Eli Manning's value to the Giants has always gone beyond just football. It's also been about his leadership, his professionalism, and all his charity work behind the scenes.
On Saturday night, Manning was finally honored for all his good off-field work when he was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. He actually shared the award with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, became the first Giants player in the 47-year history of the award to win it.
"It's an honor to be selected as the Walter Payton Man of the Year," Manning said. "I want to congratulate Larry Fitzgerald and Greg Olsen (the Panthers tight end who was the other finalist) - two guys I have great respect for on and off the field. It's truly an honor to be in their company. They do such great work in their communities and in representing their teams and our league.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say that any time you're mentioned in the same breath as Walter Payton it's a tremendous honor."
He was a finalist for the second year in a row. Last year, he lost out to 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin. Although "lost" isn't exactly the way Manning looked at it, as he explained to reporters in Houston on Friday afternoon.
"It's not like winning a Super Bowl," Manning said. "If you're just considered, it is good and it's good enough. It's not like if you win it you can say 'I don't have to do any more charitable work and I've reached my goal.' My award is seeing the results, the research, the funding, the children's smiles and the difference you make in the community. That's the award."
Manning conceded it "would be special" to become the first Giant to win it, and it certainly was well-earned. He has been extremely active with groups such as the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the March of Dimes, and the Red Cross. He and his wife also founded the Eli and Abby Manning Children's Clinics in Jackson, Miss. And he has spent countless hours working with "Tackle Kids Cancer" and with the Hackensack University Medical Center where he helps raise money and visits children in the pediatric cancer center.
"(I've) been involved in children's charities for a long time," Manning said. "That's the main focus and concern. I think that was the toughest thing for me to see, but also that's what makes you want to help those kids and those families that are going through it.
"It definitely has changed my perspective the last couple years having kids of my own. I think I used to just look at the child and say 'I want to help them.' Now I look at the child and the family. I see it from the parent side of it and what they're going through to have a child that's sick. I put myself in their shoes and what you'd be doing if that was your child that was sick. You want to do anything possible to make sure they have the best research, medicine, hospitals and service they can get.
"That's what drives me to try and help them."
Manning, of course, does most of his charity work under the radar - another thing that has endeared him to his franchise. He is a frequent volunteer, yet never seeks the spotlight for all his good deeds. And the fact that he's the leader of the team makes him the perfect example for everyone else.
"None of us do what we do on behalf of charity or in our communities to get recognized," Manning said on Saturday night. "We do it because we truly care. You want to make a difference in people's lives and in our communities. But to be recognized and know that people do notice our work is nice."
Manning and Fitzgerald will receive $625,000 each for winning the award - half of which goes to a charity of their choice and half of which goes to the expansion of the Character Playbook in NFL cities. The Playbook is a digital education initiative with the NFL and the United Way that "teaches students the skills to cultivate character and maintain healthy relationships."
Olsen received $250,000 (half for his charity, half to the Character Playbook in his name), while the finalists from the other 29 teams received $100,000 each