NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Drew Brees wore gray sneakers to his first full day of Super Bowl-related appearances - a wise move for an ambassador of a city who had to walk briskly from end to end of a sprawling convention center to make all of his scheduled stops.
Not only was the Saints' star quarterback a man on the move, but also ready to move on from the bitterness of the bounty scandal, which may have undermined his team's chances of playing for a title on its home field.
"We're professionals and we've moved past that in the sense that there's nothing that can be done other than, 'Let's move on and let's find a way to be better next year in spite of it,'" Brees said. "It would be easy to sit here and be angry, but it is what it is."
Coming off a 13-3 campaign in 2011 and a narrow loss to San Francisco in that season's playoffs, the Saints went into the offseason figuring they would be contenders again this season. Then came the NFL's probe of the Saints' cash-for-hits program and numerous sanctions, the most severe of which was the full-season suspension of coach Sean Payton. New Orleans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and now the team practicing at the Saints' suburban training center is the NFC champion 49ers.
Throughout the community, displeasure with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the matter has been on display for months, from T-shirts reading "Free Payton" (he is now reinstated) to signs in bars and eateries showing Goodell's photo and reading:
"Do not serve this man." During the season, Brees offered his own criticism of what he thought was a faulty investigation and overly heavy-handed disciplinary process. But when the topic came up Wednesday, Brees said it was time to "put this thing to bed." "We've said what needed to be said," Brees said. "Sean's back, all the pieces are in place, and now it's time for us to put ourselves in a position to make a run."
Brees has been one of New Orleans' most prominent public faces and leading promoters since he arrived in the Big Easy in 2006, when much of the area was still in a state of devastation from Hurricane Katrina's August 2005 landfall.
Now his team is the official host of the Super Bowl, and Brees is once again stepping up to highlight his adopted hometown's resurgence as it hosts the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002 - also the first time since Katrina. He also sought to stamp out the notion that there is some kind of undercurrent of tension between his club, its fans and all of the high-ranking NFL executives in town for the league's biggest single event.
"I know the city is going to be a great host regardless," Brees said. "The city wants to put their best foot forward, they want everybody to have a great experience. I don't like the fact that we've got the NFC team practicing in our facility, but we're going to be gracious hosts and hope that it pays us back in the future." Brees' stops Wednesday included a talk with area high school kids about the importance of managing one's money.
He even revealed that he graduated Purdue with an unpaid $2,000 mobile phone bill, and later regretted it when it damaged his credit score and pushed up the interest rate he had to pay on the first house he bought in San Diego, shortly after being drafted by the Chargers in 2001.
Later, he hosted a news conference in which his foundation donated $1 million to businesses teaming up with charities in the metro area. He also made several radio appearances and lent his support to an event hosted by former Saints special teams standout Steve Gleason, who has the debilitating and incurable neuro-muscular disease ALS. As an organization, the Saints' approach has mirrored that of their quarterback.
Owner Tom Benson spoke at an NFL event promoting the importance of children doing more physical activity on Wednesday. He has invited Goodell to the team party in New Orleans' City Park on Thursday night, and he will attend Goodell's main media event Friday and has even invited the commissioner to watch the game from his suite in the Superdome.
"We're making this the best Super Bowl ever and what that means is we're going to get another Super Bowl to come back in a few years," said Benson with a nod to the city's intent to bid on the 2018 Super Bowl. "We've rolled out the red carpet for everybody."
Frank Supovitz, the NFL's vice president for events, called the Saints "outstanding hosts." "We've been working on the Super Bowl together with the Saints the last three years. ... The level of partnership has never wavered for a moment," he said. "The NFL and Super Bowl have had a long and deep relationship with the city and with the team and one of the pleasures of my career has been working with the team on the reopening of the dome (after Katrina). We've been very, very close partners with the city and the team and I don't expect that to change."
Dennis Lauscha, who serves as the president of both the Saints and NBA's Hornets - which Benson bought last spring - scoffed at the idea that any animosity lingered between the Saints and the league.