Drew Brees has made a career on making things look easy. So when he was a handful of yards away from breaking the NFL’s career passing yards record, it only made sense that he’d toss a perfect ball to Tre’Quan Smith, who took it all the way into the end zone, putting Brees over the top. A touchdown to break the record. Of course.

Of course, it was never easy for Brees. He’s had to fight every step in his career. He only had two scholarship offers after rewriting the record books at Austin’s Westlake High, so he went to Purdue and led the Boilermakers to a Rose Bowl. He rode the bench for a year in San Diego before taking over the starting job from Doug Flutie, and he fumbled the ball in his first career snap. He got benched and then transformed into a Pro Bowler the following year. He played that way until he destroyed his shoulder, signed with New Orleans before he could even throw again, and you know what happened next. All-time passing leader. Super Bowl champion.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

He wound up in New Orleans because of a wrong turn. Sean Payton had just been hired as the Saints coach, and he didn’t know his way around town when he drove the free agent Brees and his wife Brittany around the city while pitching them on the Saints. It was March of 2006. Payton had planned out a very specific tour of New Orleans, trying to steer clear of the destruction of Katrina, but soon they found themselves driving past houses that looked like games of Jenga gone wrong. Boats were stuck in the ground at wrong angles. Payton thought he blew it.

Instead, he sold it. The Brees’s thought they could make a difference in New Orleans, and they bought a house in Uptown that they could renovate. When the Saints won the Super Bowl, there were notes and posters and flowers left in the yard of that Uptown home. Somebody left a six pack on the front steps.

That’s the kind of person Drew Brees is, and this is who he is, too: Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer was interviewing a Saints coach who said he forgot something back at the team’s facility. It was past midnight, and Glazer went with him. There was one light on in the whole building, one person still there.

Glazer poked his head in. “What are you doing?”

And Brees, watching film alone, says, “Sometimes trying to be great is lonely.”

Both those stories play into the mythology of Brees—the hard-working, odds-defying leader of men. He is the best sports has to offer, both as a man and as a competitor. It’s fitting that in a few years, he’ll be enshrined in Canton as a Saint.

And Monday night brought a new addition to the lore: Brees launches that perfect spiral that makes him the most prolific passer in NFL history and doesn’t say a word. Puts his arms up and doesn’t say anything, just smiles. He celebrates with his teammates, then runs to the sideline, and his family is there. His son has put masking tape over the name on number 9 Saints jersey, writing “Brees Jr.” Brees Sr. hugs his three kids and says, “I love you guys so much. You can accomplish anything if you work for it. Alright?”

And then he found Coach Payton, told him he loved him, and then said, “Let’s go win this football game.”

He did just that, and it looked easy. Of course it did. That’s how Drew Brees does it, even if all of those 72,103 yards were earned. You can accomplish anything if you work for it. You might just become the best quarterback of all time.