November 30, 2010 09:15 AM

Drew Brees, who led the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title last February – in many ways the culmination of his five-year quest to help revive the city after Hurricane Katrina – has been named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year for 2010.

Brees, 31, came to New Orleans in 2006, the year after the hurricane, and immediately felt a kinship. The city was in ruins – much like his own career, as he nursed a wrecked shoulder. But the team believed in him, and helped him orchestrate a parallel story of rebirth for himself and the city.

“It’s an unbelievable honor, for everything that it stands for,” Brees said of the Sports Illustrated award Tuesday morning on NBC’s Today show. “And it just makes me reflect back on the last five years in New Orleans, and the teams that I’ve had the opportunity to play for. And it’s just been a special, special journey.”

For Brees, his play on the field has always been connected to his contributions off it. “I needed New Orleans so badly back in 2006, just somebody to believe in me, somebody to care about me,” he said. “And that’s why myself and my wife Brittany, we just tried to throw ourselves into the community, to do our part.”

After Brees led the Saints to victory in Super Bowl XLIV, he carried his then year-old son, Baylen, onto the field – in what became the evening’s enduring image and what Brees now calls “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

He and Brittany welcomed a second son, Bowen, last month.

Brees will be honored at a Sports Illustrated ceremony Tuesday evening in New York City.

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