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New Orleans Saints march off with top Espys

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The NFL's New Orleans Saints went marching in on Wednesday at the Espy Awards and walked away with the trophy for best sports team while quarterback Drew Brees was named best male athlete by fans of sports TV network ESPN.

Brees led the Saints, long considered among the worst teams in U.S. professional football, to a come-from-behind victory in the National Football League's Super Bowl championship game. The triumphant season boosted the spirits of the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Earlier, Brees collected his trophy onstage and thanked his family, his offensive line and the "Who Dat Nation," as the team's die-hard fans have been nicknamed.

The night's other big winner was Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, who took home awards for best female athlete and best female Olympian for fighting off a leg injury to win the gold medal in the downhill race at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Espys have become an important stop for sports stars seeking to build a reputation in the media. ESPN is the most-viewed sports TV network in the United States.

The audience was also treated to a musical performance by Janelle Monae, and host Seth Meyers joked about the year's biggest stories in sports, including golfer Tiger Woods' extramarital affairs.

Other major winners included the U.S. men's soccer team for best sports moment for its late-game victory over Algeria in the recent World Cup.

Snowboarder Shaun White was named best male Olympic athlete for his gold medal, as well as best action sports star. Running back Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans was named best breakthrough athlete after rushing for more than 2,500 yards this past season.

An award was given to star quarterback Brett Favre and receiver Greg Lewis for a passing play that resulted in a touchdown. Favre tossed the ball under pressure and Lewis caught it just before going out of bounds.

"There's been a lot of debate about better pass (or) better catch," Favre said, who looked at his teammate and added, "That was one heck of a catch." The 40-year-old veteran then thanked his Minnesota Vikings team for making last season fun.

Tennis players John Isner and Nicolas Mahut won best record-breaking performance for their recent Wimbledon match that became the longest tennis game ever.

The trophy for best upset victory went to the men's basketball team from the University of Northern Iowa for its surprise win over the University of Kansas in the NCAA championship tournament.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)