ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Last month, Dion Dawkins went over to Highmark Stadium to deliver the happy news to John Lang — more popularly known around town as ‘Bills Elvis’ — that he had been chosen as the Bills nominee for the NFL Fan of the Year award.
Lang then turned to Dawkins and told him he had a surprise of his own: Dion had been selected as the Bills’ nominee for the NFL’s prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“I was in complete shock,” Dawkins said Wednesday after practice in the Bills’ fieldhouse. “I’m usually really good with figuring out surprises, because I hate surprises. They definitely caught me in a vulnerable state.”
The award, which was established in 1970, was renamed in 1999 for Walter Payton, the late Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears. It honors players for their impact in the community and on the playing field.
The NFL announced this year’s 32 nominees — one from each team — on Tuesday. The winner receives a $250,000 donated to his charity of choice. All other 31 nominees get up to $40,000 donated to their designated charity.
“You know me. It means everything,” said Dawkins, who missed last Thursday’s win in New England with an ankle sprain. “Honestly, it’s probably the biggest achievement that I’ve ever received.
“I really live my life on being the best person I can possibly be,” he said. “I know I’m far from perfect, but I try to treat people right. Sometimes, I’m wrong, but I try to be as open and vulnerable as possible, so people can relate and feel my true self.”
Dawkins started the Dion’s Dreamers Foundation, which supports young people suffering mental, physical and financial hardship in underserved communities. He’s been active in many neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo.
After the mass shooting at the Tops Market on May 14, Dawkins and his teammates reached out to residents in the East Buffalo community. He hosted a cornhole and kickball tournament that raised over $20,000 for the victims. The proceeds were donated to the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund and the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund.
Dawkins has helped Buffalo native and former U.S. bobsled gold-medalist Steve Mesler with his Classroom Champions initiative, which has provided grants for Western New York schools. Dawkins showed one class how to make his famous mac and cheese.
In fact, Dion has his own signature dish at Mooney’s Bar and Grill in Buffalo, called the “Shnow Mac.” The proceeds go to the non-profit ‘Rooted in Love’ foundation, which provides shelter for the homeless population in the city.
“It’s great to be acknowledged for just being me. I’m getting recognition for being myself,” Dawkins said. “That’s just me. I’m a people person. I like helping people and I love being in a community.
“I like being places where players might not always be — like, ‘Wow, Dion’s here!’ Places where I can be me and be free and take it to a different level. I’m like you, and I’m here because I care.”