Playing in his native state last year for the first time since his days at Hilliard High School, Browns receiver/safety Mike Furrey was named one of three finalists Sunday for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
The 2009 award has a distinct Ohio flavor. Also selected as finalists were Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, a Cleveland native and product of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and John Carroll University, and Chiefs guard Brian Waters.
The winner will be announced live on CBS before Super Bowl XLIV Feb. 7. The three will be saluted during a press conference with Payton's family in South Florida on Feb. 5.
Furrey is the first Browns player to be selected as a finalist for the Payton award since the team returned in 1999. It recognizes a player's community service activities and playing excellence. Furrey started on both offense and defense, contributing 23 catches for 170 yards along with 14 tackles and two passes defensed.
Furrey was also the Browns' nominee for the Ed Block Courage Award.
''The Browns are thrilled that Mike Furrey is among the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which in my mind is one of the most prestigious individual honors because of what it stands for,'' Browns president Mike Holmgren said in a statement. ''Mike epitomizes what it means to be a true professional athlete. His tireless efforts on the field and in the community are inspirational, and we are proud that he is a member of the Cleveland Browns.''
Furrey said in a statement, ''It’s an honor to even be in the category, let alone be in the final three for this award. To be able to go down to the Super Bowl and represent the Browns is a huge honor.''
The finalists will receive a $5,000 donation to the charity of their choice, with an additional $20,000 going to the winner's charity. Each team representative earns $1,000 for his charity.
A seven-year veteran signed as a free agent in May after playing in Detroit and St. Louis, Furrey threw himself into community causes. Among those he supported were the Cleveland Foodbank, Cleveland Christian Home, Cleveland Clinic Rehab Hospital and NFL Hometown Huddle.
He made frequent school visits and is the spokesperson for Children’s Hunger Alliance. He also created a gameday ticket program for those receiving help from the Cleveland Clinic Hospital for Rehabilitation, City Mission and the Cleveland Christian Home. As well as getting tickets, ''Furrey's Fanatics'' received food vouchers, game programs and custom shirts.
Furrey was also a driving force in the Browns' Toys for Tots effort, which raised $45,500 worth of toys.
''I never felt it’s something we should be getting rewarded for. I
believe it’s something we should be doing every day,'' Furrey said in December when he learned he was the Browns' Payton nominee. ''When you're blessed to be in this league, it’s great to be out in the community to give back and serve and help others that might not have that foundation you had growing up.''
A native of Galion, Ohio, Furrey said he and his wife Koren adapted to Cleveland quickly.
''A lot of things clicked real well in this community, we picked up on a lot
of things and it’s been great,'' he said last month.
Current and former NFL commissioners Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue were on the committee that selected the finalists, along with Connie Payton, retired players Frank Gifford, Anthony Munoz and George Martin, 2008 winner Kurt Warner and Peter King of Sports Illustrated.