MR. HAYNES: The Walter Payton NFL Man Of The Year is the only League award to recognize off the field community service as well as player excellence. This year we have an outstanding group of 32 finalists. One player from each team. They have excelled on the field, but more importantly they've excelled off the field, balancing civic service and professional responsibilities this season. The Walter Payton NFL Man Of The Year award was established in 1970. And has had quite an impressive list of winners from Johnny Unitas in his first year to Walter in 1977 to Warrick Dunn last year. In all, 15 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and 5 Super Bowl Most Valuable Players have won the award. Perhaps the most distinguished recipient is the award's name sake, the legendary Walter Payton. Walter's grace on the field was only rivaled by his dedication to his family and his community. We are pleased to be joined today by the Payton family, wife Connie, son Jarrett, and daughter Brittany. Now I'd like to introduce Ms. Connie Payton.
CONNIE PAYTON: Thank you and good morning. The Walter Payton NFL Man Of The Year award is a citing of achievement that recognizes a player for not only his excellence on the field, but his commitment to community service, as well. This award proudly carries the name of the man who personified goodness, a virtue he demonstrated every day to everyone he met. His swiftness on the field initiated his nickname of "Sweetness". But the name was so characteristic of his very being that it became the name that he was so fondly remembered by. And just as Walter loved and had a passion for playing football, and had a zest for his life, his commitment and eagerness to doing and bringing happiness and joy to abused and neglected children also enriched his heart. Walter and I believe that children are our future. And his unselfishness and loving gift of giving back was instilled in him at an early age by his father. Walter always took to heart the words of his father which said, "Giving is more than a monetary donation. If you are fortunate enough to experience success, then you should be willing to do whatever you can to make the world better for others." Walter remembered these words throughout his life. And in giving back, not only did it add fulfillment to his life but it proved to be the legacy that he would leave behind. And today we honor an outstanding athlete and more importantly a caring human being who exemplifies everything that this award represents.
Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, continues to
demonstrate that he is just as driven in his personal life as he is on the
football field. As an athlete, Peyton Manning, the ever sly, cool and calm and
collected, No. 18, is a quarterback to be reckoned with, just ask the football
teams that played against the Colts with Peyton's arm in control of their faith,
if it isn't so. His stats on the field reflect records that go on and on,
beginning with being named the NFL Most Valuable Player for the second
consecutive year in 2005.
Just the other day, I visited Peyton's website, I clicked on a tab called "Kids Only", where Peyton replies to various questions that kids ask about just different things. And I read his reply to a young boy asking, what is good sportsmanship. Peyton answered with, it means that you need to play the game the way it's supposed to be played and you are supposed to respect your opponents. Peyton, this is why you are revered in the NFL, because you do practice what you preach. And in return, you have earned the respect and admiration of your peers on and off the football field. As a caring humanitarian, your active involvement in your community is nothing less than amazing. And through the PeyBack Foundation, you continue to focus on the needs of your community. And through this foundation you've established a number of programs, the Peyton Pals, the St. Vincent's Heroes, and the Peyback Classic 6 and the Holiday Celebration.
Now, in mentioning these few programs and knowing firsthand what they do, it is apparent that they are filled with giving, each personalized which brings excitement and happiness into the lives of those that cross his path. And it sends an important message to others that you care. And when devastation hit our country last year, you and your brother Eli even mobilized a plane full of supplies that were delivered to Baton Rouge a week after the hurricane hit New Orleans. That meant a lot to me, because my family was personally devastated by that hurricane, too.
And much like your NFL records highlighted in your on the field stats, the programs that you have established through the PeyBack Foundation goes on and on.
And again, in looking at your website, Peyton, you talked about true heroes. You said, and I quote, "What makes a true hero? Dedication, passion and generosity." And in your humble demeanor, I'm sure you would never think of yourself as a true hero, but you definitely possess all three traits. Be it on the football field or working in your community, it is through your dedication, your compassion and your generosity and your goodness of heart that you continue to put smiles on so many faces and make people feel good about themselves. The PeyBack Foundation has generated and nurtured programs for the mere pleasure of making people happy. You are truly someone who was put on this earth to make a difference and you have willingly and without question accepted the challenge. May God bless you and be at your side and continue to bring joy and happiness to so many people that cross your path. Thank you.
MR. UPSHAW: I would also like to join what Michael has said and what Connie has pointed out about Peyton's career and what he's done on the football field. There is no doubt about his statistics, there's no doubt about his records, there is no doubt about his dedication. I think we all are very, very aware of that point. Not many of us are aware, however, how much he cares about his fellow man and about mankind in general. What he's been able to do throughout not only here in the states, but around the globe. Whenever there's a disaster, there's one thing we always get first, and that's a call from Peyton. He wants to get involved, he wants to know how fast he can get involved, and he wants to make a difference. And he's been that way since he's been in the National Football League. He is definitely a person that we are very proud of and I'm so proud of him with this award because knowing Walter and knowing what he stood for, this means a lot, and would mean a lot to him to know such a person of character as Peyton Manning would be receiving this award.
Connie has pointed out all of the things that he's done through the PeyBack
Foundation, Peyton's Pals, St. Vincent's True Heroes, but globally, he was the
first one to step up to do the PSA's. Matter of fact, the only reason it took a
week to get to New Orleans is because everything was closed down. They wouldn't
let anybody in. Peyton was ready to go immediately. And that's the way he
operates. And that's the way he is. And I always like to point out, what is
character? And what does it all mean? And I always like to tell the players,
character is what happens when no one else is around. And with Peyton there's no
doubt about this. And I'm pleased and honored just to be a part of this
presentation to a well deserving individual that did not, under any
circumstance, was doing this to be recognized. He was doing it because he cares
and he's doing it because he always will care. He comes from a family, starting
with Archie, who I played against, and down to Peyton and to his brother, Eli,
and they have woven a thread through the National Football League that is
unprecedented and it's going to be very, very difficult to match. So I would
like Connie to return and we will bring Peyton up.
PEYTON MANNING: Thank you very much, Gene, Connie. This is very, very special for me. And there are times when my standing six feet five inches tall seems very small, and this would be one of those times.
Thank you one and all for this incredible honor. It's one I'll treasure forever in part because of the man who it's named after. And it recognizes one of the most important aspects of playing in the NFL, and that's community service. Walter Payton's on the field accomplishments are well-known. But he was an even better person. I remember WP as far back as 1980. My dad was playing in the first Pro Bowl in 1980. I was four years old, Cooper was 6 and Ely wasn't around then. Late in the afternoon I was to report back at a certain time and I didn't, my parents got a little nervous, great big body of water, a 4-year old running around missing. And long story short, Walter had me out the whole time on a catamaran. I felt safe. My parents felt relieved, because they knew Walter was taking great care of me. Looking back on it, Connie, I'm not sure Walter knew what he was doing on that catamaran. But Walter Payton was a man people could count on and a member of the football family. I love the game of football and when you join this League it doesn't take long to know there's more to this game. And the core to more is giving back to the community.
One of my first priorities after being drafted by the Colts was to form the PeyBack Foundation to, as the name says, pay back. The NFL is a monumentally successful business affecting people around the nation and the world. Yet with big advantages there comes big responsibilities. The League has recognized that its on the field product and merchandising and the rest, is only a part of what makes it the success it is today. The NFL recognizes there's more to the game. The League's community service, the United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs, and many other organizations, demonstrates its commitment to the communities in which it operates. It should be very evident to anyone living or traveling through an NFL city that there's a genuine and ongoing commitment in making that place a better one to live, work, and play. And each team makes the same commitment. Within its own community, whether it's Indianapolis, New York, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Detroit, to be a good corporate leader in every way possible. Then there are those of us who lace up our spikes, put on our shoulder pads and the uniform every Sunday, the individual players. And most of us in this League are people who really want to make a difference, and clearly understand that there is more to the game. Someone once said, I am only one, but still I am one. I can't do everything, but still I can do something. I believe that, just as the honorees before me do. They're people like Roger Staubach, Dan Marino, Jerome Bettis, Will Shields, and last year's winner, Warrick Dunn. They lived their lives with profound generosity. And their communities are better because of it.
The PeyBack Foundation has big goals: To help children in Indiana, Tennessee,
and Louisiana. And there are more kids in those three states than I could touch
in a lifetime. But that won't keep us from trying. Whether it's through the
grants we give to different community agencies or painting pumpkins with kids at
St. Vincent's Children's Hospital. Our Thanksgiving food drive we have every
year or the 900 kids from different community agencies in Indy that celebrate
with us at our holiday party. We're committed to find kids in need and give them
You've heard about the NFL's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, and to Gene and Mike and the commissioner, I want to thank you from the bottom of our heart to everything you've done for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The NFL was quick to step in. And for my brother Eli and me the hurt was real and it was personal. And the whole town of New Orleans was like family to us. We knew the streets, the businesses, the neighborhoods, because we grew up there. And it's different when it's your hometown and it's ripped apart and washed away. Like thousands of others, we felt compelled to do something. We went there to bring encouragement, along with the other necessities of life. When we got there one of the most valuable things we could do was just to listen to those who had lost everything, to listen so maybe for a little while people didn't feel so alone. And when we asked, people and organizations gave. In fact through the Peyback Foundation we're going to contribute over a hundred thousand dollars in grants for Hurricane Katrina efforts. Eli and I know that when we asked for help, they didn't just hear two brothers, they heard two quarterbacks from the NFL asking for their help. Like I said, with great advantages comes great responsibilities. There's more to the game. Because we play on the NFL stage, we can help people look up, not down. Look forward, not back.
I challenge each and every player in the National Football League to consider
the impact they have, just because they play the game of football, then go do
something about it. There's more to the game. And we can make a difference. I've
seen it with my own eyes.
I've worked since my rookie season with a group called CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which helps protect and enrich the lives of foster kids. Through the Peyback Foundation, 20 kids in the CASA program become Peyton's Pals. Each month of the year we do something special for them. One of the kids, I'll call him Jerome, and his sister were removed from the home by the courts because of their mother's drug problem. A social worker thought Jerome would benefit being one of Peyton's pals, that it might give him an identity, other than being a foster kid. He was a 14 year old kid and what CASA calls one of the forgotten kids, someone too old to be placed easily in an adoptive
home. But Jerome kept showing up and gradually, instead of looking down and in, he started looking up and out. He studied hard and eventually made the honor roll. We went to one of his high school football games. We sent him to the Manning Passing Academy we have in south Louisiana. They've been reunited with their mother and now you can see a new confidence in his eyes. Maybe it's because we care about him, looking out for him, just as Walter Payton did for me that day so many years ago.
Once again, I'm truly honored to be given this award, and be numbered by past winners who I admire, for contributions on and off the field. Each and every one of them understood that there's more to the game. I'll treasure this honor forever. Thank you very much.