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The Middies Awards for Best Off-Field Performances

The Middies are The Checkdown's midseason awards for the best pop culture x football moments of Week 1 thru 9.

Best Speech That Makes You Wanna Run Through A Wall

Winner:Saints QB Drew Brees; Raiders LB Khalil Mack
Runner Up:Bills DT Kyle Williams
Honorable Mention:Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston

You'll never see a successful team that doesn't have good leadership. Through the years, that's been the constant for any playoff team or Super Bowl victor -- they've always had guys on the team who were excellent on the field, and knew how to get their teammates pumped up. In the first half of the 2017 season, we've been able to eavesdrop on some pretty good speeches.

Drew Brees has shown this ability in the past, and this year he's already delivered some memorable rallying cries.

But it doesn't always need to be the quarterback; often it isn't. For the Raiders, star pass-rusher Khalil Mack is the guy who steps up.

From a fan perspective, sometimes it's those hard-earned celebration speeches that get the blood running. The over-performing Buffalo Bills have had a few heartwarming love-fests in the first half of the year. DT Kyle Williams, in his 12th season with a team experiencing the longest active playoff drought in American professional sports, put it this way after the Bills rallied in the last moments to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: "Man, I love you guys, bro! Gonna get me choked up, man!! I LOVE playing with you!!!!"

Special mention to Jameis Winston's memorable pregame speech from this weekend. I'll never think about eating a W the same way again. --Grant Pardee

Best Part-Time Job

Winner:Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
Runner Up:Retired WR Steve Smith

During the season, being a NFL athlete is a full-time job, but some players want to work a little extra on the side. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell during the offseason worked at Dairy Queen, flipping Blizzards, and giving smiles to unsuspecting ice cream lovers. I wonder if Bell said "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" --Daniel Greco


Best Use of Game Checks

Winner:Eagles DE Chris Long
Runner Up:Texans QB Deshaun Watson

Some fans complain about how handsomely athletes are paid, but many of those athletes put a significant portion of their salary to good use. For Eagles defensive end Chris Long, it's not a portion -- it's the entire thing.

The Super Bowl LI champion started the 2017 season by donating his first six checks to students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. In October, he followed that up by announcing that he was donating his next 10 checks to educational equality. That's his entire season's pay ($1 million in base salary) going toward education philanthropy. Find out more about Chris Long's charity work and why he should be one of your favorite players, regardless of what he does in between the lines. --Ralph Warner

Best Feel Good/Make You Cry Moment

Getting traded may be difficult, but fighting for your life is in another stratosphere. Eagles long snapper and America's Got Talent magician Jon Dorenbos was traded to the Saints for a 7th round pick, but during his physical, the doctor found an aortic aneurysm. Luckily, he underwent successful open-heart surgery and is now currently recovering. --Daniel Greco

Biggest Otaku

Winners:Packers DE Mike Daniels; Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Runners Up:Half of the NFL, basically

Where does "attends Comic Con cosplaying as a Naruto character" fit within your preconceptions of NFL players? Because that's what Mike Daniels, one of the league's best defensive linemen, did this offseason. He's an outspoken fan of anime shows like Hunter X Hunter, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul, and especially Dragon Ball Z, of which I'm assuming you have seen zero of these shows. Maybe you have. Betting no, but maybe. How would I know?

JuJu Smith-Schuster gave fans one of the best touchdown celebrations of the year (so far) when he threw an imaginary energy blast -- a Kamehameha from Dragon Ball Z. The explosive 20-year-old rookie receiver has also worn DBZ-themed cleats a few times.

Part of it is an age thing -- these are guys who grew up in the '90s when Dragon Ball Z was a bit hit for Cartoon Network, following the Pokemon craze and overall boom in anime's popularity in the US.

For DBZ specifically, though, the show is basically built around battles. You might glance at a clip or two and think, okay, so this is a show about close shots on men sweating and screaming and leaping into the air and shooting fireballs. And it is that. It's a superhero show. But the storytelling approach focuses as much on the themes of mental toughness, hard work and balance, striving for constant improvement, and humility versus arrogance -- the characters and their relationships display these themes in different ways.

Anyway, don't take it from me. Daniels explained it himself here:

If you hadn't guessed already, I have never seen any of these shows in full episodes, but they sound fun. I just like when people are fans of things in a good natured, appreciative way. So here's an award, it's very prestigious! Put it on the Wikipedia! --Grant Pardee

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