The 2005 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year: Peyton Manning

The 2005 NFL Man of the Year, Indianapolis Colt Quarterback Peyton Manning, in 2004 broke a record that had seemed like it would never be broken, when he threw for 49 touchdown passes during the season, breaking Dan Marino’s seeming unreachable record of 48. He has played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls, beginning in 1998 and was the MVP in 2005. Manning was the NFL MVP in 2003 and 2004. His records are many, including: consecutive seasons with more than 4,000 yards passing, six (Dan Marino also had six, but not in a row); consecutive seasons with more than 25 touchdown passes, eight and counting; four games with a perfect passer rating, including one playoff game; being the only player to pass for more than 3,000 yards each of his first eight seasons; and he has started every game he has played in the NFL, 125 the longest current rating for a quarterback. He has also won the last two passing titles.

A player is not chosen Man of the Year for athletic accomplishments only. The NFL is the only professional league that gives an award for both athletic accomplishments and community involvement, and that award is the Walter Payton Man of the Year. The legendary Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton died in 1999.

Fifteen members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have been named Man of the Year. In winning the award, Manning joined recent winners Warrick Dunn of the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003, Troy Vincent of the Buffalo Bills in 2002, and Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001.

After Hurricane Katrina in September of last year, Peyton (a native of Louisiana) and younger brother Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants, obtained a plane and flew 30.000 pounds of relief supplies to Louisiana.

“The ability to work with and help people in the community is one of the more rewarding opportunities we have as NFL players, which is why this is one of the most meaningful honors I have received,” Manning said of his award, on the NFL website about its charities, “Knowing everything that Walter Payton stood for makes the award that much more special.”

Manning has positively affected thousands of people in Indianapolis through his PeyBack Foundation. The foundation has worked for two years with Child Advocates, a national non-profit organization, which represents the best interests of abused and neglected children. The two organizations have worked together to expose 20 middle schools to educational, cultural, and community activities. Child Advocates and Manning teamed to host the seventh annual flag football game at the Union Federal Football Center.

In the annual PeyBack Classic, local high school teams play on the Colts’ home field at the RCA Dome. The PeyBack Bowl bowling fundraiser raised more than $260,000 for the PeyBack Foundation last year. The foundation has given more than $1 million in grants to fund programs in Indiana, Tennessee (where Payton attended college) and Louisiana.

Colts’ owner Jim Irsay said Manning understand his responsibility not only as a football player but also as “a man and community servant.” He said every athlete and every professional sports team should “take a page from his book.”

Manning has also contributed to the “True Heroes” program at St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. He has had annual visits with more than 1,000 children to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. He has worked every year at Thanksgiving with schools and community agencies.

Every year there are 32 finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, one from every NFL team. The accomplishments of each player were reviewed this year by a blue ribbon panel, consisting of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, football greats Frank Gifford and Jack Kemp, Warrick Dunn, and Connie Payton.

Manning is also the Colts’ United Way spokesman and serves on a variety of boards for charities, including: the National Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet; National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Advisory Board, Center for Leadership Development Advisory Board; Board of Visitors of the College of Art and Sciences at the University of Tennessee; and the Board of Advocates for the Indiana Golf Foundation.

Manning has also been involved with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for abused and neglected children. Manning coached a flag football came to benefit the organization.

Manning also is involved with Capps for Kids, a non-profit organization that provides caps for children undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer or other life threatening illnesses. Children receive the chance to receive an autographed cap from someone whom they consider their hero.

Manning also speaks in elementary schools, and he joins other athletes in raising money for various charities.

The NFL award is one of many Manning has won for helping others and his athletic talents. In 2002 he received the USA Weekend’s Most Caring Athlete Award. In 2002 he received the Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award. His teammates gave him the 2001 Ed Block Courage Award for courageous play. His teammates nominated him for two of the last three years for the Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award. The award was named for former Supreme Court Justice Byron White and annually goes to the player who best demonstrates White’s (White was once a football player) service to team, community, and country. In addition, Manning was chosen as one of the “Good Guys” by Sporting News 2002 and 2003.

Manning may always be remembered for his play. There are those who will also remember him for the kind of man he was too.

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