When Drew Brees was attending Purdue, rival linebackers weren't the only ones trying to chase down the young quarterback. "I didn't pay my cell phone bill and I had a collection agency after me," he says. "It's no fun and it ruins your credit for seven years."
After the embarrassing learning experience of having collectors hound him for cash, Brees decided to take it upon himself to learn more about finances and the economy. These days, he's taking his words of financial freedom to others around the country serving as a spokesman for a new Financial Football video game that helps high school and college students learn the basics of money management through the interactive experience of playing a video game.
And the game has been so successful in helping students that the NFL has even presented the game at the league's Rookie Symposium the last two seasons.
To play the game, students (or rookies) simply log on to the site www.financialfootball.com, select a difficulty level. The harder the question gamers answer, the more yards they gain on the field until they hit pay dirt.
But it's the understanding of the ways of the economy that are the real payoff to students and NFL rookies alike.
Or as Brees says, "Forget the Benz, buy used."
"The main fundamental we try to teach is whether you have a hundred dollars or a million dollars, save your money and live within your means," says Brees. "I think a misconception about NFL players is that everybody is a millionaire. Yeah, there are a few guys who are making big money, and yeah, they are millionaires, but the vast majority are making league minimum and they're only playing one to four years. It's that group that you're really trying to get at and say, 'hey, this doesn't last forever.'
BREES ON 'MADDEN'
When Drew Brees put up six touchdowns against the Lions, first thing I thought was, those are "Madden" numbers. "I've never even thrown for six touchdowns in 'Madden,'" Brees laughs when I tell him. "I've had people throw six touchdowns on me, but I've never thrown that many in 'Madden.' Fans tell me that my 'Madden' character is all souped-up in the game, and it's pretty crazy to sit there and see how cool the graphics look, but I guess I'm just not very good at playing as myself.
"It's funny because when you're out there playing for real, the stats just add up and you don't realize it until after the game. You're like, 'Wow, did that just really happen?' The whole time you're out there, you're just trying to focus on winning the game and doing whatever you can to get it done, and right now, we're just having a lot of fun out there."
The type of fun most of us only get to experience on our 360.
As for Brees' advice on how to play as him in "Madden NFL 10?"
"Throw deep," he says with a laugh. "You can afford to gamble in Madden."
The opposite advice Brees provides for your financial future.
"Save your gambling for Madden," he says. "When it comes to real life, you don't want to gamble with your finances. Save your money."
"There are a lot of guys, a large group who come into the league and spend their money as fast as they get it. Then all of a sudden they're out of the league and they have nothing to show for it. But if you can get to the guys early enough and talk to them about saving their money, then hey, when they walk away from their four-year career, they walk away with a nice little chunk of change that they can use to start a business and help put them in a comfortable position in life and help their families, help their kids pay for college."
That's why when Brees got his hands on that first signing bonus, he didn't go out and buy a Bentley or a diamond chain worth a hundred grand. "I bought a 2,400-square-foot house, nothing extravagant," he explains. "Then I bought a pre-owned car. I might have bought a watch, a Rolex or something, but it was a $4,000 Rolex, not a $40,000 Rolex.
"In fact, besides the used car, the home and the one watch, beyond that, I try to put my money away and invest it wisely. Just prepare as if that is the only money I'm ever going to see in football. I have to prepare in case all of a sudden football is gone and I have to go out and find something else to do. That's why I think it's so very important for kids to learn about their financial future through this game. I wish this program was around when I was a kid because I just don't think you're taught enough through the regular curriculum in high school or even college about how to prepare yourself and manage your finances.
"You need to know how to handle your financial future once you're making money and you have to make mortgage payments and car loan payments. I think the earlier you can get to kids with this information, and at the same time, make it a fun way to learn it — and that's what video games are all about — I just think it's a great way for kids to learn. We need to teach kids about saving. We need to teach them about what a credit score is all about. It's like your financial report card for the rest of your life."