INDIANAPOLIS – A university known as a 'Cradle of Quarterbacks' is situated about 75 minutes north of the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
It was billed as such through the years with luminaries such as Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Mike Phipps, Mark Herrmann, Scott Campbell and Jim Everett manning the position and fostering the rich heritage.
Kyle Orton and Drew Brees are more contemporary names that forward the history, and now Curtis Painter can stake his claim, too. Painter will be making his fourth career start and seventh career appearance this Sunday when Indianapolis visits New Orleans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Painter and Brees did not intersect on campus at West Lafayette, and this is the first time two former Boilermakers have met as NFL starting quarterbacks since December 11, 2008, when Brees' Saints met Orton's Bears in Soldier Field.
Painter is excited about the opportunity to share the field with his starting counterpart.
"That will be a lot of fun," said Painter. "I've admired Drew (Brees) for many years while I was at Purdue, and even at the level he's at now. I got to see him my rookie year at the Super Bowl, so it will certainly be fun to go out there and play against him.
"The thing about him is he's an intelligent guy. He handles the game very well. He always seems to get them in the right play. You don't see too many mistakes, and just the way he handles and manages the game (is impressive). You can't try to compete with him. He's a great quarterback. For me, it's to go out there and worry about us, not to compare to him."
Brees had an impact on Painter when he was coming out of Lincoln High School in Vincennes, and Brees' collegiate accomplishments played a role in Painter selecting Purdue.
"Yeah, no question," said Painter. "Him and their history of quarterbacks was, obviously, very appealing to a young quarterback coming out of high school. That and their style of offense was very much a factor. That definitely was appealing to a young guy who likes to throw it around in high school."
Painter met Brees while at Purdue and formed a relationship. "He was back a lot of times at Purdue doing different charity events and publicity things, so I got to meet him a few times. We've got a little relationship there," said Painter.
Purdue fans are very respectful and appreciative of their athletes, and Painter can see why they would be so with Brees.
"He certainly did a lot of very good things while he was up there," said Painter. "Rightfully so, they really do admire him up there. He led them to the Rose Bowl and did a lot of good things. Any time a guy has success like that, they (fans) like to stick with that."
The first time Brees was exposed to the Colts and Saints was when the teams clashed in preseason play on August 12, 2000 in Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium. Brees was a front-row spectator with some Boilermaker teammates that night, and he would go on to face the Colts in some very unique circumstances as a professional.
Brees was the San Diego starting quarterback on December 26, 2004 in only the fourth contest in NFL history pitting teams with seven or more consecutive wins. The Chargers entered the RCA Dome on an eight-game streak, and they would battle the Colts, who had won seven straight. Indianapolis prevailed in overtime, 34-31. The Colts tied with game with 56 seconds left on a Peyton Manning-to-Brandon Stokley 21-yard scoring pass, and a subsequent two-point rush by Edgerrin James. The touchdown pass was Manning's 49th of the season, snapping the league record of Dan Marino (48, 1984).
Brees would return to Indianapolis 51 weeks later for a December 18, 2005 game with the 13-0 Colts. He moved the Chargers into a 16-0 lead that the Colts overcame with 17 third-quarter points. San Diego tallied the game's final 10 points to hand Indianapolis its first loss of the season.
His final regular-season appearance against the Colts was on September 6, 2007, when Indianapolis hosted New Orleans for the NFL Kickoff Weekend. Indianapolis snapped a 10-10 halftime tie to post a 41-10 victory. Indianapolis unveiled its Super Bowl XLI banner that evening after its victory over Chicago the previous January. The Colts met Chicago in Super Bowl XLI after the Bears defeated the Saints in the NFC Championship game. In bringing Brees' back to the Colts in unique circumstances, he and the Saints met Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV, with New Orleans winning.
On Sunday, Brees is looking forward to being a host for the first time against the Colts.
"I guess each one of those (previous meetings with the Colts) was a very unique situation and now we're playing on Sunday Night Football," said Brees. "This will be the first time I've ever played them at home. I've always either gone on the road and played them in the RCA Dome or, obviously, the Super Bowl is technically a road game for both of us. They've always been unique situations."
It is almost unique to have two Purdue quarterbacks meeting on an NFL playing field. Brees likes the novelty of the situation and thinks it is 'neat' to meet Painter like this.
"It is, it definitely is (neat)," said Brees. "I'm happy for Curtis and the opportunity he's getting. I think all of us have a lot of pride in Purdue and the opportunity we got there and the opportunity it has afforded us now to play in the NFL. The fact we have three quarterbacks in the NFL from Purdue, I think it's a pretty neat thing."
On the rare occasions their paths have crossed, Painter and Brees have visited. It has not occurred recently and the pre-game period will provide a brief moment to do so.
"Typically you don't get a whole lot of time to chat," said Brees. "Certainly, I wish him the best. I'm excited for the opportunity that he's been given over the last few weeks and will continue to have."
History and circumstance will take a backseat to the present as Painter and Brees represent only two of the active players for this Sunday's game. Indianapolis is searching for its first victory of 2011, while New Orleans stands at 4-2 and is coming off a divisional loss at Tampa Bay.
Painter has started the club's last three games and for the season has hit 56-of-102 passes for 806 yards with five touchdowns and one interception for a 93.0 rating. His 746 passing yards represent the highest three-game career-opening starting total in the club's Indianapolis era. With 281 yards at Tampa Bay and 277 yards against Kansas City, Painter became the first Indianapolis quarterback to top 250 passing yards in his first two starts. Prior to this season, Painter only had seen reserve duty in the last two games of the 2009 season. He did relieve Kerry Collins for the final five possessions of this year's game against Pittsburgh after Collins was injured.
Brees is operating at maximum efficiency for the Saints, whom he joined in 2006. Brees has hit 181-of-264 passes for 2,152 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has topped 350 passing yards in four consecutive games to become the only NFL quarterback to do so. He had been tied at three such games in a newer 'Cradle of Quarterbacks' with Dan Fouts, Lynn Dickey, Drew Bledsoe, Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Daunte Culpepper and Tom Brady, and he had done it previously one other time himself, too. New Orleans has averaged 27.1 points a game since 2006, third-best in the NFL. The Saints have averaged 392.4 yards per game since 2006 to top the league. Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008, the second-highest seasonal total in NFL history. His five 4,000 seasons rank fourth in league history, with Manning topping that category with 11. Brees and Manning are the only quarterbacks to have five consecutive 4,000 seasons.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell sizes up Brees as one of the challenges his team must contend with on Sunday.
"I think he's thrown for over 350 yards in every game thus far this year," said Caldwell. "That kind of gives you an idea, and he's played against some pretty good defenses, of how well he's playing. He's very, very accurate, anticipates extremely well and, certainly, is well aware of everything around him. He can get them into great plays, get them out of bad ones and he's a very aggressive quarterback. He's going for the jugular any time he can get it. He's a very, very smart player, and, certainly, one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
"He's a guy that loves to light it up, and he's going to try to put as many points on the board as he possibly can. I think he does a good job at it. He can wing it, but he's deadly accurate. That's something that you see from him week in and week out. He can put the ball where he wants it and give his guys a chance to make a catch."