Three community-minded NFL players will be recognized during Super Bowl week as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, it was announced Sunday. Washington Redskins LB London Fletcher, Cleveland Browns WR Mike Furrey and Kansas City Chiefs G Brian Waters are the top candidates for this year's award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999.
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is the only league award that recognizes a player's off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced live on CBS before Super Bowl XLIV on February 7. Fletcher, Furrey, and Waters will be in South Florida during Super Bowl week and participate in a press conference on Friday, February 5, with the late Walter Payton's family.
On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the three finalists will join an esteemed list of winners of the annual award, including 17 Pro Football Hall of Famers. Recent winners of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award include Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (2008), Miami Dolphins LB Jason Taylor (2007), and New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees and San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, co-winners in 2006. (Complete lists of previous winners is below).
The three finalists were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from the 32 team nominees for the award, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Munoz, Giants great and Executive Director of the NFL Alumni Association George Martin, 2008 winner Kurt Warner, and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by the noted sculptor, Daniel Schwartz. In addition, the player's favorite charity will receive an additional $20,000 donation in his name.
Fletcher, the unquestioned leader of the Redskins and captain of the defense, has made his mark on and off the field throughout his 12-year career. He has proven to be one of the most productive, consistent and durable players in the NFL, having never missed a game, while leading the NFL in tackles over the last decade (2000-09). A starter on the RamsSuper Bowl XXXIV championship team, Fletcher is a 9-time Pro Bowl alternate and 4-time Man of the Year nominee, but it is his work off the field that will leave an indelible mark. In 2003, he started London's Bridge to "build a bridge to our future" by addressing inequities facing children through education, leadership, teamwork, and recreation by providing college test preparation, campus tours, scholarships, and bike giveaways. He is the Sports Ambassador for Children's Inn at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C., and a fixture at both NFL and team-sponsored community events, including PLAY 60, 4th & Life, and Harvest Feast. This season, he started a curriculum, mentoring program for 25 Washington, D.C., middle school students. Alongside Fletcher, students visited Capitol Hill, talked with Congressmen, explored museums, distributed food to underserved local residents, and participated in a forum about peer pressure, health, and education.
A league veteran new to the Browns for the 2009 season, Furrey is a remarkable athlete who inspires others to do more. During his short time in Cleveland, his outreach efforts have paved the way for him to be a legend in the community. He created the Mike Furrey Foundation and spends countless hours supporting charitable causes and individuals. In less than 9 months with the Browns, he has created true relationships with local kids in the community as well as with more than a dozen charitable organizations. He provides inspiration for children in hospitals, serves as a mentor for kids in children's homes, tackles hunger and nutrition issues, supports neighborhood development and organizes holiday initiatives. Furrey is an exceptional role model to his teammates. He played in all 16 games in 2009 as he established a niche as a two-way player. He began the season as a wide receiver, before slowly being integrated into the defense at safety, a position he previously played as a member of the St. Louis Rams. With the Browns last year, Furrey caught 23 passes for 170 yards and ranked third on the team in receptions. On defense, he registered 14 tackles and two passes defended.
Four-time Pro Bowl G Waters is a tenacious blocker on the field and a relentless role model in community. A 10-year NFL veteran, Waters has helped three different Chiefs runners accumulate six 1,000-yard seasons. But the work he has done through The Brian Waters 54 Foundation is just as impressive. His heart and passion has led him to impact tens of thousands children and families in Texas and the Greater Kansas City area. To date, his foundation has awarded 82 college scholarships to low-income students. Meanwhile, thousands of children have benefited from his back-to-school program that provides backpacks full of school supplies, as well as haircuts, uniforms, shoes, immunizations and dental care. Whether it's working with Special Olympics, sponsoring an after-school program at a local YMCA, chairing the ChiefsThanksgiving food drive or building a home for Habitat for Humanity, Waters' broad shoulders have upended many defensive linemen and uplifted countless lives.