A lot of people I cover do very good things for charity. It's always dangerous to say that, among 1,800 NFL players, one man stands above all. So I won't do that with
Let's go back to April 2006. New Orleans lay in near-ruins from Hurricane Katrina. I went to New Orleans to cover the first NFL draft since Katrina in New Orleans (and, I feared, maybe the last), and all over town I met people petrified that the team would leave town for a richer market not ravaged by natural disaster -- San Antonio, maybe, or Los Angeles. New Orleans mayor
You had to see this place eight months after Katrina. Hundreds of abandoned cars on the sides of roads. Thousands of homes in ruins. More businesses shuttered than open; many more. The mayor, the townspeople, worried players and team executives... all with no idea how much longer they could hang on to the Saints. In 2006 a burst of civic pride sold out the Superdome, but everyone knew that wouldn't last unless the moribund team won.
Brees, signed to a six-year contract in free agency, saw to that, leading the Saints to the NFC South title and finishing second in the league in MVP voting. He moved to the uptown section of the city -- very few Saints live in the city proper -- and walked his dog in Audubon Park. "I hope I can do my little part to show people New Orleans will definitely come back,'' he told me late that season as we walked through the park.
His Brees Dream Foundation raised $1.8 million in cash over the past four years, with matching funds totaling another $3.6 million. The Foundation used events like a huge concert honoring local legend
Last April, with the local economy still down in the dumps, the Saints and state politicians agreed to a deal extending the team's lease in the Superdome through 2025. "Drew's a huge reason why,'' said coach
Building playgrounds, being a great quarterback, saving franchises. That's why Brees is my 2009 Sportsman of the Year.