EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Case Keenum has "been a big fan of" Drew Brees for years, keeping track of the fellow Texas native's success.
Keenum even read the Saints quarterback's book, Coming Back Stronger: The Hidden Power of Adversity, a few year's back.
Now he'll face Brees in Sunday's Divisional playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"[He's] just a guy I admire in how he moves the ball down the field, how he operates, what kind of leader he is," Keenum said Thursday. "I read his book a long time ago, so I think he's somebody to learn from. I try to watch all of the really good quarterbacks in the offseason and take little things and work on my game and implement things that I think will work well and add into my game."
There's a decade of age and a difference of a dozen postseason games between Keenum and Brees.
Brees, who was born in Austin, Texas, will turn 39 next Monday. Keenum, whose birth name is Casey Austin Keenum, will turn 30 on Feb. 17.
Keenum is coming off his best pro season after joining the Vikings in March for his fifth pro season (doesn't include 2012 on Houston's practice squad — his "redshirt" season). He had career highs in completions (325), attempts (481), completion percentage (67.6), yards (3,547) and passer rating (98.3). Most importantly, he was 11-3 in 14 starts and played a major relief role in a Week 5 victory at Chicago.
Brees joined Peyton Manning and Brett Favre as the only three players to pass for more than 70,000 career yards this season. Brees set a new NFL record for completion percentage (72.0) this season and finished with 4,334 yards, marking the 12th straight season in which he's had at least 4,300 passing yards.
Keenum will be making his first postseason start, and Brees will open his 13th playoff game, but the quarterbacks in line to start Sunday's Divisional round game between the Vikings (13-3) and Saints (11-5, 1-0 postseason) have more in common than a first glance reveals.
Neither were recruited heavily out of high school. In spite of leading his Wylie Bulldogs to a state championship in 2004, Keenum was rated 2.0 stars on a scale of 5.0 by rivals.com, and opted to become a Houston Cougar, eventually setting NCAA records in career completions (1,546), passing yards (19,217) and touchdown passes (155).
Brees told media in New Orleans that he kept track of Keenum's time with the Cougars.
"I mean, you look at those numbers he was putting up, and it was pretty remarkable," Brees said. "I always root for guys like that, you know? Kind of the undersized guy coming out, that nobody wants to give him any credit, and just always plays with a chip on his shoulder.
"I mean, Case has done a phenomenal job – a phenomenal job," Brees added. "I've been really happy for him, just knowing him a little bit and knowing the road that he's traveled to get to where he is."
Internet recruiting rankings hadn't fired up when Brees was looking for a place to play collegiately, but in spite of winning all 29 games he started and a state title as a senior at Austin's Westlake High School, Brees didn't receive many offers and chose a Purdue program that hadn't won the Big Ten since 1967.
In spite of leading the Boilermakers to heights unseen in three decades, some thought Brees' height (6-foot) would be too much to overcome in the NFL. He, however, was drafted in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Chargers. After appearing in one game as a rookie, Brees went 30-28 as a starter in the next four seasons before heading to New Orleans in 2006.
Brees was asked on Wednesday about becoming successful in the NFL despite being one of the shortest quarterbacks, and said he and Keenum, who is 6-1, were driven to prove something.
"It's because we're both Texas kids, that's why," Brees joked with a tinge of home-state pride.
"Case and I coming out of high school were probably not the most highly recruited guys, and that's all you hear about through the draft process," Brees added. "They want to tell you all the things you can't do instead of turning on the film and looking at the things you can do. … You always feel like you have to prove something.
"I think that serves you well as you go along," he continued. "I think that's certainly helped make me the person and player I am, and I think that Case would say the same thing. We don't know any different. I don't know what it's like to be 6-5, but I know what it's like to be 6-foot and have to do the things I have to do to be successful."
Keenum has talked about being driven to prove right those who have believed in him* *instead of playing to prove naysayers wrong.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the value of playoff experience and pointed out that
"I think the thing about all these guys, at one point in time, never had playoff experience," Zimmer said. "I think that part is important, but once you get into it, it doesn't really matter on game day.
"What really matters is how we play on Sunday, and how we play as a team, and we do the things that got us there, we're a smart football team, we take advantage of opportunities," Zimmer added. "I think all of those things are important and at the end of the day, it still comes down to football, the things we've done during the season, offensively with the quarterback, taking care of the ball, throwing it to the right spot, getting us in the right checks, so on and so forth, are more important than playoff experience."
Latavius Murray, another offseason addition who helped Oakland make the playoffs last season, said the team built its trust in Keenum months ago during organized team activity practices.
"I believe nobody expected him to play the way he's playing other than the guys in this locker room, other than himself," Murray said. "I don't think any of us in here are surprised. I think the rest of the world is. But we believe in everybody in this locker room, back in OTAs, we've been working together. And I think that's what's most important."