Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning were named co-winners of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award Saturday night, capping the annual NFL Honors program at the Wortham Theater Center.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was the other finalist. Olsen said after the show he was just glad to be in the running for the award that teammate Thomas Davis won two years ago.
“Obviously those guys were incredibly deserving,” Olsen told the Observer. “Like I said from the beginning, I was happy to be here, happy to be a part of it and maybe next year.”
It was just the third time since the award was established in 1970 that there were co-winners. Both Manning and Fitzgerald were finalists previously.
Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2016 while earning his third Pro Bowl berth in as many years.
Olsen and his wife Kara started the Receptions for Research Foundation in 2009 after watching his mother successfully battle breast cancer.
But when their son TJ was born with a severe heart condition in 2012, Olsen turned his charitable focus to helping other families with children with congenital heart defects.
Since launching the HEARTest Yard Fund in 2013, Olsen has distributed more than $1.2 million to help families defray the costs of nursing care during the first six months of the baby’s life.
Olsen won a social media challenge in connection with the Man of the Year award, collecting $25,000 for his charities after there were more than 860,000 uses of his unique hashtag. But that contest had no bearing on the results of the Walter Payton award.
There seems to be a pattern to the Man of the Year winners, who in recent years have all been previous finalists. That bodes well for Olsen in the future.
“I hope so,” he said. “We're going to continue our work regardless of recognition, regardless of accolades. We do this because it's important work. We do this because this means a lot to us and that's not going to ever be changed.”