NEW ORLEANS — What Would Breesus Do?
Saints fans hope that their quarterback and savior, Drew Brees, delivers them to the promised land — which in the NFL, is the Super Bowl. So all around New Orleans, believers are wearing Breesus T-Shirts.
Local artist and avid Saints fan Chris Psilos designed the popular black and gold T-shirts that have the large letters "WWBD" across the front.
"I wanted to come up with a Saints shirt and the Breesus name had been kicked around this season," Psilos said. "I thought it was a funny play-on-words. And what he means to the city — Saints football is like a religion to a lot of people."
The T-Shirts been flying off the shelves. Brees says he's had a few of the shirts tossed inside the window of his car by fans welcoming the team back from road games outside Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Brees also understands why some might see it as offensive to print T-shirts referring to him as "Breesus."
"It's definitely a little sacrilegious," Brees said, but added, "It's obviously a sign of affection and people respect you and what you stand for. In that case, it's an honor to (have people) feel that way about you."
Brees has been living up to the praise since he joined the Saints as a free agent in 2006. He has been the centerpiece of an offense that has ranked first in the NFL in two of the last three season and ranks first again so far this season.
He has also become a fan favorite, for his work both on and off the field.
His Brees Dream foundation has raised more than $2 million for charitable causes in a city that has needed the help as much as any place since Hurricane Katrina struck during the summer before he arrived. Many fans also like the fact that he restored a century-old house in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood.
So when the Psilos' T-shirts first hit the shelves at a Magazine Street shop in the city's Garden District, saleswoman Angela Pate was the first to buy one for herself. Then she wore it to church.
"I wore a little bit of a cardigan because I figured some of the older people at church might be offended," Pate said. "Then I got a high-five from my pastor and I'm like, 'It's all good.' I wear mine to church because I'm going to the game afterwards and I have no problem."
Pate said is not that the T-Shirts have become such a hot item.
"He's just been amazing and he's such a good person with his foundation helping rebuild playgrounds and helping schools," she said. "He lives in the city instead of out in a gated community. He's become such a part of New Orleans. He's a really nice guy who puts his money where his mouth is."
Lately, there have been numerous T-shirts with similar expressions playing off the word "Breesus" popping up for sale on the Internet.
Saints fans have been e-mailing each other a computer-altered photo that shows Brees walking on the Mississippi River with the landmark St. Louis Cathedral in the backdrop.
Psilos, who is donating $2 from each sale to Brees' foundation, said he first heard the nickname Breesus during the summer. Perhaps it was not so coincidentally around the time Brees experimented with long hair, which the quarterback has since cut short again. Then the Saints began to play in a way that left fans wondering if supernatural forces really were at work.
This season began with Brees throwing for six touchdowns against the Detroit Lions, and the wins have kept piling up. New Orleans, which had never started better than 7-0, is now 13-0 heading into Saturday night's home game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Such a season would be special for any team, never mind that the Saints finished only seven of their previous 42 seasons with winning records, have won only two playoffs games ever and have never been to a Super Bowl.
But in New Orleans, it reaches another level.
Even local religious leaders are big Saints fans. The current archbishop, the Rev. Gregory Aymond, and several of his predecessors have been guests of Saints owner Tom Benson at games this season.
Back in the Saints' locker room at their suburban headquarters, fullback Heath Evans said he has seen the Breesus T-shirts. Evans leads Bible study sessions with teammates, and he likes the shirts.
"I don't think people are saying that he's equal to Jesus," Evans said. "They're saying, 'Wow, this guy has been probably the most humble sacrificial servant, rebuilding a city and a team back into being poised for greatness.'"
Brett Martel/The Associated Press