Walter Payton Award nominee Eli Manning makes impact in community

Posted Feb 3, 2016

Eli Manning is a nominee for the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award

SAN FRANCISCO – Before he was drafted in 2004, Eli Manning went to Bradenton, Fla., where he worked himself into top condition and threw hundreds of passes. Among the players who joined him were Ben Watson, a tight end who was also selected in the first round of that draft, and Anquan Boldin, a wide receiver who had just completed his rookie season.

The players worked out together and became friends, and in the last dozen seasons they have followed each other’s careers. Now they are together again as the three finalists for the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced during the Fifth Annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special airing nationally tomorrow night from 9-11 p.m. ET on CBS.

“I think it’s special,” Manning said after the three players were recognized Friday at a news conference in the Super Bowl 50 Media Center. “I think it’s impressive, one, that the three of us are still playing in the NFL after 12 years, but also, the work that we’re doing off the field. Great respect for them for their abilities on the field as people, as human beings - known them for a long time and kept in touch. To be up for this award with them is special.”

If Manning wins, he will be the first Giants player selected Man of the Year in the 46-year history of the award. But he’s honored just to be a finalist.

“You don’t lose this award,” he said. “To be recognized, to be here, we’re all winners. Just an honor for us. And the charities and organizations that we work with are the real winners here.”

Manning works with a long list of charitable and civic organizations, and particularly enjoys his work with children. He has made countless visits to hospitals to visit children who are ill.

Manning has served as the Chair of the New York March for Babies for the past seven years, joining thousands of New Yorkers in the walk in support of March of Dimes. Providing additional access for top sponsors, engaging donors and raising awareness of the organization's platform, Manning’s efforts with March for Babies helped raise more than $25 million over the past seven years. He also spearheads “Tackle Kids' Cancer,” an initiative with Hackensack University Medical Center. Prior to kicking off an extensive media campaign to raise awareness of this cause, Manning spent time with patients and doctors at the hospital's pediatric cancer center, learning more about the greatest needs in cancer research.

When he realized the state of Mississippi – where he attended college and still owns a home – had only one children's hospital in Mississippi, Manning and his wife founded the Eli and Abby Manning Children's Clinics in 2007. They kicked off a five-year fundraising campaign that raised almost $3 million in five years. Building on that accomplishment and model, they also created the University of Mississippi Medical Center Manning Family Fund, which received close to $1.5 million in its first year in 2015.

“You don’t often get a situation where the face of your franchise is also one of your best, if not your best, out in the community,” said John Mara, the Giants president and chief executive officer. “That’s kind of a dream come true. He’s been great ever since his rookie year, and he continues to be that way. He’s always looking to do something, that’s what’s so great about him. He realizes he’s been pretty lucky in his life, and he realizes how important it is to give back. I think he gets that from his parents; you can tell he was raised a certain way.”

“Eli deserves the award,” said Steve Tisch, the chairman chair and executive vice president. “He’s more than just a really talented player, he cares deeply about his community, about the country, and about challenges that young people face in their own lives. He and (wife) Abby have addressed a lot of those challenges and give back. I think giving back is important, and Eli and Abby understand the importance of it. It’s more than understanding it, they’re active. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Manning, of course, is also here to watch his older brother Peyton play for the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. It is Peyton’s fourth Super Bowl, and the sixth time in 10 years a Manning will play in the season’s final game. Their parents, Archie and Olivia, are understandably proud of what they’ve accomplished on the field. But it’s their work in the community that they will often mention first.

“He (Archie) has talked a lot about the work that we’ve done with charities over the years,” Eli said, “and said that’s what he’s most proud of, our work that we’re doing within the community, the person we are, the husband, the father - those are the important things. Obviously, he’s proud of our football and winning games, but more the person you’ve become and the quality, and making an impact on people’s lives.”

Manning fittingly wore an “ATM” button today in honor of Ann Mara, the Giants matriarch who passed away a year ago. Mrs. Mara was also deeply involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors.

“Mrs. Mara was a great person,” Manning “I thought about when I was up for the Man of the Year and all the work she did for numerous charities around New York, and just the impact she had on people’s lives. What a great person, a great owner, and a lot respect. Just wanted to honor her as I’m up here being honored for this award.”

As he has at all of his talks with reporters this week, Manning discussed several other subjects, including – surprise! – his brother’s appearance in the Super Bowl:

“I’m happy for Peyton,” Manning said. “We support each other so much, we want the best for each other. To kind of see everything that happened to him this year with the new coach, brand new offensive system - I know how hard that is. I’ve gone through that two years ago and making the adjustments there, buying into the system, dealing with the (foot) injury, dealing with being a backup for the first time, getting that opportunity to come into the San Diego game (in the season finale after missing six games). I was watching and fired up for him to get back in the game. He didn’t know if he was going to play again this year, and to get in that game, go score some touchdowns, win the game, take them into the playoffs and now the Super Bowl, it’s been a pretty special season for him.”

More Manning:

• On whether it’s difficult sometimes to visit sick children in the hospital.

“There’s times when it’s hard,” he said. “There’s times when going into a hospital and seeing a child that’s sick, who doesn’t feel well, who’s going through chemotherapy and different deals and trying to get him smiles. Sometimes, they don’t want to say much and you try to talk to them a little bit, and sometimes you feel like you’re not making a difference, you didn’t make an impact. Every once in a while you’ll get a note from a mom, or you go back in another time, and a nurse may tell you the story about that kid who didn’t say anything - for the next two weeks or the hour after you left, his spirits were lifted, he was talking, so excited that he met you, or you signed an autograph for him. So it’s good to kind of get those stories, those rewards that make you know that you are making a difference, and that’s what keeps you coming back and seeing the impact that you’re making.”

• On whether he would like to see Peyton – who is expected to retire - play another season:

“I can’t imagine a season when he’s not there, just knowing my big brother is not playing in a game,” Manning said. “It was awkward the year that he was injured and missed a season (2011), but he was still around football, so you knew he was going to come back. I offered, if he wants to come be a quality control coach for the Giants and maybe earn a little respect and see if he can know anything and help out a quarterback in the quarterback room a little bit, I can probably make a call or two and find him a spot.”

• On Archie Manning’s declaration yesterday that he’d like to see the Giants return to the Super Bowl.

“Yeah, me too, no doubt,” Manning said. “That’s what we’re working on. I think we’re putting the right pieces together to fill in that puzzle, and I think we’re getting closer, and get back on track, and making a run for it.”

• On taking part in a pregame ceremony with all of the other Super Bowl MVP’s.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m excited being out there pregame and with the other Super Bowl MVP’s the past 50 years; some tremendous players and Hall of Famers. It’ll be an honor to be included in that. Obviously, Peyton will be preparing for a game, so maybe he can sneak out for a second. We’d like to see him on Super Bowl Sunday on the field. It’ll be a pretty special moment.”