Eli Manning requests no television cameras be present when he is in the community doing charitable work. It’s because he doesn’t want attention or accolades. The focus, he reasons, should be on the work itself.
Although the New York Giants quarterback is camera shy when it comes to charitable deeds, he has earned the respect of his teammates and the NFL community at large. At the NFL Honors in Houston, Manning was recognized for his charitable work by being named one of the winners of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Manning is the first Giant to win the award in its 47-year history. He shares this year’s honor with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Manning and Fitzgerald were the first and third overall picks in the 2004 NFL Draft respectively.
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“I told Larry earlier this week, the last time we were up for an award together was the 2003 Heisman Trophy,” Manning said. “And it didn’t go well for either of us that night (Fitzgerald finished second and Manning finished third to Oklahoma’s Jason White). To come up here 13 years later, and be up for an award, and win it together, is very special.”
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was also a finalist for the award.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, presented by Nationwide, recognizes an NFL player for excellence on and off the field. It was established in 1970 as the NFL Man of the Year Award. The award was renamed to honor the Chicago Bears running back after his death in 1999. Payton himself was the recipient of the award in 1977.
“This is very special,” Manning said. “To be mentioned in the same sentence with Walter Payton and to see the same amount of people that we’ve helped with the great work we’ve done over the years with my family, and for that to have grown as much as it has and to be recognized for this award, is special.”
Manning was nominated primarily for his and his wife Abby’s work helping children. This includes work for Tackle Kids Cancer at Hackensack (New Jersey) University Medical Center and donations and funding of the only pediatric hospital in the state of Mississippi.
Manning has served as the Chair of the New York March for Babies for the past seven years. His other work includes working with the American Red Cross collecting and filling an airplane with supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, working in an emergency response vehicle after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and a scholarship endowment at his alma mater, the University of Mississippi.
The award was presented by Kurt Warner, the 2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year and one of seven new inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Warner is a former teammate of both Manning and Fitzgerald.
Each NFL team nominates one player who has made a significant positive impact in the community. Manning was the Giants’ nominee in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. He was one of three finalists for the 2015 award that went to Detroit Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
When there is a single winner of the award, a total of $1 million is donated to worthy causes in the winner’s name. This includes $500,000 to a charity of the winner’s choice and another $500,000 supporting Character Playbook, a joint digital learning initiative between the NFL and the United Way focused on helping youth develop healthy relationships and great character. The other team finalists received a $50,000 donation to the charity of their choice and to expand Character Playbook.
It is not immediately clear how the award money will be divided since there were two winners.
This is the third time the award has been split. In 2000, the award was shared by Hall of Fame Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks and Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jim Flanagan. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (another of this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees) shared the award in 2006, a year after Manning’s brother Peyton won the award with the Indianapolis Colts.