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The Life

October 16, 2002
Secrets of the Ya-Ya Brotherhood
ESPN The Magazine

LaDainian Tomlinson has his little room. In his basement, he has a video game system and some pictures on the wall and a dartboard next to them. And who decorates the rest of his house? Why, his fiancee, Torsha Oakley.

Drew Brees has his little room, too. He has a steel plate of The San Diego Union-Tribune's sports page from the day after he and LT were drafted. He has a Caddyshack poster autographed by Bill Murray. He has a Masters flag autographed by Jack Nicklaus. But who dolled up the rest of the house? Why -- you guessed it -- his fiancee, Brittany Dudchenko.

Drew Brees
Drew isn't as graceful off the field. Just ask Brittany.
Two 23-year-olds, two millionaires, a combined two rooms they call their own. While the guys go to work and get pummeled by older men, the ladies stay home and think about what to do with that open wall, and where should this couch go, and oh yes, I'll take two of those.

Don't feel sorry for the boys, though. Just as Brees wouldn't be the player he's becoming without LT, and just as Tomlinson couldn't be the NFL's second-leading rusher without Brees, neither would be the men they are if it weren't for their wives-to-be.

I got a firsthand glimpse of this when I took the couples to dinner for a Mag story detailing their friendship. What I found was, not only do Torsha and Brittany complement each other well, they keep their guys in check.

As we were munching on nachos, I asked the couples for their how-did-you-meet stories. Tomlinson went first, spinning us back to August 2000 at TCU, making it out like he was the mouse being chased by the cat.

"Well, I had seen Torsha around, but you know, didn't really have a chance to talk to her. So I'm walking to a party one night after a game, and she walks by and gives me the eye. And so "

"Hold on," Torsha says. "You used to sit in the cafeteria, and stare and smile and tilt your head, trying to look cute. And I didn't give you the eye that night. I walked by and I heard people say, 'There she goes!' So I turned around."

We laugh. LT, for the first time all year, is stuck in the backfield. And Torsha's not done.

"You researched me through other people. You asked all your friends to ask about me. I kept telling everyone I didn't want a boyfriend."

"I liked her," he says. "I always said I wanted to find a wife in college."

"You had 2,000 yards and you didn't have a girlfriend?" I interject, showing a feel for probing journalism.

"No. And I was a senior, too."

"On our first date," Torsha says, "he talked about his mom the whole time. He seemed like an innocent teddy bear."

"I knew LaDainian was in love," Brittany says, "when we were at the Heisman and he kept calling you every five minutes."

The collective table sighs. Now it's Drew and Brittany's turn.

"I made a real fool of myself when I first met her," Brees says. "It was when I was a sophomore. It was my 20th birthday and I'd had about 17 shots and put my foot in my mouth. It was a typical football player cheesy line -- we'll leave it at that. It took me six months to get the courage to talk to her again. I finagled my way to get invited to a party that I knew she'd be at."

"So he asked me out, and all my girlfriends wanted to come with," Brittany says. "You know, because he was That Guy Who Had Made Such a Fool of Himself. So he brought some of his football friends and we went to the movies. And his friends started throwing Gummy Bears at the screen!"

"They were Hot Tamales," Brees says. "You know how if you suck on 'em they get sticky? It was like, 'Whap!' Right on De Niro's face."

He gets a look from Brittany that says, Did you just turn 12? He quiets.

The couples are planning on getting married weeks apart from each other this spring. They take turns hosting each other for dinner a couple times a month, and usually, the ladies sink into wedding fodder while the guys talk football. Count on two things -- (1) San Diego, already 5-1 this season, to be a playoff contender as long as Brees and Tomlinson play, and (2) the two couples to lean on each other for friendship and support the entire way.

So the guys might have only one room to play in and will never get the last word. They find other ways to get back. Tomlinson is famous for knocking Torsha to the ground during one-on-one hoops games. ("She was good in high school," he says. "If I let up, she might win.) Brees will race Brittany at everything from running up the stairs to brushing teeth. "And he's a violent sleeper," she says. "I'll cuddle up to him, and he'll elbow me right in the face."

Hey, every now and then a guy's got to get a little room.

Seth Wickersham covers the NFL for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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