Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brees is Our Sportsman of the Year

The Saints' QB is a 'brilliant choice' for prestigious award
By James Varney

Drew Brees, who brought his rebuilt shoulder to a city some thought would never rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and led the Saints to a Super Bowl title last season, was selected Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year on Tuesday.

As Sports Illustrated Group Editor Terry McDonell, who personally made the pick, put it, Brees didn't win because his admirable work is done. Rather, more is to come with Brees, he said. His artistry on the field is inseparable from his work off. All of which, McDonell said with undisguised astonishment, is genuine.

"If you look at the oldest definition we have for the Sportsman of the Year -- that it's not only about victory but the quality of the effort -- then you see why Drew Brees is a brilliant choice," McDonell said. "There's something old-fashioned about Drew Brees. He's aware this honor is for him, but he's aware and we're all aware that this award is really for the city, too."

Brees is the 57th honoree since the magazine's founding in 1954, joining a transcendent group of athletes and sports figures including Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Derek Jeter, John Wooden, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jack Nicklaus.

Brees is the first New Orleanian to win the accolade, which is arguably the most prestigious in sports. And in some respects, the fact he can be called a New Orleanian without an eyebrow raised from Riverbend to the 9th Ward underscores why he won. After a Texas childhood, college at Purdue, and a professional start in San Diego, Brees is at home in New Orleans.

Even before the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, Brees had been enormously successfully. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times -- with the Chargers in 2004 and with the Saints in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, the Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, and he was the Super Bowl MVP this past February.

Reflecting on that odyssey Tuesday night, Brees said it doesn't strike him as odd. The world offers few examples of people as great at what they do as he, but it wasn't something planned when he was young, Brees said, and it's not something achieved unilaterally.

"None of this happens without Ncw Orleans," Brees said.

Brees began Tuesday in New York on the Today Show and then ran from one event to another, and even the polished Sports Illustrated public relations team was scrambling to keep up.

Brees was honored Tuesday night at a downtown Manhattan dinner where Katie Couric was his introductory speaker.

Enough to scramble the average mind. Which, and this is the point reinforced by the Sportsman of the Year award, is not the Brees mind.

"You know, I don't take things in that way," he said when asked if he had ever envisioned a day when he would be Super Bowl MVP and Sportsman of the Year. "In fact, I never even knew Purdue was a storied place for quarterbacks when I went there."

Brees has talked at length about his introduction to New Orleans, how Saints Coach Sean Payton gave Brees and his wife, Brittany, an unintended car tour of the gashed post-Katrina city. And how, when Payton thought for sure his pitch was blown, Drew and Brittany caught an immediate vibe that said, no, actually, this is the place.

As unlikely as that tale may seem, Brees insisted Tuesday night it is a piece of his development as a man and an athlete. He conceded his competitive fire burns at a high degree -- some of his Saints teammates will roll their eyes and say Brees is off the top of the competitive meter -- but he said what has happened now wasn't planned.

And that goes to another Brees element that McDonell mentioned: New Orleans spies a fake a mile away. McDonell has friends in the Big Easy who called him down to see the notes fans had left around the Brees' Uptown home.

"We knew about all the stuff he had been doing in the community," McDonell said. "But when you go down there you realize it's more and more powerful and less and less ostentatious."

In Manhattan, Brees was reflective.

"I don't know -- I mean, I think about all the people who have been part of this journey," he said. "But the truth is something I've said many times, that the best way to describe New Orleans is that if you love them, they will love you back."
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James Varney can be reached at or 504.717.1156.

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