NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees couldn't believe it was happening in real life.
On this night of all nights -- "arguably the biggest game of our lives for many of us," Brees said -- the New Orleans Saints quarterback was living out a nightmare.
"I think every athlete has had that dream where you're late to the game, you pull up to the stadium and the ball is being kicked off," Brees said. "That was happening."
Two hours before the Saints' unforgettable return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina on Sept. 25, 2006, Brees was stuck in traffic, frantically shuttling back and forth between I-10 and Airline Drive, trying to find a path through the gridlock.
Brees and many others shared their memories of that night for a detailed oral history that will run Monday on ESPN.com in advance of the 10-year reunion game between the Saints and Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.
Consider Brees' harrowing, yet hilarious, tale of the drive to the stadium as a sneak preview.
"I remember heading down Airline and it was just jam packed, and I think, 'Alright, well, I'll just make my way to I-10.' And I get to I-10 and it's jam packed. So I come back down to Airline and I finally get on I-10 from Airline again," said Brees, who had never driven to the Superdome for a game before because he had just signed with the team that March.
Brees said he left from the airport Hilton about three and a half hours before kickoff because he likes to get to games three hours early.
"And now I'm sitting there backed up at the Poydras (Street) exit, staring at the Dome -- and I can see the Dome, clear as day," Brees said. "And I'm just checking my watch, I looked at it probably a thousand times -- at least a hundred times. And I was actually sweating at this point.
"The thought crossed my mind, more than once, to just pull the car over, park it on the shoulder, get out and start running."
Things got even worse when Brees finally made it to the parking garage -- having already blown the two-hour arrival deadline and missed his pregame meeting with coach Sean Payton.
"I was driving, at the time, a 1997 Land Rover D90 that had a safari rack on the top. (The parking attendant) looks up and she's like, 'Ahhh, that might be too high.' And I'm like, ‘No, you don't understand, I have to make it work,'" Brees said. "And I pull in and it was fine -- with the exception of the metal piping that kind of runs along the top. And so, sure enough, that safari rack hits the metal piping ... and I hear the most awful scraping sound. Sparks fly!
"And I kind of just get stuck there for a second and I thought to myself, 'You have got to be kidding me.'"
Eventually Brees ditched the car outside, called a team security guy for help and made his way inside.
He said both Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis gave him a little grief, but mostly absolved him and told him to relax.
"I'll always remember, Mickey Loomis came over, he heard what happened, he kind of came over and he was smiling, kind of chuckling a little bit. And he was like, 'Listen, just relax. You're gonna play great, we're gonna win this game. Nothing to worry about. You're here. That's all that matters,'" Brees said. "So I took a deep breath and I was good. But that was scary."
The adrenaline never really stopped pumping, but it was all pumping in the Saints' favor on that remarkable night. Steve Gleason's legendary blocked punt kickstarted a 23-3 victory that many still consider not only the greatest moment in Saints history -- but one of the greatest in New Orleans history.