LOS ANGELES – Growing up, Jarrett Payton remembers his father's fearless and physical running style on the football field.
He also remembers how his father, former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, was so generous off the field.
Jarrett Payton has seen some of the same qualities in Titans running back Derrick Henry, and he thinks his father would've been a big fan.
"I know for a fact, that if my dad were still around, Derrick Henry would be one of the guys that he would talk about and marvel over because of the way he plays the game, because you just don't see it in this day and age," Payton, a former Titans running back who is now a radio analyst at WGN-Chicago, said this week on Super Bowl LVI Radio Row.
"(Off the field), in some ways he is that gentle giant. The way that he plays on the football field, it's ferocious, and with a lot of grit. But off the field he has a kind heart, and it's the reason he was nominated for the Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
"Nashville is really, really lucky to have him."
During the season, Henry was announced as the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2021.
Considered one of the league's most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league's 32 nominees were announced during the season, and the overall winner was announced here on Thursday night at NFL Honors. Rams lineman Andrew Whitworth was named the overall league winner on Thursday night.
Henry, in town for activities leading up to Super Bowl LVI, seemed touched by the compliment from Jarrett Payton, whose father was a five-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears. Walter Payton guided the Bears to a win in Super Bowl XX. He died in 1999 at the young age of 45.
"I have seen Walter Payton's highlights and know what kind of player he was," Henry said. "I feel like that's what every running back should strive to be – a beast on the field, and a beast in the community by giving back and making a great impact on the lives of others. Even since he's passed, he still has a great impact on this world today.
"As a football player, while we have this platform, I feel like it is important to give back and help others."
Over the years, Henry has shown dedication and commitment to community efforts.
Some examples of Henry's generosity:
-In March 2021, Henry made a $10,000 donation from his Two All Foundation to Jeremy Taylor, a Nashville firefighter who lost his family home and all their belongings in a fire. Taylor, a Titans season ticket holder, was surprised at his fire station with a $15,000 donation -- $10,000 from Henry's 'Two All' Foundation, along with a $5,000 contribution from Campbell's Chunky Soup.
The good deed was prompted by Henry, who saw the news story and asked a member of the Titans organization how he could help. Taylor, his wife Lauren and their daughters, ages 13, 12, 11, and 8, lost everything in the fire.
-In July 2021, for the fourth consecutive year, Henry hosted a back-to-school event in his hometown of Yulee, Florida. Through his Two All Foundation, Henry donated school supplies, backpacks, and bicycles to 200 kids.
-In September 2021, Henry worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee to host a back-to-school event through his Two All Foundation. Through Foundation sponsors and personal donations from Henry, they were able to meet B&GC's goal of providing 5,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children in need, including $50 gift cards to Burlington for 25 children the club identified as the most in-need. Henry also hosted these 25 kids for an in-person, back-to-school shopping day with additional $100 gift cards, reflecting on how he grew up in a boys & girls club and went on to achieve great things. Henry hosted similar events in 2018 and 2019, even one shopping event for Metro Nashville Public School teachers in 2019.
-Also last year, Henry donated $20,000 to CORE Response to support their relief efforts in Haiti following a devastating earthquake.
It continued a trend of giving from Henry, who joined the Titans in 2016.
"It is an honor and a privilege," Henry said. "I just want to make a great impact on others, and I want to do as much as I can to take advantage of this platform. I want to be a great and positive influence in our community and to young kids, to inspire kids to do better and be better. I know that is what I try to do with my Two All Foundation, to level the playing field for the youth, and be a resource for kids and be a light for kids any way possible."
Payton said Henry's generosity makes him proud.
"I love what he does," Payton said of Henry. "He just keeps giving back to the community. He understands where he came from – doesn't forget where he came from – and I think that is what makes him so special."
Payton, who carried the ball 33 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns during the 2005 season with the Titans, said he loves watching Henry play football.
Henry finished the 2021 season with 937 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight regular season games after rushing for 378 times for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020, when he was named the Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year award winner.
"I am amazed every single year I get to watch him play on the football field," Payton said. "You don't see it that often, where teams are so dependent on the run. The way that offenses are created now, everything is about the pass and spreading everything out, and the Titans have done it the old-fashioned way, by running the football.
"Before the injury (this year) he was on a pace that was something crazy. Seeing him come back, I wish he was healthy the whole entire seas because I think that would've changed the dynamics of what the Titans are all about, and it would've given them the opportunity to be here in L.A. But he is phenomenal."