No Giants player has been named Man of the Year since the award was instituted in 1970. And Manning is certainly not obsessing over his chance to be the first.
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“It’s not like winning a Super Bowl,” Manning said to a small group of reporters today in the Super Bowl Media Center. “If you’re just considered, it is good and it’s good enough. It’s not like if you win it, you can say, ‘I don’t have to do any more charitable work and I’ve reached my goal.’ My award is seeing the results, the research, the funding, the children’s smiles and the difference you make in the community. That’s the award. I think for the Giants, they’ve never had a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner for the organization. That would be special. Just to be recognized for the works, it’s always nice.”
A small sampling of the groups Manning works with includes the March of Dimes, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, American Red Cross, the Scholastic’s ClassroomCare program, and he and his wife founded the Eli and Abby Manning Children’s Clinics in Jackson, Miss.
“(I’ve) been involved in children’s charities for a long time, and helping children,” Manning said. “That’s the main focus and concern. I think that was the toughest thing for me to see, but also that’s what makes you want to help those kids and those families that are going through it. It definitely has changed my perspective the last couple years having kids (three daughters) of my own. I think I used to just look at the child and say, ‘I want to help them.’ Now, I look at the child and the family. I see it from the parent side of it, and what they’re going through to have a child that’s sick and in hospitals. I know they want to do everything possible to get that child well. I look at it from that aspect. I put myself in their shoes and what you’d be doing if that was your child that was sick. You want to do anything possible to make sure they have the best research, medicine, hospitals and service they can get. That’s what drives me to try and help them.”
But for all the publicity he gets for his good work, Manning prefers to stay under the radar. For each visit to a sick child in a hospital or elsewhere that generates news, there are probably 10 or 12 that are private.
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“A lot of times I will work with the Giants, or tell Allison Stangeby (the team’s vice president of corporate and community relations), who runs a lot of the charitable acts for the Giants, ‘Hey, I’m going to go to the hospital, will you call and let them know I’m coming tomorrow?’ Just always emphasize that it’s not a publicity stunt. The kids, they’re going to act differently if you walk in with a camera behind you. That’s not the purpose. The purpose is to be there with the kids and try and lift their spirits or talk to the parents. Try and make a difference that way. Get to know the kids a little bit.
“If you go in there and you see a child or person that second or third time, that’s what makes them kind of warm up to you a little bit more, and you can get them talking. The first time, they might not know who you are or they’re not feeling well and don’t know what to say. You kind of get to know them a little better and it makes it better on both sides.”
If a child is shy or reluctant to initially engage, Manning will try to build a rapport with the parents.
“Parents know and they’re a little quicker to talk,” Manning said. “Sometimes they’re looking for an ear to get stuff off their chest and tell their story. A lot of times, that’s where you get their information from. It’s from the parents. You can find out what their child is into, what they like. Are they playing sports, TV shows? Then, you kind of know how to get them talking and smile and enjoy the moment.”
The other finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award are Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, now with the Detroit Lions, won the award last year. Manning and tight end Benjamin Watson, currently with Baltimore, were the other finalists.
“Anytime you’re mentioned in the same sentence as Walter Payton, that’s a good thing,” Manning said. “To be up for this award, it’s really an honor to be with Larry and Greg, the two other nominees who are tremendous players. I’ve read about what they’ve done in their communities. Just an honor and I really appreciate the NFL and Nationwide for highlighting the good works that so many players are doing around the league. There are a lot of good people and good players making big impacts around their communities. I’m glad that that’s being showcased and talked about.”