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By TOM SHANAHAN

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 | Drew Brees reached for his cell phone once he learned he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder suffered Saturday in the Chargers’ season-ending loss. Good thing it was a Sunday and the minutes were free.

“I was burning up the cell phone talking to everybody I could,” Brees said when he met the media Monday at Chargers Park. “I’m not the kind of person to sit around and sulk about it and ask, ‘Why me?’ “

The fifth-year quarterback talked to Tom Condon, his agent. Condon told Brees about other quarterbacks who have successfully come back from a torn labrum, including Rich Gannon, one of his clients.

“I’ve heard stories and heard reassuring stuff,” Brees said.

He talked to Tom House, the former Major Leaguer and pitching instructor in San Diego who has worked with many players, including ageless Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan.

“Nolan Ryan is a guy who has dealt with this,” Brees said. “Some guys have come back and thrown the ball harder than they had. I might have to tell the doctor to put a little extra juice in there.”

Brees laughed, which should tell you how confident he is when he says he’ll be back better than ever as a sixth-year pro.

Hey, Drew. I’ve got one more guy you should call: San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell.

Yeah, he’s still a college kid, but this time last year O’Connell went under the knife to repair a torn labrum. He came back as a sophomore last fall to complete 62.1 percent of his passes (233 of 375) for 2,663 yards for 19 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

The Aztecs had some problems last year, but O’Connell’s arm strength wasn’t one of them. Against BYU, O’Connell out-dueled BYU’s John Beck, later named the All-Mountain West Conference’s first-team quarterback, completing 21 of 31 passes for 243 yards.

“I would tell him, ‘After all hard work, you’ll feel better and you’ll throw the ball better than before you were injured,” O’Connell said. “When you go through the rehab process, you strengthen tendons and muscles and you become a better player. My shoulder held up phenomenally. I was 100 percent.”

O’Connell’s surgery was Dec. 21, 2004. He missed spring practice three months later in March, but he said he was throwing the ball in April and felt 100 percent in May.

Brees said he’s been told to expect four months of rehab, and he plans to be full strength by mini-camp in mid-June.

Brees is traveling today to Birmingham, Ala., for a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. He received his first diagnosis from the Chargers’ team physician, Dr. David Chao.

After hearing Andrews’ report, Brees will decide how to proceed and who will perform the surgery.

“I’ve dealt with injuries before,” Brees said. “There’s only one way to approach it. You believe that you do everything you can throughout that rehab process to come back bigger, faster, stronger. I think also that mentally you overcome so much that it makes you tougher. I feel like I’m going to come back better than ever.”

Brees said in high school he suffered a torn ACL in his knee – another injury once considered career threatening before advances in modern sports medicine. He went under the knife weighing 170 pounds, but by the time he completed his rehab and was back on the playing field he was 20 pounds stronger at 190.

Brees and backup quarterback Philip Rivers both waved off questions about what the Chargers will do in the offseason – keep them both or trade one of them.

“There will be speculation, I’m sure,” said Rivers, a first-round draft pick in 2004. “There will be a different report every day for six months. That’s something I’m not going to get caught up in. I’m a Charger and I’ll do all I can do. I’ll take a little time off and then I’ll start to gear up. As an individual you can focus on yourself in the offseason and set goals about what I can do to get better and let everything else take care of itself.”

Said Brees, “I just worry about the things I can control. Right now I’m taking care of this thing. I truly believe that I’m going to get better and better every year. Everything happens for reason. Right now you sit there and go, ‘That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense right now.’ Six months from now I’ll know why, and I’ll be better for it.”

Just ask another quarterback in San Diego, Kevin O’Connell.

toms@sdhoc.com

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