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The Career-Saving Surgery Behind the Saints’ Super Bowl Win

Without the exquisite handiwork of Dr. James Andrews, the top surgeon in sports, Drew Brees couldn’t have won the Super Bowl. In fact, he couldn’t have come back and played at all.

Drew Brees

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At the end of last night’s
Super Bowl, CBS announcer Jim Nantz tried to convey the improbability of New Orleans’ win over Indianapolis. Naturally, he mentioned the medical marvel that
is Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ shoulder.

A few years ago while
playing for San Diego, Brees reached for a fumble while sprawled on the field,
and a defensive lineman landed like a crushing boulder on his exposed arm. In
that gruesome instant, Brees had nearly torn the rotator cuff in his throwing
arm in two. Everyone assumed his
career was over. Except for a certain orthopedic surgeon watching in
Birmingham, Alabama.

Dr. James Andrews, widely
considered the premiere surgeon in sports, used 12 anchors, the most he’d ever
used, to reattach the tissue in Brees’ shoulder. San Diego, unconvinced it
would work, released the quarterback. The Miami Dolphins passed on him as well.
But the Saints believed Andrews when he assured them months later that Brees
had had a full recovery.

“Doc saved my career,” Brees told me when I profiled Andrews in Fast Company. “What he was able to do
with my shoulder was truly amazing. I
thought for sure the injury was one of the worst things I could go through. But
now I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because of
the commitment and work and dedication it took to come back.”

Andrews repairs so many
athletes
that you could field an impressive fantasy league made up of his
patients. In fact, on his way to a Super Bowl championship, Brees beat two of
them, Brett Favre (bicep surgery prior to last season) and Peyton Manning (knee
surgery in college).

“He’s got something special
going on down there,” Brees said, speaking of Andrews, whose star patients have
won more than 20 Super Bowls, World Series, and NBA Championships between them.

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The same can be said of
Brees, who tied a Super Bowl record for completions while leading the Saints to
the franchise’s first championship. For a city still rebuilding four and a half
years after being crushed by Katrina, it was something undeniably special.

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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