EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tight end Rhett Ellison is the Giants' nominee for the 2018 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
The award, established in 2014, is given annually by the NFL in recognition of outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field. The winner is determined by a vote of the NFL players. The award is presented each year to an NFL player "who demonstrates the qualities of outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field, including fair play, respect for opponents and integrity in competition." It is named in in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney, Sr.
The first four winners of the award were Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, former defensive back Charles Woodson, who retired after the 2015 season, running back Frank Gore – then with Indianapolis, now with Miami, and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The Giants' previous nominees have been linebacker Jameel McClain, running back Rashad Jennings, wide receiver Victor Cruz, and offensive lineman Justin Pugh.
"It's definitely an honor to be the Giants' nominee for the Rooney Sportsmanship Award, especially when you look at the names of the guys that have won this award," Ellison said. "It's definitely a good group to be nominated.
"When I'm on the field, I'm trying to do whatever I can for the guy next to me, and I'm not trying to hurt the other guy. But my focus is on protecting the guy next to me on game days."
Ellison joined the Giants as a free agent in 2017, after five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He entered the NFL as Minnesota's fourth-round draft choice in 2012. As of this writing, he had played in 97 games with 62 starts, and caught 89 passes for 873 yards and six touchdowns. Ellison is also an outstanding blocker for the Giants' rushing attack.
"Rhett is a true professional," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He comes to work every day, gets prepared, knows his assignments, does everything just like you asked him to do. When you make corrections on the move, he's going to be dialed in. Rhett knows the game of football and does a great job just playing multiple spots, different positions, move him around and he'll kind of know what everybody's assignment is."
Ellison is also well-liked by his teammates.
"He's always fun to be around, and there's good conversation with Rhett," Manning said. He had a great upbringing around football, so he's always good entertainment, good locker room guy, gets along with everybody."
Ellison's father, Riki, was a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Raiders from 1983-91, and a three-time Super Bowl champion. Both father and son attended USC, where Riki played on the Trojans' 1978 national championship team.
"He was highly competitive, but you definitely hope you play the game the right way," Rhett said. "You want to teach your kids the right way, he played the game the right way, and I try to do the same."
Ellison helped numerous teammates improved their game, perhaps none more than Evan Engram. The two tight ends joined the Giants six weeks apart last year, Engram as the team's first-round draft choice. Ellison immediately began helping the team's marquee rookie in all facets of tight end play – as he did for the other challengers at the position.
Last summer, the Giants had five other tight ends in training camp - Engram, Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson, Ryan O'Malley, and Garrett Dickerson – who have played a total of 64 games, starting 15. When the younger players had a question about an assignment, needed a blocking tip or help running a pass route, Ellison was their answer man.
"He's like a walking teach tape," said Engram, who led the Giants with 64 receptions as a rookie in 2017. "You can pull up any play that he's on and that's exactly how the play is supposed to be done whether it's a route, whether it's a certain blocking technique we have to execute. He's a really good professional, he's a really good technician. He's a perfect example to learn from.
"He's not the typical 6-5, 260 (pound) tight end, but he uses everything, he uses his leverage, he has a great toolbox. He's just a good example to learn from. Definitely, he's our vet in the room. I don't want to say he's the old guy, because he does a lot of stuff better than us young guys. He's definitely a good guy to have in our room."
And on the team.
Each NFL team nominates one player for the Rooney Award. A panel of former players selects eight finalists (four each from the AFC and NFC). Along with the award, the winner receives a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice.