SAN FRANCISCO -- For his commitment to improving the lives of children, 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin won the NFL's top honor for community service Saturday night.
Boldin captured the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award during the NFL Honors Awards Ceremony at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
Boldin accepted the award by recounting his evolution from brash young rookie to someone who could see beyond the playing field.
"When I first got into the NFL, nobody could tell me anything -- I had achieved my dream," he said. "But I soon realized that it's not what life was all about.
"I realized that my purpose in life wasn't to make it to the NFL and score touchdowns. God put me on this earth for something much bigger than that."
A $55,000 donation will be made in Boldin's name to the charity of his choice. Runners-up Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints will each receive $11,000 donations.
Boldin, 35, recently completed his third season in San Francisco and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He started the Anquan Boldin (Q81) Foundation 12 years ago and since then also has provided college scholarships, taken kids on holiday shopping sprees and served Thanksgiving meals for thousands of families. He has flown to Ethiopia to study its drought problems and to Senegal to champion the rights of poor mining families.
"I know I'm here receiving this award, but there should be a line of people alongside of me because my foundation doesn't work without them," Boldin said.
Actor Rob Lowe presented Boldin and saluted the lessons the player learned while growing up in Pahokee, Florida. "Muck City, they call it," Lowe said. "And for generations, the Boldins have opened their home to anyone who needed it.
"Anquan lives that tradition every day."
Len Dawson, who won the NFL Man of the Year honors in 1973, was on hand for the ceremony Saturday. The former Kansas City Chiefs star said the award still has a special place in his heart.
"It shows that we aren't just football players," Dawson, 80, said. "We're people who are concerned about a lot of things that don't involve football.
"Particularly at the quarterback position, people know who you are. So if you can do something to help other people, then that's the thing to do."
The finalists were chosen by a panel of judges made up of commissioner Roger Goodell, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, sports writer Peter King, Connie Payton (widow of Walter Payton), former players Anthony Munoz and LaDainian Tomlinson and last year's winner, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.