Brees became the award's 57th recipient when the magazine made the announcement Tuesday on the "Today" show. The quarterback led the long-suffering New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title in February, lifting the spirits of the hurricane-battered city.
But the cover story notes he's done much more than inspire with his brilliant play. Since Brees joined the Saints in 2006 months after Hurricane Katrina, his foundation has worked with nearly 50 New Orleans schools and organizations to aid in recovery.
"The more that I've learned about the award and that it goes well beyond what you accomplish on the field, that it's very much about what you do off the field as well, with community service and your family, makes the award even more special to me," Brees said.
Brees is the fifth NFL quarterback to be honored and third in six years. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry Bradshaw won in 1979, the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Montana in 1990, the New England Patriots' Tom Brady in 2005 and the Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre in 2007.
Sports Illustrated Group editor Terry McDonell said he had been "determined not to be a slave to a calendar" in considering NFL players, even though it might seem like an eternity between the Super Bowl and the announcement of the award. But Brees' contributions outside of football made this selection easy.
"It's year-round for him," McDonell said.