Christmas took an odd bounce this week for Kevin Breedlove of Hilton Head Island.
It came in the form of a plain package mailed to the Odyssey Health Club that Breedlove owns and operates near Sea Pines Circle.
When he opened the package, he discovered the gift of a lifetime.
“I was like a kid at Christmas,” he said.
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It was an NFL football with his own name on it, in gold lettering.
It was sent as a gift from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this month.
The ball has a picture on it of the future Hall of Famer cocked for a pass. And it says:
“Game Ball presented to Kevin Breedlove in commemoration of Drew Brees breaking the all-time career passing yards record — October 8th, 2018.”
A letter from Brees said:
“I want to personally thank you for everything you did to be a part of the record-setting moment. Without your contribution, this milestone would not have happened. Although they only put one name in the record book, I want you to know that I consider you to be an important part of this record.”
‘That’s Drew Brees’
That’s the part that stuns Breedlove, a 38-year-old giant of a man whose office and hallways are filled with mementos of his all-America career on the offensive line for the Georgia Bulldogs.
“I could understand it if I were an all-pro playing on the line for his Super Bowl win,” Breedlove said. “But we played together on the San Diego Chargers in a tough year for everybody, in one of his his more struggling seasons. But that’s Drew Brees.”
The NFL record books show that Brees was the quarterback in the only NFL game Breedlove played in during two seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chargers and then picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played in Europe for the Rhein Fire and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League before a shoulder injury ended his pro career.
The Chargers went 4-12 the year he played with Brees. Brees had some injuries, and the team subsequently shelled out big bucks to sign quarterback Philip Rivers, and Brees went marching on to New Orleans.
But on that one steamy day in Jacksonville, Florida, in October 2003, Breedlove played guard on the offensive line while Brees went 24-for-41 passing for 296 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked four times, and the Jaguars won, 27-21.
Now, that guy who was considered too short to play in the NFL has passed them all, and is a heavy contender for the league Most Valuable Player Award at age 39.
This week, Brees mailed 174 customized balls to every player to catch one of his passes, or to play on his offensive line. He sent one to every coach, as well as eight for other “contributors” along the way.
“That, to me, shows the quality of his character,” Breedlove said. “He’s a class act.”
In San Diego, the players had Tuesdays off but were always invited to come to make community appearances for charitable work.
“Drew was always there,” Breedlove said. “He realized he was given a unique opportunity and he made the most of it.”
Breedlove has literally had a bigger-than-life experience in life.
He was a superstar at Daniel High School near Clemson. He played on two state championship teams, captained the South Carolina Shrine Bowl team, was a five-star Parade All-America, and got more than 70 college scholarship offers.
He picked the Georgia Bulldogs and became a starter in his second game as a true freshman. He went on to set a school record for starts. He made all-America and all-SEC teams blocking for quarterback David Greene and running back Musa Smith. He was captain of the 2002 SEC championship team in his senior year.
“I have been very fortunate in my life,” said the 6-foot-4 man who has been larger than the rest since he was in first grade.
After football, Breedlove earned masters degrees from Clemson University in business and marketing.
But his life was changed when a doctor told him he didn’t have to worry about brain damage from football because his 300-plus pounds would kill him first. At the same time, he saw an ESPN report that said that offensive linemen had the highest mortality rate of former NFL players, often dying in their 50s.
“That will open your eyes,” he said. “I knew the weight would kill me.”
He peeled off more than 100 pounds. And in 2010, he opened the Odyssey Health Center on Hilton Head with the help of his parents, John and Sally Breedlove.
He said he has tried to pay back football for the life lessons it taught him on communication, teamwork, dedication, sacrifice, respect, discipline. He has taken stints as a line coach for Hilton Head Island High School and Hilton Head Christian Academy.
Breedlove said he saw all those traits in a young Drew Brees, long before he mailed out his special Christmas surprise.
“I think he did it because he’s Drew Brees,” Breedlove said. “He’s one of the few guys who realize football is a team game. That’s what all the great ones do.”