Walter Payton Award means so much to nominees
Winning any of the AP's individual NFL awards, from MVP to top rookie, means plenty to players.
Being nominated for, no less winning, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award means more.
Don't minimize how proud a guy is when he's voted one of the prestigious individual awards. It's a portion of his resume that jumps off the page the way Saquon Barkley hurdles over potential tacklers.
But being selected for the Payton award, renamed in 1999 for the great Chicago Bears running back and humanitarian, involves so much more than football achievements.
“It is probably one of my greatest accomplishments,” says 2013 winner Charles Tillman, who played 12 seasons at cornerback for the Bears and his final year with the Panthers. “It really shows the true character of a person.
“When fans see us, they just assume a lot of times we are just athletes. They don't know what these men do on their days off during the season, in the community. A lot of players really put their community service in every week of the year. They get their charity work done and their volunteer work.
“The Walter Payton Award is about excellence off the field. I am proud to be associated with that award.”
Who wouldn't be? In a time when many NFL players have been criticized or even condemned for their protests of social and racial injustice during the national anthem, many — if not most of them — also have been doing good deeds in their communities. They don't do it for recognition or applause. As Tillman notes, they do it because they can “shed light on a bigger thing. It's not just football. It's about being a good person, serving other people and loving other people.”
Unlike in the past, when three finalists were selected before a recipient was chosen, one player from every NFL team is a finalist. All will be recognized and participate in NFL functions during Super Bowl week. The Man of the Year will be revealed at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press' individual NFL awards are announced Feb. 2 in Atlanta.
Five current players have won the award: Drew Brees, Thomas Davis, Larry Fitzgerald, Eli Manning and J.J. Watt, and they wear a Man of the Year patch on their jerseys. All 2018 finalists will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal beginning this week through the end of the season.
“It's a tremendous honor,” Jets offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum says. This week, Beachum surprised Ca'moore Jones, an eighth grade student at Orange Preparatory Academy in New Jersey, with two Super Bowl tickets. Moore was nominated by his teacher, Glenn Gamble, for his performance and growth with the Character Playbook course that is embraced by the NFL.
“Just the name Walter Payton, he's the gold standard,” Beachum said. “What he did off the field and on the field, his excellence is bar none, top in history. So to be mentioned in the same name and the same breath as him, it's truly humbling.”
Chris Long has been chosen to be the Eagles’ finalist.