EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J – The NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given to the player on each team who displays excellence on the football field and in the community, so it's perfectly logical that Eli Manning is the Giants' recipient for the fifth time.
In addition to his role as the team's most indispensable player, Manning helps a long list of causes and organizations that improve the lives of thousands of people every year.
Each of the 32 teams has a Man of the Year who is eligible to win the league award. Three of the these nominees will be selected as finalists for the award, named for the Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, who died in 1999. The winner will be announced during the 5th Annual NFL Honors awards show, which airs on Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl 50.
Manning was also named the Giants' Man of the Year in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Remarkably, no Giants player has won the league award since it was established in 1970. But Manning is thrilled to be his team's nominee.
"My dad (Archie) played at the same time as Walter Payton, and has some stories and always talked about what a great person he was," Manning said. "He was a prankster and just a joy to be around and worked extremely hard and he had only great things to say about him. From everything wonderful I've heard about him, it's an honor to receive this award for the Giants team. I'm proud about the work I do, on and off the field."
There are many organizations with which Manning has long associations, and he is constantly looking to get involved with new groups. The former includes the March of Dimes, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and the Red Cross. He serves as a member of the American Red Cross' Celebrity Cabinet, urging people to perform extraordinary life-saving acts in dire circumstances through the assistance of the Red Cross
"A lot of these charities are something I've been involved in since I got here (in 2004)," Manning said. "So it's just kind of become part of my world.
"The March of Dimes is a group I've been with from the get-go. I got involved early and now that I've had children (three daughters under the age of five), it's even more important. You understand the importance of a healthy child, and how blessed I am to have three healthy children, and trying to help eliminate premature births and some birth defects. Guiding Eyes has been one from the get-go, and I've gotten more involved there. I've seen them grow. They're also helping get guide dogs for people with autism. The Red Cross is one I always continue to work with."
One of his primary charitable endeavors is in Mississippi, where he was a star at Ole Miss and where he has a home. As part of the entire Manning family's relationship with The University of Mississippi Medical Center, called the Manning Family Fund, he and his wife founded the Eli and Abby Manning Children's Clinics at the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Miss. It is the only hospital in the state devoted exclusively to the care and treatment of sick and injured youngsters. More than 150,000 children from the state's 82 counties come to Children's Hospital each year.
Eli and Abby made a five-year commitment to raise $2.5 million for the clinics
"I think we ended up raising $3 million in five years, and the clinics are up and running, and doing great," he said. "So that's been very rewarding. We still continue to help out with the hospital, and we have a Manning fund down there to kind of just help with the overall hospital. It's still important to give back to Mississippi; it's an important part of my life.
"I get to visit when I get back to Jackson, which is not a whole lot, maybe once a year. But I'll go, bring some Giants hats, and try to visit some of the kids in the hospital. The good thing about the clinics is getting as many children as possible seen, and hopefully it's just something minor and get in and out. Obviously, sometimes they come in for a checkup and there is something more serious and then they'll get admitted to the hospital. But we'll go to the hospital and visit some of the patients there, and try to lift their spirits a little bit."
Some of the ventures Manning has more recently become involved with include Tackle Kids Cancer in conjunction with Hackensack University Medical Center, and the Robin Hood Foundation.
"It seems like each offseason I find a new one that's intriguing to me that I want to help out - different causes and different ways to help out other people," he said. "A new initiative comes up, or you have a friend, or you have a story, or you know somebody and you want to get involved in another aspect or another opportunity. A lot of them deal with children, helping out sick children and trying to get them back with their families, back home, back in school and living the lives they should be living."
Between his job, family, charitable commitments and endorsement obligations, Manning is extremely busy throughout the year. But he is already determined to pass on the gift of giving to his children.
"As my kids get older, I want them to understand the importance of being a part of a community, and helping out people that are less fortunate, and how many blessings they have," he said. "I want them to have that in their life and an understanding of how important it is to be help out other people and different causes."
Manning is the Giants' Man of the Year, but for him, it's a family award.