Durkin has a rare vantage point into Brees’ life and gets to see this ability to compartmentalize and focus up close like few others. Last year, Brees invited Durkin and his family to tour the Saints training facility. Durkin pulled up at five on a Friday afternoon, and there was only one other car in the lot. Brees was there alone—watching film.
“I looked at my boys and said, ‘Listen, we could turn around right now and our trip would be complete because you just learned a great lesson,’” Durkin recalls. “When you’re already great and you’re still the last one to leave, that says everything.”
Brees knows that it’s his ability to compartmentalize—and not his other considerable athletic talents—that is largely responsible for his success. While it’s difficult for him to put a finger on how exactly he is able to control his thoughts, he says it is possible to learn, and the best way is firsthand through a mentor. Pick someone whose success you want to emulate, he says, and try to pick up their habits. Brees has had several mentors throughout his life, and now he’s the guy everyone seems to look up to. His 2010 memoir, Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity, was an attempt to reach those fans in a deeper way and help them find the good in every situation. If anyone has a right to preach such a message, it’s Brees, who lost his mother, Mina—with whom he had a strained relationship through the years—to suicide in 2009.
“That was extremely tough,” Brees says. “There are a lot of unanswered questions around the circumstances of her death as well, which made it even harder. But I felt like I became closer with my family in a lot of ways through that experience. I tried to gain something from it, and in the weeks after, I was able to celebrate my mom’s life. Then we went on to win 13 games in a row that year and win the Super Bowl. Out of that tragedy came one of the greatest years for us.”