IRVING, Texas – The top NFL award recognizing a player's community service and playing excellence has gone to tight end Jason Witten.
Witten took home the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award during the second annual NFL Honors show, a two-hour primetime awards special Saturday night in New Orleans.
The two other finalists for the award were Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland's Joe Thomas, who emerged out of a list of 32 nominees, along with Witten. All 32 nominees receive a $1,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to the charity of their choice, while the three finalists receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name.
"I am extremely flattered to be chosen the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year from such an esteemed group of nominees," Witten said in a statement. "I work hard every day not only to be a success on the football field and a credit to my team – but to be a good husband, father, son, grandson, teammate – to be the kind of man that is as respected as Walter Payton was."
As the winner of the award, Witten also receives an additional $20,000 donation to his favorite charity, as well as a Gladiator statue to commemorate his achievement.
Witten set the NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end this season with 110 catches, while surpassing Michael Irvin for the Cowboys' all-time receptions record. Witten's 806 career catches rank No. 3 among all tight ends in NFL history.
He was named to another Pro Bowl this season after starting the year slowly coming off a spleen injury. Witten wasn't expected to start in the opener, but he gritted it out and didn't miss a game all season.
Witten set career highs in receptions (110) and targets (150) while finishing with the second-most receiving yards in a season in his career (1,039). He'd never reached the 100-catch plateau before.
Two Cowboys players have won the award previously, both of them quarterbacks. Roger Staubach won the award in 1978 and Troy Aikman took home the honor in 1997. The announcement of Witten's achievement came one day after the tight end took home the 2013 Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership at home, on the field and in the community.
"Like others before me, I have a great opportunity as an NFL player to make a difference in the lives of others," Witten said. "It is honestly humbling to be recognized in such a manner for simply doing what I feel is right and human. I am fortunate to have a great support system in my family, the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL which allows me to make an impact in the communities and with people who love our game."
Since becoming a Cowboy in 2003, Witten has also been actively involved with many non-profit organizations, helping a wide range of people from all demographics. He serves as the Cowboys' spokesman for NFL PLAY 60 to bring awareness to youth health initiatives, and he supports youth football and hosts a free football camp for 1,200 kids in his hometown.
He's funded several building projects in Texas and his native Tennessee through the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation, which places full-time, trained male mentors in battered women's shelters throughout Texas. The mentors demonstrate positive male behavior to the children in these shelters in an effort to break the cycle of violence that plagues families affected by abuse. The foundation's newest domestic violence prevention program, "Coaching Boys Into Men," trains high school coaches to educate their players on the dangers of dating violence.
The Wittens also involve their young children in the team's early Thanksgiving Day meal at The Salvation Army and underwrite the Dallas Cowboys Women's Association's Christmas of Giving, benefiting families from The Family Place.
The selection panel for the award was comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Munoz, 2011 winner Matt Birk and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.
Witten joins an esteemed list of winners of the annual award, including 17 Pro Football Hall of Famers. The Ravens' Matt Birk won the award last year and the Vikings' Madieu Williams took home the award in 2010.