NFL’s Wal­ter Pay­ton Award means so much to nom­i­nees

Shows what ath­letes are giv­ing back to their com­mu­ni­ties

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - Barry Wilner AP Sports Colum­nist AP Pro Foot­ball Writer Den­nis Waszak Jr. con­trib­uted.

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.”

Hum­bling is an ap­pro­pri­ate word be­cause the award fi­nal­ists of­ten feel that sen­sa­tion dur­ing their com­mu­nity work.

“I’ve been blessed to play in this league for 13 years and to be a part of some re­ally good seasons,” says Rams of­fen­sive tackle An­drew Whit­worth, who is heav­ily in­volved in help­ing the Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion. “But mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s life will go be­yond foot­ball any day of the week. It’s not just about the game, it’s about the op­por­tu­nity to bring peo­ple to­gether. When I look back and think about my NFL ca­reer, the time spent out in the com­mu­nity giv­ing back to peo­ple in need will al­ways be the most touch­ing to me.”

Adds Colts DE Jabaal Sheard: “With our jobs as NFL play­ers comes a huge platform to brighten and im­prove the lives of oth­ers, and that’s what I strive to do ev­ery day.”

Till­man knows first­hand how kind and giv­ing peo­ple can be. His own fam­ily was helped in 2008 when his in­fant daugh­ter Tiana needed a heart trans­plant. Ma­gali Gar­cia, the mother of 9-weekold Ar­mando, who died in a Min­nesota hos­pi­tal, of­fered her son’s heart.

To Till­man, Ma­gali Gar­cia is a hero, not him. She is what the Pay­ton award is all about.

“When my daugh­ter needed a new heart, an­other per­son stepped up and de­cided to take a bad sit­u­a­tion and turn it into a suc­cess story,” Till­man says. “She not only blessed my fam­ily but other fam­i­lies with her choice.

“For all we do in our foun­da­tion, it is a great bless­ing for what this woman did for her son. Ma­gali, she is the one who ac­tu­ally is bless­ing those peo­ple, blesses them ev­ery day, and doesn’t even know it. She served my fam­ily and a lot of fam­i­lies and she made an amaz­ing choice. A tough de­ci­sion. I think about her son a lot and I truly am sorry. She is a part of my fam­ily, and for us to have this story that has bonded us, and this con­nec­tion, and to turn that neg­a­tive into some­thing pos­i­tive by bless­ing other peo­ple ... I get great sat­is­fac­tion in that.”

So when the NFL Honors pro­gram is tele­vised the night be­fore the Super Bowl, pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the names be­low. Maybe stand up and give them an ova­tion for the truly spe­cial things they do:

Ari­zona Car­di­nals: An­toine Bethea

At­lanta Fal­cons: Grady Jar­rett

Bal­ti­more Ravens: Bran­don Carr

Buf­falo Bills: Lorenzo Alexan­der

Car­olina Pan­thers: Julius Pep­pers

Chicago Bears: Trey Bur­ton

Cincin­nati Ben­gals: Car­los Dun­lap

Cleve­land Browns: Chris­tian Kirk­sey

Dal­las Cow­boys: Dak Prescott

Den­ver Bron­cos: Von Miller

Detroit Li­ons: Matthew Stafford

Green Bay Pack­ers: Kenny Clark

Hous­ton Tex­ans: Whit­ney Mer­cilus

In­di­anapo­lis Colts: Jabaal Sheard

Jack­sonville Jaguars:

Blake Bor­tles

Kansas City Chiefs: Dustin Colquitt

Los An­ge­les Charg­ers: Corey Li­uget

Los An­ge­les Rams: An­drew Whit­worth

Mi­ami Dol­phins: Kenny Stills

Min­nesota Vik­ings: Kyle Rudolph

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots: Devin McCourty

New Or­leans Saints: Mark In­gram

New York Gi­ants: Michael Thomas

New York Jets: Kelvin Beachum

Oak­land Raiders: Mar­shawn Lynch

Philadel­phia Ea­gles: Chris Long

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers: Cameron Hey­ward

San Fran­cisco 49ers: Rob­bie Gould

Seat­tle Sea­hawks: K.J. Wright

Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers: Ger­ald McCoy

Ten­nessee Ti­tans: Jur­rell Casey

Washington Red­skins: Ver­non Davis

PHOTO BY EVAN AGOSTINI — IN­VI­SION FOR NFL — AP IM­AGES, FILE

In this file photo, Charles Till­man of the Chicago Bears, left, ac­cepts the award for Wal­ter Pay­ton NFL Man of the Year from NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell at the third an­nual NFL Honors, at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York. 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.

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