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QBREES9 12-02-2010 09:11 AM

More Accolades in the Year of the Saint
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DREW BREES, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, was in New York on Tuesday to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. There was a red-carpet party on his behalf, but he couldn’t drink.
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“I’m in game mode,” said Mr. Brees, who was rolling a cough drop in his mouth as guests mingled at the IAC Building in Chelsea. At his side was his wife, Brittany, who wore a leopard-print dress.

Mr. Brees was interrupted by Katie Couric, who asked, “Sorry, don’t kill me, but can we just get another Twitter picture?”

Attendees at the annual ceremony were surprised that Mr. Brees had picked Ms. Couric to speak on his behalf. Earlier onstage, Ms. Couric had made the audience laugh — and the athletes blush — when she flirtatiously said, “It is so great to be here tonight in a room of such fine physical specimens. And ... Terry McDonell,” the magazine’s convivial editor.

Mr. Brees first met Ms. Couric in February, when she interviewed him for a Super Bowl show. “There was just a comfort between Brittany, Drew and me,” Ms. Couric said. “I call him Drew Breesus because he has sort of taken on a God-like proportion.”

In some ways, Mr. Brees was a natural pick for the award because of the Saints’ surprising victory and, as many noted that evening, it was a comeback story about an athlete with a severe shoulder injury, as well as a post-Katrina New Orleans.

“The whole country knows what Drew did,” said Mike Eruzione, the captain of the United States Olympic hockey team that was selected as Sportsmen of the Year in 1980 after winning the gold medal at the Lake Placid Games.

Mr. Eruzione and Joe Montana, the 1990 honoree, were snacking on mini cheeseburgers. Mr. Montana said he keeps his award in his weight room; Mr. Eruzione in his living room. “My wife polishes it,” he said.

Guests were elbow-to-elbow in the glassy space, which was bathed in blue and purple lights, parting only for Mr. Brees and his wife as they made their way to an enormous replica of the magazine. Others lingered to shake hands with the likes of the tennis hall of famer Billy Jean King, an honoree in 1972, and Bill Russell, the Hall of Fame center of the Boston Celtics, who received the magazine’s award in 1968.

Past recipients noted that the parties were considerably smaller in their day. “There was no party,” Mr. Eruzione said. “I think there was a small dinner.”

Mr. McDonell, standing in the corner, was surprised to hear this. “Really?” he said. “What I usually hear is, ‘What about the good old days when we used to have these intimate dinners?’ ”

Mr. McDonell said the selection of Mr. Brees was an easy one in a year when athletes were often overshadowed by celebrity and scandal.

“There is a sense of entitlement often that is unattractive,” he said. “But Drew Brees has none of that.”

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