INDIANAPOLIS — The three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award met with the media on Friday morning, and all three said it was humbling to be mentioned in the same category as one of the NFL's all-time greatest running backs.
The award, the only one handed out by the league that reflects both on-field excellence and off-field charitable work, will go to either Ravens C Matt Birk, Bears CB Charles Tillman or Chargers QB Philip Rivers. All three had excellent seasons for their teams between the white lines, but also great impact in their communities away from the field.
Birk, who just completed his 14th season in the NFL, runs the H.I.K.E. (hope, inspiration, knowledge and education) Foundation. The group works to improve children's literacy, helping nearly 100,000 children in greater Baltimore.
"It's hard to put into words what it means to be nominated for an award with Walter Payton's name on it," Birk said. "Everybody knows his legacy on the field, but off the field, I think it's even more impressive. It speaks to the tradition NFL players have as to using the platform football provides us to get out there in the community and try to be positive role models."
Tillman, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2011, runs the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation with his wife Jackie. The group focuses on improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children. It was inspired by the Tillmans' three-year old daughter, Tiana, who received a heart transplant in 2008.
"Obviously playing in Chicago, being a Chicago Bear, everyone knows Walter Payton's legacy," Tillman said. "To be mentioned in the same sentence as him, what he's accomplished and what he means to the NFL and Chicago, I'm grateful."
Rivers, a father of six and five-time Pro Bowler, heads the Rivers of Hope Foundation. The organization helps abandoned and orphaned children find new homes. He also runs football camps and creates awareness for foster children throughout Southern California.
"Al the player in this league try to do our best on the field, but certainly there's more to it than that," Rivers said. "To be honored, to be a part of this, its certainly special to be here."
The winner of the award will be announced on Saturday night.