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Coast News columnist Jay Paris, left, has a long and friendly relationship with Drew Brees, the former Chargers and Saints quarterback who retired on Sunday. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: Del Mar’s Brees retires, but not a tab from long ago

With Drew Brees retiring from the New Orleans Saints, here’s a safe bet: Brees, a Del Mar resident, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

What’s not a safe play? Loaning Brees the entry fee for a college football bowl pool.

That’s my lot in life and it was an advance that took on a life of its own. Whenever our paths crossed, Brees was reminded about the marker he failed to erase.

The background: For years when I was covering the San Diego Chargers, I conducted the Bubba Bowl Pool that drew a wide range of people. Many of those throwing $10 in the pot were Chargers, as they were eager to root for their alma maters and show their expertise in handicapping the remaining college postseason games.

Brees said he wanted in and why not? Brees was the team’s starter in 2005 and him being among the entrants gave the endeavor pizzazz.

What he didn’t deliver was the $10, with me sponsoring him. He promised to pay me later and haven’t we all heard that before?

So Brees wrecks his shoulder in his final game with the Chargers against the Denver Broncos, thanks in part to the pass rush by John Lynch, the former Torrey Pines High star who was selected into the Hall of Fame this year.

Brees, a free agent, lands with the Saints, where many of the reporters covering the team were my friends and Bubba Bowl Pool veterans. I gave the tip that the man asked to turn that franchise around had turned his back on a North County debt.

It made for good fodder when Brees introduced himself to New Orleans at the press conference.

Later, when Brees was speaking with the media privately, Sheldon Mickles of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, asked Brees about fleeing San Diego with an outstanding bill.

Brees laughed, the writers laughed, and I chuckled about my colleagues busting his chops over the perceived slight.

Brees, through his tireless community work, helped lead New Orleans in its post-Katrina recovery. Later he led the Saints to their lone Super Bowl win and would ultimately retire as the most prolific passer in NFL history.

Our past meant that Brees seldom extended his hand to shake mine. Instead he would bury it in his front pocket, digging for a 10-spot.

Without fail, he tried to pay. Without fail, I refused his offer.

It’s a much better story to tell when the Super Bowl MVP owes you $10 instead of having the dough, which buys two cups of high-end coffee.

It was a connection I shared with Brees, too much fun to relinquish.

I tip my cap to Brees and what he was able to accomplish, on and off the field, by inspiring others.

Look no further than Nick Hardwick, the former Chargers center, on what Brees meant to him.

Hardwick attended Purdue in Brees’ final season in 2000, as he was directing the Boilermakers to the Big Ten title and their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1967.

The excitement and energy that unlikely run produced by Brees struck Hardwick to the core. Despite not playing football past the ninth grade, Hardwick was motivated to walk-on at Purdue because of Brees.

After surviving a series of grueling workouts — “hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said — Hardwick made the team.

Three years later, the Chargers drafted another Boilermaker in Hardwick and he went on to play 11 NFL seasons.

In Hardwick’s first training camp, life came full circle. When the rookie was dining between practices, with his head down and keeping to himself, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Hey Boiler, mind if I eat with you?” Brees asked a wide-eyed Hardwick.

I hope Brees doesn’t mind me serving up a portion of our tale. I bet he doesn’t.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports