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NFL’s Best and Brightest Show Up in Indianapolis


On the eve of the Super Bowl, the league celebrates the players’ accomplishments

Even for those who do not breathlessly follow every happening in Hollywood, the quartet of ceremonies --- Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and Tonys --- always attracts casual fans, just to see what movies, songs, television programs and Broadway shows that they’ve seen or heard over the past year take home honors.  I must confess that I am one of these casual fans, except when it comes to the Grammys; being a lover of music, I usually know all of the songs or albums nominated for the prestigious award.

So, what does this foursome of award shows have to do with Super Bowl week? Well, for the first time ever, the NFL decided to present their awards in the format of a television awards show. Instead of announcing the award winners in a press release, the league sent out invitations to roughly 50 current players as well as Hall of Famers such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Barry Sanders. And so on a rainy Saturday evening at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis, the league’s biggest stars, past and present, gathered to fete the accomplishments of a season that has just one game remaining --- the Super Bowl, between the AFC champion New England Patriots and NFC champion New York Giants.

Sticking to the model of an Academy Awards show, the league staged a nearly two-hour red carpet ceremony, where players, coaches, and legends strolled by, posing for pictures and chatting with the media. One of the first to pass by was Archie Manning, the father of Eli and Peyton Manning. He’s very happy with the way Indianapolis is hosting Super Bowl week.

“It’s been a great week for Indianapolis. Indy has responded with their wonderful hospitality and put on a good Super Bowl. Obviously, our family is excited and proud for Eli and the Giants, and we’ll see what happens.”

Following the lengthy parade of stars on the Red Carpet , the awards ceremony, hosted by actor Alec Baldwin, began. The evening’s first presenter was pop singer Katy Perry, and the first winner of the evening was Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who took home the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Newton would also go on to collect the Rookie of the Year Award.

The next award went to Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who captured the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford took home Comeback Player of the Year honors, while San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who took his team from 6-10 to the brink of the Super Bowl, was feted as Coach of the Year. 

Not every award handed out tonight was solely based on on-field performance --- the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award was handed out to Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk. The Payton Award is given to a player who demonstrates both on-field excellence and superb volunteer and charity work, and Birk was extremely grateful upon winning the award.

“Growing up, we used to call out who we would want to be when playing football, and we always called out ‘Walter Payton.’ He was synonymous with the best, and to get an award with his name on it, and to be able to spend some time with his family and listen to them tell stories about what a great man he was, the little kid in me thinks it’s really cool, but the adult in me is very humbled.”

Later on in the program, the bigger awards were handed out, starting with Offensive Player of the Year, an award that went to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Brees, who threw for an NFL-record 5,476 yards as well as 46 touchdowns, was reflective afterwards.

“All that happened this year --- certainly there were some remarkable things that we were all lucky to be a part of. It’s a rush of emotion now, just reflecting on all of the great moments from this season and the great people I was able to share it with.”

The Defensive Player of the Year Award went to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who gave a great deal of credit to now-departed defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who became the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. 

Suggs said, “I knew with the kind of defense we had, and the kind of coach he was and how he was calling the game, he deserved it [being named Colts coach]. I wish we could have had a second year together, but the world decided that he didn’t need any more experience, and it was his time to be a head coach.”

As for the final award of the evening, continuing the trend set by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who combined to win the previous four Most Valuable Player Awards, this year’s winner was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He set a single-season record for passer rating at 122.5, while throwing 45 touchdowns to six interceptions, a staggering 9-to-1 ratio. 

“It’s exciting. It’s something that is honestly a goal --- being consistent, being a guy that your teammates can count on, this is an award that takes a lot of players in order for one person to receive this award.”

In a weird twist, no Giants or Patriots players took home any honors on the evening. I think that they would gladly trade individual honors for team glory, and tonight, the 46th Super Bowl will be contested from Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. It’s a game that promises to be high-scoring, and sparks should fly. But for one night, all of the attention and focus on the “big game” was temporarily shelved so the league could honor the past, present, and, in the cases of Newton and Miller, the future. 

Give credit to the NFL. The MLB, NBA, and NHL simply release their awards via a press release, without much fanfare. The NFL has taken the initiative of introducing a level of “entertainment” to their awards.

Only time will tell whether or not the program becomes a success on the level of an Academy Awards show. I’m not sure if it will ever do so --- the award winners are usually known long before the show based on statistics and previous award history, whereas the other awards shows always produce surprise results and there is a greater question of “Who will win?” But at least there is some festivity surrounding the awards, instead of a fanfare-free release.