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The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award going to Eli Manning Saturday has special meaning for Mississippi.
The New York Giants quarterback, who with wife Abby is honorary chair of The Campaign for Children's of Mississippi and donated $1 million toward expansion and updates to pediatric facilities at UMMC, was a finalist for the award the past three years, as well as in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. This year, Manning was named a co-winner of the award with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The University of Mississippi All-American won an honor named for another player who has cheered up patients at UMMC. Walter Payton, the Jackson State University icon who grew up in Columbia and played college football across the street from UMMC at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, cheered up patients and families at UMMC in the early 1990s, not long after his retirement from the Chicago Bears.
Football great Walter Payton signs autographs for patients and families at an event at UMMC in the early 1990s.
The award, founded in 1970, was won by Payton in 1977 and renamed for the Hall of Famer in 1999. The NFL's greatest off-field honor is presented by Nationwide to the player who exemplifies community service as well as athletic excellence.
“This is very special,” Manning said at the award presentation. “To be mentioned in the same sentence with Walter Payton and to see the amount of people that we've helped with the great work we've done over the years with my family, and for that to have grown as much as it has and be recognized for this award, is special.”
Manning is the first New York Giant to win the title in the 47-year history of the award. Eli Manning's brother Peyton won the NFL Man of the Year Award in 2005 as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning, Fitzgerald and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen were finalists this year for the award, presented by Nationwide.
Eli and Abby Manning
Fitzgerald and Manning will each receive $625,000, half of which will go to a charity of their choice and half of which will support the expansion of Character Playbook across all NFL markets. Character Playbook is a digital education initiative launched by the NFL and United Way that teaches students the skills to cultivate character and maintain healthy relationships. Donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
In the New York area, Manning is known for his philanthropic efforts helping Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, the American Red Cross and the March of Dimes.
Part of UMMC, Children's of Mississippi is an umbrella organization that includes the state's only children's hospital as well as all UMMC pediatric care.
The Mannings have a history of helping UMMC, as they partnered with Friends of Children's Hospital to raise more than $2.5 million to open the Eli Manning Children's Clinics at Batson Children's Hospital.
“Giving to Children's of Mississippi is an easy choice to make,” said Eli Manning of the couple's donation in 2016. “Every hour of every day, children are being given the care they need to grow and to live happy, healthy lives.”
In 2009, Eli cuts the ribbon for the Eli Manning Children's Clinics with help from Batson Children's Hospital patients, from left, Cameron Smyly, Aubree Jordan and Taylor Gibson.
Mississippi has great meaning for the Mannings, as Eli's father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, grew up in Drew, and the couple met at the University of Mississippi, when Eli was a junior and Abby was a freshman.
Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children's of Mississippi, applauds the choice of Manning as Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
“Not only is Eli Manning an athletic role model,” said Giesecke, “but he sets a wonderful example of philanthropy that inspires others to give.”
Said Manning at the award presentation: “My commitment is to help sick kids. Their struggle isn't easy, but their spirit, their laugh, their smile and their belief that everything will be OK continually amazes me, and hurts me at the same time. If we and the NFL and others in our communities commit to step in, we can lessen their struggle, ease that hurt, spark that hope. I challenge everyone here to help some person in need. You choose. But go out of your way to make a difference in someone's life. I promise you, it's worth it.”
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