In a season of mediocrity, Jason Witten did what he always did, shine as the brightest star in the sky.
Jason Witten, Man of the Year. Sounds about right.
The 10-year veteran was named the award winner last night as part of the NFL Honors ceremony. He will be honored on the field at today's Super Bowl by Jarrett and Brittney Payton, children of the late, great Chicago running back, Walter Payton.
Wow. I am honored and thrilled to be the winner of this years NFL Walter Payton Man of Year. Thankful for my journey!— Jason Witten (@JasonWitten) February 3, 2013
It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, literally. On a day when a former Cowboys great was being recognized for a standout career as possibly the best ever at his position, another Dallas staple received an award for his outstanding contributions as well. One day, probably five years from the date of his retirement, Jason Witten will join Larry Allen (class of 2013) and the long list of Cowboys immortals enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Last night, though, he walked away with the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, presented annually to the player that personifies excellence both on and off the field.
Witten's award was actually his second of the weekend. On Friday, he was honored with the Bart Starr Award by Athletes in Action, given to the NFL player showing the most leadership and character in the home, on the field and in the community.
"I had a childhood that was challenging and fortunately my grandfather came and rescued me,'' said Witten, who became a born-again Christian as a sophomore in high school. "He was a high school football coach. He taught me a lot about being a football player but he taught me more about being a man. Fortunately, because of that impact, when I came to the NFL that was something that I wanted to give back and encourage young kids to chase their dreams.''
Witten launched his SCORE Foundation (SCORE stands for support, community, overcome, rebuild and educate) in December 2007 in Texas and Tennessee.
One of the ambitions of SCORE is to eliminate the cycle of domestic violence. To do that, Witten assigns male mentors to domestic abuse shelters to help provide a positive role model for children in the shelters with their mothers.
He also runs a summer football camp for underprivileged children and is involved in the Children's Cancer Fund Fashion Show, NFL Play 60, Boys and Girls Club of America and the Make-a-Wish Foundation among other charity work.. -NOLA.com
There isn't much doubt that Christopher Jason Witten, drafted in the third round of the 2003 NFL draft by Bill Parcells (who also was inducted into the 2013 HOF class with Allen), will make it to the Hall one day. According to former scout Bryan Broaddus, the Cowboys actually had a first-round grade on him that year.
As his career stats continue to pile up at an astonishing rate, Witten is firmly entrenched in the conversation as the best tight end of his generation. Sure, Tony Gonzalez has enjoyed that accolade throughout his storied career, but Gonzalez isn't nearly half the blocker that Jason Witten is. Blocking, in case you forgot, is half of a tight end's job.
With the transition to a passing league, people sometimes forget that, but not Witten. Save for an outlier season in 2011 when his blocking was down, Witten has continuously ranked amongst the league best in both blocking and receiving stats; normally surrounded by entire different groups of players on each list.
This year, Witten ended up third overall in Pro Football Focus' cumulative grades for tight ends with a +19.0 grade. He was third in pass catching rating at his position behind Gonzalez and Heath Miller (both had negative blocking grades) and was eighth in run blocking grade. The only other player in the Top 8 of both this season was Rob Gronkowski, the New England phenom who had trouble with injuries this past season.
The Senator ended the season with 110 catches, only one behind Michael Irvin's club record of 111, but setting the NFL's benchmark for catches by a tight end. He also set the Cowboys career record for receptions (now at 806 and counting).
Witten's numbers were remarkable, especially considering that he started the season playing with a lacerated spleen that was clearly affecting his play on the field. In the first three games of the season, while recovering, Witten committed four penalties, had six drops and gave up a sack, a QB hit and another QB hurry.
Out of those five stats, he only dropped two passes and committed two more penalties for the remainder of the season. That's right, he didn't give up a single pressure on Tony Romo after Week 3. Now granted, he wasn't kept in to block on passing downs very often (71 times on the year), but it's still a huge accomplishment.
Witten's accomplishments aren't just on the field, however; that's not what the Walter Payton award is solely about. True to his nature, Witten was uneasy talking about his charitable efforts.
"You make it a part of your life,'' Witten said of the commitment to help those less fortunate. "I never said I do it for any of this. You do it to make a small impact in people's lives.
"To be honest, this is a little bit uncomfortable. You never want to be recognized. The best part is the pureness and giving back. For me, that's what it's always been about. If it's important to you, you will.
"I hope that legacy is just as much a part of my life as what kind of football player I am.'' - DMN
Per the Ft. Worth Star Telegram's Carlos A. Mendez, the panel that decided on Witten included Walter's wife Connie, commissioner Roger Goodell, former commish Paul Tagliabue and Anthony Munoz. Word leaked out yesterday that the Hall of Fame panel needed just 8 minutes to decide on Larry Allen's induction, but needed almost an hour to decide on Bill Parcells. With the way that Witten keeps piling up records and accolades, his conversation will probably be much closer to LA's that the man that drafted him.
Jason Witten, 2013 NFL Man of the Year.