Richard Collier was a 26-year-old left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars when he was the victim of a drive-by shooting last year. The 14 gunshot wounds left Collier paralyzed and cost him one of his legs. He went from prime-of-life athlete to wheelchair-bound crime victim in one awful moment.
His Jaguars teammates acknowledged Collier's will to survive by voting him winner of their Ed Block Courage Award.
The Chicago Bears elected defensive lineman Israel Idonije, whose foundation focuses on promoting education and staying in school for at-risk youths, and who traveled to Africa two years in a row to provide college scholarships.
Here's what Idonije said about the award: "It's an honor. I've been fortunate to receive it, but there are a lot of people that come together to make all the good stuff happen within the community."
The Cleveland Browns chose wide receiver Mike Furrey because of his extensive community work. Furrey, too, was humbled and gave credit to the many less-heralded people whose selflessness isn't recognized.
"I don't think it's something I deserve," Furrey said.
Yesterday, the Eagles announced that they had voted the annual team award to backup quarterback Michael Vick. Here's what Vick had to say: "I've had to overcome a lot, probably more than one single individual can handle or can bear. You take a look at what I've been through, you ask certain people to walk in my shoes, they probably couldn't do it. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world - because nobody had to endure what I've been through, situations I've been put in, situations I've placed myself in."
After serving under Gen. George S. Patton in World War II (and receiving a Purple Heart for being wounded), Ed Block became the athletic trainer for the old Baltimore Colts franchise. He advocated for education and certification among trainers, and he donated his knowledge and expertise to help disabled children.
The Courage awards have been given to a player from each NFL team for a quarter-century. They are often given to players who return from serious injuries - Correll Buckhalter was the Eagles' recipient a couple of years ago - or who have had to overcome personal tragedies or obstacles. Last year, Eagles players voted for long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, whose mother was murdered by his father when he was 12 years old.
According to the Ed Block Foundation Web site (edblock.org), the awards are meant to recognize courage, commitment to sportsmanship, and community service.
Let's be clear here. The foundation doesn't choose the award winners. The NFL has nothing to do with it. The Eagles' front office and coaching staff does not nominate or choose the winner. The trainers have no say.
It is the players who vote, and the Eagles players selected Michael Vick.
Not Jeremiah Trotter, who came out of retirement, accepted whatever role the coaches gave him and worked his way back into the starting lineup.
Not Todd Herremans, who has played remarkably at both guard and left tackle after being forced to use a little cart under his left leg after knee surgery in September.
Not Brian Westbrook, who had surgeries on his knee and ankle in the off-season and is trying to return after two concussions in one month.
Not Antonio Dixon, a long-shot undrafted free agent defensive lineman who was homeless as a child.
No. The Eagles chose to recognize Vick for "what he's been through," as head coach Andy Reid put it.
And, hey, Vick has been through a lot. He was identified early as a remarkably gifted athlete and treated special throughout his high school years. He was handed a full scholarship to Virginia Tech. After playing just two years there, he was taken with the very first pick in the 2000 NFL draft.
The Atlanta Falcons gave him a six-year, $62 million contract before he ever played a down for them. They tore that up four years later and gave him what was the biggest deal in NFL history at the time: $130 million, including $37 million in bonuses, over 10 years.
Vick overcame all of this privilege and good fortune, winding up bankrupt and incarcerated in federal prison after running an ongoing illegal dogfighting operation. He has since demonstrated the courage to accept a million dollars from the Eagles in an effort to rehab his image and resurrect his very lucrative career.
There are those who think Vick deserves this second chance and those who think his brutal actions should make him a pariah. It's hard to believe anyone thinks he deserves an award for courage or character.
"I don't expect everyone to understand," Reid said.
The shame of it is that Ed Block isn't around any more. It would be entertaining to watch Reid and Vick and Donovan McNabb and the rest of them explain this to him.