Drew Brees’ Saints empire is rooted at Soldier Field; will it end Sunday?

Before Drew Brees could win the Super Bowl — or its MVP trophy — he had to lose at Soldier Field.

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Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes under pressure from Bears defensive end Mark Anderson during the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on Jan. 21, 2007.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes under pressure from Bears defensive end Mark Anderson during the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on Jan. 21, 2007.

John Zich/Bloomberg News

Before Drew Brees could win the Super Bowl, he had to lose at Soldier Field.

Almost 14 years ago — and, for the Bears, 14 starting quarterbacks and four coaches ago — Brees’ Saints lost the NFC Championship Game 39-14 at Soldier Field.

The Bears were headed to the Super Bowl — Virginia McCaskey held the trophy named after her father while the snow poured down on the field — but it was the Saints who laid the foundation for a dynasty.

“That was obviously all of our first playoff experiences here in the [coach] Sean Payton era . . . kinda culminating into that game, which kinda capped off what was a storybook season,” Brees, who was then in his first season with the Saints, said Wednesday. “Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted to finish with. And yet I feel like it really paved the way for that 2009 championship and a lot of what we’ve been able to accomplish since then.”

If the Bears have their way, the next playoff meeting between the teams — Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — could be Brees’ last game. He has talked openly of retiring after the season.

“Honestly, I played the last four seasons as if [each one] was my last,” he said. “As I sit here right now, my approach is very much the same.”

Payton swears he won’t use Brees’ future to tug on his players’ heartstrings — “I don’t think that’s where anybody mentally is at, nor would it be something where I’d look at it and say, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ ” he said — but players are well aware of the circumstances.

Brees talked with admiration about the Saints’ ability to finish 12-4 — and get the NFC’s No. 2 seed — despite playing backups at almost every offensive position this year. The odds of Brees’ season continuing, though, will improve if he gets two superstar teammates back. Wide receiver Michael Thomas returned from injured reserve Wednesday after an ankle problem, and running back Alvin Kamara is on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Both could play Sunday.

“I’m excited to have Mike back,” said Brees, who played alongside the two for only 10 quarters this year. “Excited for Alvin, with what he’s gone through recently, and just for our own squad.”

He knows the memories the Saints can make.

With little prompting, Brees rattled off the details of the NFC title game from Jan. 21, 2007. The Bears led 16-0 when Brees found wide receiver Marques Colston for a 13-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in the first half.

“I remember the exact play,” he said.

After forcing a punt to start the second half, the Saints threw to running back Reggie Bush on their second play — and he ran for an 88-yard score.

“He did a lot of work taking it to the house,” Brees said.

After forcing another punt, the Saints lined up for a field goal that Billy Cundiff left short. Brees was later flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. The Bears led 18-14 at the end of the third quarter and poured it on with three touchdowns in the fourth.

“We had an opportunity and drove down to kick a field goal to take the lead, which obviously would have been a huge momentum shift in that game,” Brees said. “Unfortunately, he missed it — and they kinda took over from there.”

The Saints then built an empire.

If the Bears can pull an upset Sunday, they could end it — or least force the Saints to rebuild it with a new quarterback.

“All I know is this,” Brees said. “I didn’t come back to play this season for myself. I came back for my team. I came back for the city. I came back for the organization. That’s why I’m here.”

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