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DALLAS — The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will not be announced until Sunday, but two of the three finalists for the award — Israel Idonije and Nnamdi Asomugha — and members of the late Payton's family were on hand for a ceremony honoring the finalists at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas on Friday.
Madieu Williams — the third finalist — is in the Persian Gulf for Super Bowl week. He will watch the game with U.S. service members on Sunday.
The award, which dates back to 1970, recognizes a player's commitment to community service and his performance on the field.
Asomugha, a four-time Pro Bowler with the Raiders, is considered one of the league's best cornerbacks. Supporting women and children in Nigeria with food, shelter, medicine and scholarships as well as providing 36 students with an annual college tour are amongst the works done by the programs in his foundation.
"I'm humbled to be recognized by the Payton family for such a prestigious award," Asomugha said. "This was just a dream that I started. I wanted to take a group of kids out on a college tour each year and see if they could raise their standards in their community. It's taken me to this place right now where people are starting to recognize it. It's very humbling for me to be here because you never do this type of stuff for this kind of recognition, but it continues to raise awareness. I thank (the Paytons) for recognizing that."
Idonije, a seven-year veteran, showed great improvement on the field with the Bears this season, which was his first as a full-time starter. He tied for the team lead in sacks (eight).
He started his foundation in 2007 and established a program that encourages regular school attendance and serves more than 600 economically disadvantaged students in five schools in Chicago and Idonije's hometown in Manitoba, Canada.
"I've just been very fortunate to have a lot of good people in my corner," Idonije said. "(I've had) a lot of great people in my life (and) a great support system. It's funny how a small dream and small steps just continued to grow and snowball. You look around on a day like today and you just are amazed and you say 'Wow.' "
Williams has started 38 of the 39 games in which he has played since signing with the Vikings before the 2008 season. He made a $2 million donation to create a Center for Global Health at the University of Maryland, where he attended college, and he works with several charities in Minnesota to help children in need.
The panel that chose the finalists is made up of the nominees from all 32 teams for the award, who each receive $1,000 from NFL Charities to give to the charity of their choosing. The finalists receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name.
The selection panel consists of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Walter's widow, Pro Football Hall of Famers Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, executive director of the NFL Alumni Association George Martin, 2009 Payton winner and Chiefs OG Brian Waters and Sports Illustrated's Peter King.