Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks up as he runs off the field after the Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-24 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Saturday, December 24, 2016. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

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NEW ORLEANS - For Drew Brees, the Superdome’s sounds are the first thing that come to mind.

The Who Dat chant. The screams of jubilation. The boos toward officials when the crowd emphatically disagrees with a call. The low but loud drone from fans when they howl an elongated version of his first name.

They are the sounds that make the Superdome the Superdome. They are sounds Drew Brees didn’t get to hear during his final season as the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, during the pandemic-silenced 2020 campaign.

Rather than the mind-numbing cheers, the loudest sound at the cavernous Superdome last season was the bat-like squeak of the nets going up and down behind the uprights.

“Last year was tough on so many people, disappointing for all of us — as players, as fans, as a city — that we couldn’t enjoy a lot of that together,” Brees said in a one-on-one interview Monday with the Times-Picayune.

No. 9 will be back in the Superdome on Thursday for the first time since that 30-20 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jan. 17 — a game that had just 3,750 fans in the stands for what was Brees’ finale as a Saint.

This time, the Superdome will be at maximum capacity for his return.

“I’m still grasping the emotions of what that will be like. So many great memories, so many great moments,” Brees said, noting how he’s looking forward to hearing the crowd and the fans for the first time since 2019.

“That’s the advantage at its absolute best — the part where it almost rings in your ears. It’s a cool feeling and brings it all rushing back.”

The challenge for Brees for Thursday is how he won’t be back solely as quarterback emeritus. He’ll be calling the game for NBC alongside Mike Tirico.

The plan for Brees, he said, is he’ll work the first half like he normally does, then go down to the field for the halftime ceremony. Once that's over, Brees will go back up to the broadcast booth for the rest of the game.

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“I’m going to have my NBC hat on a lot of the time, and then I take that off for a moment to be Drew Brees the New Orleanian, the football player, with my family and have that moment with the fans,” Brees said with a laugh. “Then I go right back to putting the NBC hat on again, because I have a job to do. It’ll be quite the balance on Thursday.”

Brees said the Saints had been planning a celebration of some sort for whenever he’d make his return, but he didn’t know he’d be working the Saints-Bills game until a few weeks ago.

The Saints announced their plans for Brees’ return Nov. 17, with Saints owner Gayle Benson saying in a statement that the Thanksgiving game was “the perfect opportunity for us to say thank you to Drew and his family the right way — on the field and in front of 70,000 of the best fans in football.”

Brees added of the timing: “It was really just finding the right opportunity. With me being back, broadcasting the game, it being on NBC, it’s kind of cool. It just seemed like a good moment.”

As a player, Brees was known for how he did as many mental reps and visualization exercises as possible to best prepare him for every possible scenario. He’s taking the same approach for his role Thursday.

However, there’s a little bit of unfamiliarity for him because he’s not sure exactly how he’ll get from the broadcast booth to the field. He can't exactly picture everything because, for example, he hasn’t seen the extensive Superdome renovations just yet.

“I’ve tried to anticipate what that’s going to be like fully, but you can’t really,” Brees said. “At the same time, I will definitely go through that exercise of trying to put myself in that moment, just so I don’t get so overcome with emotion.

“But yeah, I’ve talked with my wife about it quite a bit, just daydreaming about it.”

While Brees, a Purdue alumnus, has called Notre Dame games all season, this will be his first time in the booth for an NFL game.

One of the hardest things Brees has to unlearn this week, he said, is removing “we” from his vocabulary, though he has had some practice with that while speaking about the Saints while he handles his in-studio job duties. But he’s found a workaround.

“If I tell stories from when I was there, I can say ‘we,’ ” Brees said, laughing. “I’ll just have to tell more stories. That’s how you get around that.”

This article originally ran on ktbs.com.

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