IRVING, Texas - The Dallas Cowboys Kickoff Luncheon signifies the start of a new season while celebrating and awarding the past season's leaders. But for many Cowboys players, it means much more.
All proceeds of Tuesday's 19th annual luncheon, which was held at Cowboys Stadium, went to the Cowboys Courage House, located at Happy Hill Farm Academy, which the team has supported for more than 25 years. The private school's purpose is to equip motivated students with the knowledge and skills for success.
"We're fortunate to be here and help out such a great event," said Miles Austin. "This is my seventh year doing this. It never gets old. It's something we enjoy doing every year. It's the second or third time we've had it here. It's a good feeling."
Marcus Spears said he thinks about how close the season is whenever the luncheon takes place, but he enjoys it more because of what it means to Happy Hill Farm.
"The longstanding relationship we've had has been very productive. It's been progressive, so it's just another year, another opportunity to be here and enjoy these young folks and look in their eyes and watch them grow and just enjoy this charity," Spears said.
Former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson served as the Honorary Chair for the event. In addition to projecting his regular season win total for the Cowboys (10), Woodson also commented on The Academy.
"You're always looking for ways to not only raise money, but ways to give back to kids to put them in position to further themselves," Woodson said. "I've always respected these guys. They're just a joy to deal with."
Three players took home awards during the ceremony, including Tony Romo, who won both the Ed Block Courage Award and the 2011 Offensive MVP Award.
Romo received The Courage Award for returning to the game after a rib injury against San Francisco to help lead the Cowboys to an overtime win. He also finished the season with 4,184 yards passing to record his third career 4,000-yard season.
Romo said this is the most excited he's ever been going into a season because of the team's commitment during the offseason.
"Our football team, we're building something special, I can promise you that," Romo said. "You're going to be proud to root for the Dallas Cowboys. I know I'm proud to be on this football team."
DeMarcus Ware won the 2011 Defensive MVP Award after finishing with 19.5 sacks last year. While accepting the award, Ware referenced the Cowboys' trip to see the Navy SEALs, where he learned there is an "I" in team, because if he doesn't do his job, his team will suffer.
Ware, who's been hampered by a sore hamstring and didn't play in the third preseason game, also clarified his status for the regular season opener.
"I promise you we're going to be ready this year," Ware said. "I'm up here shaking because I'm ready to play the Giants."
The 2011 Special Teams MVP award went to Dan Bailey, who finished 32-of-37 in his rookie season and was perfect on all 39 extra point attempts.
Former offensive lineman John Niland was also honored with the Tom Landry Memorial Legend Award, as one of only four offensive linemen in team history with at least six Pro Bowl selections.