Just for the record, I’m sitting here not watching the Oscars. There is only so much punishment one human being can take. I watched half of last year’s, until Call Me By Your Name won an award. Nothing like a movie about an adult preying on a teen to get Hollywood excited (irony noted, thanks).
Instead, I’m watching a game from the Alliance of American Football, a new off-season league composed of former and almost-NFLers, that has turned out to be very watchable. But it got me thinking about the NFL Honors, the annual show that airs the night before the Super Bowl and takes place in the host city. This year, it came from the beautiful Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia.
It goes without saying that this year’s NFL Honors was by leaps and bounds a better show than the staggeringly boring game, an arm-wrestling bout between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams to see which one was just marginally better than the other one. It sure can’t hold a candle to last year’s miraculous triumph by the Jesus-loving Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles (click here for more on that).
The NFL Honors was established in 2011 and features a mix of awards voted on by AP writers and a bunch of other sponsored and fan-chosen kudos. The top honor of the night is the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (named after the legendary Chicago Bears player, nicknamed “Sweetness”), in which all 32 teams nominate a player for his humanitarian activities. This year’s winner was former St. Louis Rams, now Eagles, defensive end Chris Long, who, together with his Waterboys.org, seeks to bring clean drinking water to East Africa.
The fact that the last and most prestigious award (the winner gets to wear a patch on his uniform; nominees get a helmet decal) is for charity work is just one reason why this award ceremony is better than the Oscars.
Here are five more:
(Note: The videos below are embedded, but you have to click through to YouTube to watch them. Sorry.)
The NFL Honors Opening Monologue
Another in a string of hilarious openers, this year, long-suffering Browns fan Steve Harvey came in for the first time and brought down the house. Treat yourself and watch the whole thing.
The NFL Honors Video Packages
The awards are introduced with tightly edited video packages with well-chosen music. They are brief and to the point. They are fun to watch. Like this one (and yes, I’m including it because it’s the only award won by my team, the Seahawks. You take what you can get.)
The NFL Honors PresentersUsually, a football star is paired with a celebrity, but the athletes do just fine reading from the teleprompters (better than some professional actors at the Oscars). Upside, they’re not expected to read out the nominees. That’s what the packages are for. And when you have tongue-twisting NFL names like Ndamukong Suh and Barkevious Mingo, that’s a help. (Although standing still sometimes proves tough for these high-energy young guys.)
The Hall of Famers
Each year, the men to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are introduced at the NFL Honors. Some are from recent years; some are from history; some didn’t play the game (they’re owners, coaches, journalists). It’s always a tear-jerking moment. Take a look.
The NFL Honors Acceptance Speeches
Last, but perhaps it should be first. God gets thanked almost every time (along with moms, dads, coaches, etc.), and the speeches are brief and often heartfelt. Mind you, these guys are, in many ways, as much spoiled millionaires as actors, but perhaps the fact that they play a physically punishing, demanding game that humbles you each and every day helps more of them keep perspective. Thus far, NOBODY has mentioned politics.
Here’s my favorite from this year, an honor to a talented, deserving, upstanding young man:
The NFL Honors is two hours long, in and out. Snappy, fun, sometimes touching and always entertaining. Take a clue, Oscars.
Just like in the NFL (often cited as meaning “Not for Long”), fame is fleeting, but life can be long. Plenty of NFLers stumble and fall, but plenty others are good guys, often men of faith, who are fierce competitors on field but husbands, fathers and community leaders off field. It’s nice to see them get some recognition, instead of just the guys who get in trouble.
Whatever you wear on the red carpet, humility’s always a good look — and a respect for God. As Catholic former NFL star Matt Birk once told me, “The game will bring you to your knees, so you might as well start there.”