Mickles: Texas roots run deep for Drew Brees

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) takes off running for a first down in the 1st half of the Saints 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) takes off running for a first down in the 1st half of the Saints 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Even though he splits most of the year between his homes in New Orleans and San Diego, Drew Brees’ Texas roots run deep.

Born in Dallas and raised in Austin, Brees always perks up whenever someone mentions his home state.

Like Wednesday, when he was asked about the Lone Star State having nine starting quarterbacks in the NFL — including two Rookie of the Year candidates in Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

Naturally, games played in Texas are extra special for Brees, who’ll take a trip to the Dallas area with the Saints to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday for the third time since signing with the Saints in 2006.

The game will be played in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is about 21/2 hours from where Brees’ grandfather, Ray Akins, maintains a working ranch with about 100 head of cattle.

This time, the memories started early for Brees.

He was dining at a New Orleans steakhouse this week when another guest sent him his business card with a note on the back. It said he played football for Akins, a legendary Texas high school coach who retired in 1988 as the state’s third-winningest coach after 38 years on the sideline.

The message read: “I played for your grandfather. You used to give us water during two-a-days when I was playing.”

“He just brought back this rush of memories,” a smiling Brees said. “Me and my brother, we used to go down and stay with my grandparents for weeks at a time during the summer time during two-a-days.”

Brees, who said he was probably 9 years old at the time, said they would fill up the water bottles and give them to the players and then toss the ball around on the sideline.

“We just thought that was the greatest thing ever,” he said, “being a part of that and watching grandpa coach and going to his games.”

It was the precursor to a nice high school career, then a career at Purdue and finally an NFL career that has taken off since signing with the Saints after five seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

Brees’ early years in a variety of sports were spent under the watchful eyes of his grandparents.

“They were always coaching me up, encouraging me,” he said.

Akins still is.

After last Sunday’s 41-0 win over Tampa Bay, Brees got a message after throwing for 307 yards and four touchdowns — the 16th time he’s had at least four TDs in a game — from his grandpa, now 87 years young.

“He didn’t say anything about the passing … nothing,” Brees said as he began to chuckle about an 11-yard scramble he had before halftime. “He said, ‘I saw you take off and run on that one. That made me so proud.’ ”

That’s because Akins was a proponent of the wishbone, which his son, Marty, ran for Darrell Royal at the University of Texas.

“He always loves it when I take off and run,” Brees said. “But he agrees with the slide part. He says, ‘Eh, you might want to slide.’ ”