Nationwide — Every year before the Super Bowl, the NFL rewards one player with the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Named after the Chicago Bears legend, Walter Payton, its considered the league’s most prestigious honor. This award recognizes the volunteer and charity work of a player who also displayed excellence on the football field during the season.
The league chooses one nominee from each of the 32 teams. The winner receives a $250,000 donation to United Way’s Character Playbook program under their name. A donation of $250,000 or more is also given to the winner’s charity of choice, and the recipient receives a commemorative patch to wear on their uniform.
Learn more about how the prestigious NFL Man of the Year award came to be.
Walter Payton grew up in Columbia, Mississippi and played college football at Jackson State University, where he kickstarted his football career. Payton rushed for 3,563 yards and scored 66 touchdowns during his collegiate yearthese statistics made him one of the best in college football history. His successful college career made him one of the most sought-after running backs during the 1975 NFL Draft.
The Chicago Bears drafted Payton with the fourth overall pick in the 1975 Draft. Payton’s renowned career lasted 13 years, earning him nine Pro Bowl selections and setting multiple NFL records in the process. Payton’s many records include career rushing years (16,726), 1000 year seasons (10), and 100 yard games (77).
Perhaps Payton’s biggest accomplishment during his time with the Bears was when they went on the win the 1985 Super Bowl; that team is still considered one of the best teams in NFL history. Payton’s unforgettable career landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walter Payton’s Legacy
Walter Payton is not only one of the greatest NFL running backs of all time, but the work he did off the field was impressive as well. Throughout his NFL career, Payton used his celebrity to launch a children’s literacy program and made other generous donations to charity. Former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary once said, “His attitude for life – you wanted to be around him. He was the kind of individual who, if you were down, he would not let you be down. It was his duty to bring humor and life in any situation.” After his NFL career, Payton got even more active in the community. In 1989, Payton launched the Walter Payton Foundation with a mission to help those less fortunate find stability and provide them with opportunities.
In 1999, Payton revealed he was suffering from sclerosing cholangitis. During his fight with the rare liver disease, the hall of famer encouraged people to become organ donners and continued to spread awareness until his death. Payton eventually lost the 10-month battle and died at the age of 45.
The NFL Man of the Year Award
Although it was established in 1970, the NFL Man of the Year award was renamed after Payton following his death. Today, Payton’s family honors the winner every year at the Super Bowl before kickoff. By exhibiting outstanding behavior both on and off the field, Payton set the standard for other professional athletes and defined what it means to be the ultimate team player.