Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk was named the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year on Saturday, recognizing him for community service.
Birk, who spent 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection while in Minnesota, promotes the importance of education and started the "Ready, Set, Read!" program, an initiative of his H.I.K.E. Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education), which reaches close to 100,000 kids in the Baltimore Area. The Harvard has been an eight-time nominee for the award, seven times as a member of the Vikings.
"I am honored and truly humbled to be named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year," Birk said is a statement. "This award is not about the recipient but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive and lasting impact in the communities in which they work and live.
"Walter Payton left a legacy that went beyond the playing field. He continues to be an inspiration and example of what a complete NFL player should aspire to become. I am grateful to have played for two organizations, the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, which encourage and support their players' community efforts. I have always considered it a privilege to play in the NFL and serve the communities that support our game."
Madieu Williams, who was with the Vikings at the time, was honored as the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2010.
Birk, a soon-to-be free agent, has been an anchor on the Baltimore offensive line since leaving Minnesota after the 2008 season. He has played in 96 consecutive games and just finished his 13th NFL season.
Birk, 35, will be honored by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Jarrett and Brittney Payton, the late Walter Payton's children, on the field Sunday before the kickoff of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman were also finalists for the award.