Drew Brees

Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees talks with the media at the grand opening of a Stretch Zone franchise on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

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NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees wasn’t expected to stand in the parking lot of a strip mall on Tchoupitoulas Street taking questions about football from a half-dozen eager reporters on Monday afternoon. The former Saints quarterback's mission was to personally promote the Stretch Zone, a fitness studio that he’s invested in. Reporters were supposed to focus on that.

But as television cameras and cellphones captured his every word, Brees generously allowed questions to wander away from his business interests to the gridiron.

“Of course,” he said, he misses football.

“I miss being in the locker room,” he said. “I miss the preparation during the week, even the grind. It’s difficult and stressful, but at the same time you’re working toward something, working toward being ready for that game. And the feeling you get when you step out on the field and you know you’re prepared to go out and dominate an opponent — that’s a great feeling.”

But no, he said, he would not consider returning to the game he played for 20 years. Retiring "wasn’t a spur of the moment decision,” he pointed out.

Becoming a big-time television broadcaster is “like training a different muscle,” he said. With practice, “it’s becoming more and more comfortable.”

Naturally he’s professionally detached and objective in the broadcast booth, he said, but, he confessed, “you all know exactly where my heart is, here in New Orleans with the Saints. I’m rooting for them. I want them to win. I want them to be successful.”

Drew Brees

Retired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, center, playfully flexes his muscles like a professional body builder as friend and former college football teammate, Ben Smith, right, does the same. They are both joined by Jason Loerzel, left, also a former classmate of theirs, at the grand opening of Stretch Zone on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans on Monday, October 11, 2021. All three men are co-owners of the franchise. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The Stretch Zone formula resembles both a yoga studio and a massage therapy parlor, though it has more of an athletic vibe than either. There are two locations in the New Orleans area, 140 across the country.

Customers lie on padded tables and allow technicians to bend and extend their limbs in an effort to ensure and renew flexibility. Brees, who until recently was one of the premier athletes on the planet, encouraged the founder of the company, Jorden Gold, to demonstrate some of the techniques, using him as the subject. Gold lifted and twisted New Orleans’ most famous man’s legs as if he were Gumby.

While discussing his newest investment with Stretch Zone, reporters asked about Drew Brees' adjustment to working behind the desk at NBC, trying to remain objective about the Saints and how knowing the Saints offensive and defensive schemes helps him analyze the team.

As Brees’ lower back was being gently torqued, he commented that the process was sure to subtract strokes from his golf score. Brees described the result of such sessions as a means to “almost reverse the aging process, in a way.”

Sessions cost $35 to $55. Stretch Zone franchises cost $99,000 to $180,000.

Michael Jefferson, a fan who attended the event in order to lay eyes on the man he’d cheered for years, was not disappointed.

“He’s a legend in our time,” Jefferson said, adding that Brees, despite his immeasurable celebrity, has a wonderful way of interacting with plain folks.

Drew Brees

Brynn Plaiscia's parents heard that former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a co-owner of a Stretch Zone on Tchoupitoulas Street, would be at the ribbon cutting in New Orleans on Monday, October 11, 2021. Plaiscia, 18, a huge Brees fan, was overcome with joy, started crying when Brees gave her a hug. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Brynn Plaiscia’s parents had busted her out of school to be in the presence of her hero. Brees hugged her to his side like an old pal.

“I was crying the whole time,” Brynn said.

Brees had a busy Sunday night. He was on the job as an analyst for the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills football game that took place in Kansas City, where a storm forced a long, tedious delay of game at halftime. Brees was far from the storm, in a Connecticut television studio, but he still had to wait out the interruption, then catch a later flight back to New Orleans.

Reporters were told that legendary New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees probably wouldn’t be talking football on Monday morning. He intended to concentrate on promoting a new business he’s invested in, Stretch Zone physical fitness studios. But in a parking lot interview afterwards, Number 9, answered questions about stretching, plus the future of the team, Taysom Hill’s hit, the challenges of broadcasting, his involvement in the former Jazzland amusement park, and other topics.

Nonetheless, he seemed entirely relaxed as he participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, posed for scores of promotional pictures, then addressed reporters in the parking lot.

Despite the celebratory balloons around the Stretch Zone entrance, there was a certain poignancy to the moment, in that it forced all attendees to confront the realization once again that an era had passed. Brees took off his pads in 2020 after leading the Saints from the backfield for 14 years. Heroes last forever, but not football players.

With utter grace, Brees discussed his replacement Jameis Winston, pointing out that any comparison between him and the younger man are way premature. After all, Drew Brees hadn’t become Drew Brees overnight.

“Things take time," Brees said. When he won the quarterback position in 2006, he pointed out, the play scheme was “simplistic” by comparison to what it is now. “It’s harder to play the quarterback position now than it was 15 years ago,” he said.

Plus, he said, there hasn’t been time for Winston and Sean Payton to develop the ESP that Brees and coach Payton had.

About the bone-chilling, concussive shot to the helmet that Taysom Hill suffered on Sunday, Brees said: “It’s tough to see any guy that I have a strong relationship with take a hit like that, so I’m going to go see him, go check on him. He’s one of my great friends. I want him to be OK.”

This article originally ran on ktbs.com.