And that's the part, I think, that you don't have with some guys." Former Saints tackle Zach Strief
Running back Alvin Kamara said he loves those extra alerts coming out of the huddle. He likes to compare notes with Brees even when he knows his assignment.
“I always try to pick his brain about what he’s thinking so I can be a step ahead,” Kamara said. “He’s played 20 years. He’s seen everything. So it would be dumb for me not to pick his brain and know what he knows.”
Colston said everyone on the Saints’ offense would be wise to do the same.
“You learn pretty quick that you don’t want to be the thorn in his side. So you try to figure it out, you catch your part,” said Colston, who became New Orleans’ No. 1 receiver as a rookie seventh-round draft pick in 2006. “I’ve seen a couple guys [who weren’t so fortunate]. When he’s gotta remember 11 different roles and you only gotta remember one ... he’s a competitor in the heat of battle. So get your stuff together.”
More than a decade later, Thomas also learned how to get on Brees’ good side.
“Oh yeah, he knows what he wants -- and he’s very good at coaching what he wants,” Thomas said. “He already has a plan. And I feel like all the other 10 individuals in that huddle are a part of that plan. And we have a job and a responsibility to paint that picture.”
Alas, I never did find any stories about Brees giving that legendary huddle speech that made his teammates want to run through a wall for him. But several teammates did point out the fiery motivational speeches he gives in the middle of the end zone before every game.
And former running back Reggie Bush will never forget Brees’ greatest moment of inspiration during that 2009 Super Bowl run.
The Saints were down big at Miami in Week 7 before a second-half rally kept them undefeated. And during the comeback, the 6-foot Brees emphatically dunked the ball over the crossbar after a touchdown run.
“Drew’s not the biggest, like, showboat guy, right?” Bush said. “But when he scored that quarterback sneak and then dunked the ball -- we lost it. We lost it and went crazy. Because that was him kind of letting himself out of his shell.”