posted on Feb, 4 2005 @ 07:36 PM
Warrick Dunn named NFL's Man of the Year
JACKSONVILLE (AP) — Warrick Dunn's best friend — his mom — died before realizing a dream of becoming a homeowner, leaving her heartbroken
18-year-old son to raise five younger brothers and sisters.
The Atlanta Falcons running back smiled Friday while recalling his mother, Betty Smothers, a single parent and police officer killed in the line of
duty in 1993, as a mentor who taught him humility and compassion.
"I'm soft-spoken. I used to sound just like her, so I could imitate her on the phone. That's how close I think we were. ... If I put on a wig, you
were pretty much looking at my mom," Dunn said after being selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
"She gave me the best 18 years of my life. She was my best friend. She taught me everything about life. I lost a lot when I lost her," he said.
Through his "Home For The Holidays" program, created during his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997, the three-time, 1,000-yard runner
has found a way to honor his mother's memory.
So far, he has helped 52 single moms become first-time homeowners by making the down payments on fully furnished homes in Tampa, Atlanta and his
hometown of Baton Rouge
The initiative has been so successful that several other NFL players have contacted Dunn for guidance in setting up similar programs.
Payton's widow, Connie, made a rare trip to the award presentation ceremony, describing the 30-year-old as a thoughtful, loving and caring person who
is "truly someone put on this earth to make a difference."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called Dunn, who signed a $28 million contract with Atlanta three years ago, a "winner in the Super Bowl of life."
"Warrick holds himself to a higher standard. He's not about flash, he's about quiet dignity. ... Every sports team, every professional sports player
should take a page from Warrick's book of life," Blank said.
Dunn rushed for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns this season, helping the Falcons reach the NFC championship game, where they lost to the Philadelphia
Eagles. He also averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored three TDs in two playoff games.
The eighth-year pro thanked his grandmother and youth league coach for helping instill the values, commitment and drive necessary to keep his family
together following his mother's death.
Dunn also cited Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for being a "guiding light" at a critical time in his life and former Bucs coach Tony Dungy for
encouraging him to be active in the community.
"I don't think I'd be here today without coach Dungy. He challenges his players to give back," Dunn said, adding that the mothers and children he's
helped also have been a source of inspiration.
"To see the looks on their faces when you hand over the keys would convince anyone in this room that they are doing the right thing."