Snubbed by Pro Bowl voters again this season, Thomas Davis received a more personally significant honor Saturday night on the eve of the Super Bowl.
The Carolina Panthers’ linebacker is the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Davis won the award that recognizes community leadership over Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin during the annual NFL Honors program at Symphony Hall.
Davis was a finalist last year for the award, named after the late Chicago Bears running back known as “Sweetness.”
The NFL Foundation will make a $50,000 donation in Davis’ name to the charity of his choice.
Davis’ successful return from three knee surgeries has been one of the league’s most inspirational stories in recent years.
In 2012, Davis became the first NFL player to come back from three ACL reconstructions. But he missed out on the Associated Press’ Comeback Player of the Year award to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who had returned from multiple neck operations.
But Davis was not a bridesmaid this time.
Davis and his wife, Kelly, in 2007 started the Defending Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the quality of life for underprivileged children. The foundation reaches 2,000 children annually and has distributed more than $500,000 in financial aid since its inception.
Davis’ charitable group also includes a youth leadership academy, a 14-week, after-school mentoring program for low-income, middle school students. Each year Davis gives two college scholarships to graduating high school seniors who came through the academy.
Davis’ other community contributions include a school supplies giveaway, a Thanksgiving meal for members of a women’s shelter, and a Christmas gift giveaway for children in Charlotte, parts of South Carolina and Davis’ hometown of Shellman, Ga.
Davis, 31, a first-round draft pick in 2005 and the Panthers’ longest-tenured player, has posted three consecutive 100-tackle seasons after missing all or part of three seasons from 2009-11.
He’s second all-time on the Panthers’ tackles list behind Mike Minter.