Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year

  • By National Football League
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Walter Payton's charitable legacy lives on with the NFL Man of the Year Award.

Walter Payton, affectionately known as "Sweetness," is considered one of the most prolific running backs in the history of American football. Raised in Columbia, Miss., Payton starred at Jackson State University of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. From 1971-74, he rushed for 3,563 yards and scored 66 total touchdowns.

Selected with the 4th overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft, Payton spent his entire professional career with the NFL's Chicago Bears. Throughout his illustrious 13-year career, Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and set several NFL records, including career rushing yards, touchdowns, attempts and 100 yard rushing games. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

In February 1999, Payton revealed that he was suffering from a rare liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis. Throughout his fight Payton remained valiant and encouraged Americans to become organ donors; bringing national attention to the cause. Following a courageous battle, Payton died on Nov. 1, 1999 at the age of 45.

The 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Finalists, Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis, Arizona Cardinals' Jay Feely and Chicago Bears' Charles Tillman, at Super Bowl XLVIII.
The 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Finalists, Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis, Arizona Cardinals' Jay Feely and Chicago Bears' Charles Tillman, at Super Bowl XLVIII. (Associated Press)

Shortly after Payton's death, to honor his legacy as both a phenomenal player and humanitarian, the NFL Man of the Year Award was renamed the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Presented annually since 1970, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is granted to the player who demonstrates outstanding contributions to society off-the-field while handling himself in an exemplary fashion in uniform. The award's panel of judges includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King and the previous year's recipient.

Walter Payton's charitable legacy endures today through the work of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the emotional healing of neglected, abused and underprivileged children by providing tools and opportunities to build self-esteem and encouragement.

To learn more about the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation please visit

2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: Thomas Davis

2014 was another strong season for linebacker Davis, who started in all 15 games he played and finished with his third consecutive 100-tackle season. Davis, a four-year team captain, totaled 129 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and six passes defended. He was a key component of the Panthers 10th-ranked defense, helping the team become the first franchise to claim consecutive NFC South titles. Davis ranks second on the Panthers all-time tackles list with 831.

Off the field, Davis puts his shoulder in to as many charities as he does opposing team ball carriers. In 2007, he and his wife Kelly founded the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), a non-profit dedicated to providing and promoting free programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families annually. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed more than $500,000 in aid. The foundation's cornerstone program, the Youth Leadership Academy, is a 14-week afterschool mentoring program for low-income middle school students.

Thomas Davis - 2014 Man of the Year
Thomas Davis - 2014 Man of the Year (Associated Press)

Davis annually provides two college scholarships for graduating high school seniors who have completed the Youth Leadership Academy program. Through TDDDF, Davis also hosts annual programs including a back-to-school supply giveaway, a Thanksgiving meal for members of a local women's shelter and a Christmas gift giveaway for underprivileged children, in Charlotte, N.C., parts of South Carolina and in Davis' hometown in Georgia.

Davis is an avid proponent of keeping youth active and healthy. In June 2013, he led the construction of the first and only playground in his rural hometown of Shellman, Ga. In addition, his annual free football camp provides more than 350 children with instruction in football basics and life skills. Davis is active in the Panthers' PLAY 60 efforts and is a frequent visitor at the local pediatric hospital.

"I am honored to be selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year," said Davis. "This award means a great deal to me, as it symbolizes the valued work that the NFL, its players, and its 32 teams do in the community. I am blessed to have such a strong support system in my family, the Carolina Panthers and the NFL, which allows me to make an impact in the communities we serve."

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winners
Player, Position
Thomas Davis, linebacker
Charles Tillman, cornerback
Jason Witten, tight end
Matt Birk, center
Madieu Williams, safety
Brian Waters, guard
Kurt Warner, quarterback
Jason Taylor, defensive end
Drew Brees, quarterback
LaDainian Tomlinson, running back
Peyton Manning, quarterback
Warrick Dunn, running back
Will Shields, guard
Troy Vincent, defensive back
Jerome Bettis, running back
Derrick Brooks, linebacker
Jim Flanigan, defensive lineman
Cris Carter, wide receiver
Dan Marino, quarterback
Troy Aikman, quarterback
Darrell Green, cornerback
Boomer Esiason, quarterback
Junior Seau, linebacker
Derrick Thomas, linebacker
John Elway, quarterback
Anthony Munoz, offensive tackle
Mike Singletary, linebacker
Warren Moon, quarterback
Houston Oilers
Steve Largent, wide receiver
Dave Duerson, safety
Reggie Williams, linebacker
Dwight Stephenson, center
Marty Lyons, defensive tackle
Rolf Benirschke, kicker
Joe Theismann, quarterback
Lynn Swann, wide receiver
Harold Carmichael, wide receiver
Joe Greene, defensive lineman
Roger Staubach, quarterback
Walter Payton, running back
Franco Harris, running back
Ken Anderson, quarterback
George Blanda, quarterback
Len Dawson, quarterback
Willie Lanier, linebacker
John Hadl, quarterback
Johnny Unitas, quarterback
Baltimore Colts



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