Sports Illustrated Group Editor Terry McDonell announced today that Drew Brees is the 2010 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. 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, Jack Nicklaus, Derek Jeter, John Wooden and Cal Ripken Jr. to receive the award.
The billing on the Sportsman cover, The Saints’ Super Bowl-Winning Quarterback Continues to Inspire a City on the Rebound, encapsulates what Brees means to his team and his town. “Drew’s accomplishments go far beyond delivering a Super Bowl title to a notoriously long-suffering franchise,” McDonell said. “He has been a driving force in a battered city’s ongoing efforts to rebuild and renew while simultaneously resurrecting his own career.”
As Senior Writer Tim Layden chronicles in the Sportsman cover story, Brees was coming off a devastating shoulder injury and his career was at a crossroads when he joined the New Orleans Saints in 2006, moving to a city that had become a shell of itself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Brees told Layden: “I needed New Orleans just as much as New Orleans needed me. People in New Orleans needed somebody to care about them. And it was the one place that cared about me.”
From 2006-09, Brees threw for the most yards (18,298) and tied for the most touchdown passes (122, with Peyton Manning) of any quarterback in the NFL. He was at the height of his brilliance during New Orleans’ championship run in 2010 – the first in the team’s 47-year history – culminating in an MVP performance during the Saints’ 31-17 upset of the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Yet while solid quarterbacking alone would have been enough to deify Brees in New Orleans, it is Brees the person who has earned the lasting trust and love of the city.
Established in 2003 to support cancer research and the education of children in need, The Brees Dream Foundation has worked with nearly 50 New Orleans schools and organizations to promote civic recovery. Its contributions include:
- $671,000 donated to the Lusher Charter School to rebuild its athletic facilities;
- $1,000,000 in funding for the American Cancer Society’s Patrick F. Taylor Hope Lodge, a residential facility for patients undergoing chemotherapy;
- $100,000 for completion of the G.W. Carver High School Field of Dreams;
- $300,000 to New Orleans Outreach for after-school assistance to several schools;
- $127,500 to the New Orleans Recreation Department to help with initial costs in the restoration of Ponchartrain Park;
- $78,000 to Best Buddies Louisiana, which provides one-to-one friendships for adults with intellectual disabilities;
- $74,000 to the Greater New Orleans Rebuild Child Care Cooperative to restore child-care facilities lost to Katrina.
As Layden reports, Brees’s impact has transcended athletics, culture and race: “New Orleans proper is nearly 70% black, and, says Ronald Markham, the 32-year-old African-American CEO of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, ‘It is a city with many schisms.’ Yet African-American fans wear number 9 too. ‘I’ll say this: Drew is definitely an honorary brother,’ says Troy Henry, 50, a black businessman who finished a distant second to Mitch Landrieu in the mayor’s race just before this year’s Super Bowl. ‘He transcends race, and he does it with class and dignity.’ “
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Layden: “It’s hard to point to a relationship in our league, between a player and a city, that’s more meaningful than the Saints and Drew Brees.”
Brees will be honored at a ceremony in New York this evening where he will be joined by past winners Bill Russell (1968), Billy Jean King (’72), Mike Eruzione (’80), Joe Montana (’90) and Curt Schilling (’01 and ’04). CBS Evening News anchor and Managing Editor Katie Couric will also take part in the ceremony, accepting Brees’s invitation to participate as his mentor.
Brees is the sixth quarterback to win the award and the third in the past six years. The five previous quarterbacks to be named Sportsman of the Year are Terry Baker of Oregon State (’62), Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers (along with Pittsburgh Pirates’ star Willie Stargel [’79]), Joe Montana of the 49ers (’90), Tom Brady of the Patriots (’05) and Brett Favre of the Packers (’07).