Suddenly it's a Brees

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

The relationship forged between Dave Dickenson and Drew Brees is such the B.C. Lions quarterback picked up the phone the other night to congratulate his former teammate on his recent success.

However, the tie bonding the two hadn't been strong enough to convince Dickenson his former club in San Diego was capable of being led to a 6-3 start that has the football fraternity scratching its head.

"I haven't picked 'em in my pool all year until (last week)," said Dickenson, laughing down the phone line from his home outside Vancouver.

"LT (running back LaDainian Tomlinson) is hurt (hamstring) and, really, the guys all around (Brees), I think they're average."

Rivalling the Pittsburgh Steelers as the biggest surprise of the NFL season to date, the Chargers have taken advantage of a weak schedule, increased confidence and a shocking transformation of a quarterback who the club essentially gave up on last winter.

"Before, he was trying to be the leader and franchise player and say and do all the right things," said Dickenson, who spent 2001 as a Charger, watching the media and fans reluctantly assemble behind the Brees Bandwagon, only to have them exit last season.

"Now he's at a stage where I think he just decided to have a little more fun.

"He knew his time in San Diego could end at any time, so it took some pressure off."

That attitude change stems from the Chargers' draft-day acquisition of fourth-overall pick Philip Rivers, a hotshot pivot out of North Carolina State who signed a $40-million contract that will see him bump Brees out of town as a free agent at season's end.

"Maybe the organization wasn't sold on him and the media questioned that -- plus they were losing and that's tough on your confidence," said Dickenson of a no-win scenario for Brees during camp.

"He just seems a little more relaxed. It's tough to be successful overnight and he needed some time to work on some things. He's a good guy and he's a good leader.

"The stress of trying to be perfect every week is pretty much impossible and he felt if he couldn't do it, he'd get the hook last year."

Rebounding from a campaign in which he was benched five times and pulled two others, Brees has thrown nine TD passes in his last two games, padding stats that find him with 18 touchdowns and three picks all year. Last year, he only found the endzone 11 times and threw 15 passes into the opposition's arms.

Finding a way to perfectly complement the unmatched talents of Tomlinson out of the backfield, the Chargers are the NFL's highest- scoring team heading into this weekend's bye. Not only will the week off give Tomlinson a chance to rest his ailing hamstring, it will also give recently acquired receiver Keenan McCardell a chance to familiarize himself with the playbook.

After the break, the Chargers drive to Oakland for a rematch with the silver and black that recently saw Brees toss a career-high five touchdown passes, prompting Dickenson's call.

One year earlier, it was Dickenson who was on the receiving end of the congratulatory calls as the Montana star returned to the CFL in MVP-like fashion. Now, the banged-up Dickenson is unsure if he'll get the start in Sunday's West Division final against the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"If you do start and don't play well, you're going to get pulled -- we both know that," said Dickenson, whose bruised ribs are complemented by Casey Printers' wonky toe.

Somewhere in San Diego, Brees will spend the weekend lounging, watching football and soaking up his shocking success.

Who he'll pick in his CFL pool is anyone's guess.

Yeah, right.


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