What I learned walking 71,940 yards for Drew Brees

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  • By Benjamin Gallagher
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If there's a good time to begin a 41-mile marathon in West New Orleans, I can't imagine it's 3 a.m. But just five days after coming up with #BreesAThon in Los Angeles, we started walking.

It took Drew Brees 17 seasons (plus five games) to break the all-time passing yards record with 71,940 yards. Grady Rains and I were about to cover that distance in one day -- the day that Brees would make football history.

We charted a path through the Big Easy that followed the Mississippi River for 28.4 miles to an old battlefield, where we'd turn toward downtown, snake the famous streets of the French Quarter, cross Canal St., and walk onto the field at the Superdome. There, we'd shake hands with Drew Brees before he claimed one of the most impressive statistical records in sports.

Periods of torrential downpour would plague our journey. The first spurt came at 3 a.m. and stopped us before we even got started. When it cleared up, we headed south towards the river.

Mississippi River mosquitoes mean business, but they hardly seemed threatening after several New Orleanians cautioned us to watch out for gators. Thankfully, the first animal we ran into was toothless.

We heard the rooster's crow at 5:30 a.m., over two hours into our walk. What it was trying to say with its cock-a-doodle-do was probably something like, "The Louisiana sun is rising -- go faster, you idiots." In that moment, I thought back on the warnings issued to us by the guys who sold us our shoes -- what were we thinking?

We were hilariously underprepared. The most training I'd done was a leisurely stroll down Bourbon Street two nights prior. But the light at the end of our 41-mile tunnel was wishing my favorite QB luck before he became the greatest passing quarterback ever to toss the pigskin.

We pushed on in the name of Brees, streaming our progress live from our social media accounts on @thecheckdown. Two of our awesome team members (AJ Curry and Justin Anderson) had reached out to local news, and at 6:30 a.m. we stopped at a hospital to do our first interview of the day.

It went well, and more news stations reached out. The buzz was spreading.

Of course, buzz would mean nothing if we didn't make it to the Saints' stadium on time. By 10 a.m., our progress was just shy of the halfway mark. We were behind schedule and we were hurting.

The rain came back, the ponchos went on, we got soaked.

By this time, however, we had people snapping photos of us on the side of the road. We passed a brewery and three employees were waiting outside to offer us beers. We kept hearing variations of "I saw you on the news! Keep going!"

It was incredible witnessing how much Brees and the Saints mean to that city. New Orleans' home team has been a beacon of hope for the people of NOLA.

That was especially apparent in the impoverished and hurricane-stricken pockets of greater New Orleans. The easternmost point of our journey was through Chalmette, an area hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. You don't have to squint your eyes to see evidence of past destruction in Chalmette. Thirteen years after the deadly storms, silhouettes of Brees and old gold Fleurs-de-lis mark the rebuilt walls -- and as we passed by with our No. 9 jerseys, several locals asked to take photos with us.

We did two more news interviews. We insisted on doing walking interviews, as there wasn't enough time to stop. Valuable time was lost taking breaks to rest our feet.

Between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., we had to pick up the pace. Grady's knee was killing him, and I was developing a painful blister on my right foot, but we had to push through. We could hardly walk, and we needed to run.

Intermittently jogging for two hours, we caught up to our planned trajectory just east of the French Quarter. The energy of those streets gave us the boost we needed. It was time for the final stretch: Bourbon Street.

Saints fans started marching with us, all the way to the Superdome, where we walked up the stairs and took it all in. We'd come a long, long way since my alarm went off at 2:30 that morning.

AJ, Justin, Grady and I were invited inside the Superdome. Once on the field, we did another news interview. People saw how bad we looked and didn't question the distance we had just walked.

Brees was warming up 40 yards away. He was tossing fades down the Redskins sideline, right where he'd zip a very special 62-yard TD ball with 2:46 left in the first half of Monday Night Football.

He finished his routines, signed every single piece of memorabilia fans handed him, and before we knew it, he jogged right over to Grady and me.

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‪When you walk 71,490 yards to meet @drewbrees #BreesAThon #GoSaints ‬

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Our hashtag #BreesAThon began to own the conversation around Drew's potentially record-breaking night. As Brees approached the record, our story went viral. It became a Twitter Moment and earned over 36K tweets throughout the night. Our incredible team worked the story while we were on the ground.

A little over an hour after we shook hands with him, the Saints QB rewrote NFL history. As he told his young boys on the sideline, "You can accomplish anything in life if you're willing to work for it."

It takes hard work and a lot of pain to get to 71,940 yards. There are peaks and troughs, rain and heat along the way. Sometimes (apparently) there are gators. That many yards doesn't come easy.

Neither does a good story.

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