The NFL's 10 Best Brand Ambassadors
It's easy to forget in a world of athlete arrests and scandals that there are many NFL players who strive to do the right thing both on and off the field.
Whether it's playing the game with integrity or being involved in charity work, these players serve as great ambassadors to the game for many people who would otherwise consider the league to be nothing more than big guys running into each other mindlessly.
Here are the league's top 10 brand ambassadors.
Just on his play alone, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is a great role model for young fans and future players of the game.
His play is aggressive, but not over the top. He can be physical, but not cheap. He's a great player, and an even better leader.
However, Willis may be an even better role model for his life and work off of the football field (as shown in this excellent profile of Willis in the attached video).
As the video shows, he had every opportunity to leave the game as adversity came his way, but he persevered and was able to reach the peak of the game.
That's something any fan can be happy to cheer for.
While we may not know a huge amount about the personal life of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, everything we learn about him is positive. Reed is involved in several charitable projects both in Baltimore and his hometown of St. Rose, Louisiana.
That kind of off-the-field work pairs nicely with a likely Hall of Fame career, in which his tape study and excellent mechanics have always left him a step ahead of opposing quarterbacks. His focused play has earned him trips to the last six Pro Bowls.
Whether it's for his explosive play or his long mane, it's tough not to focus on Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
An aggressive tackler and playmaker, he's also worked to improve himself off the field. During last year's lockout, he went back to his alma mater USC and finished his diploma.
He's also recognized for being a man of intense spiritual faith, and can be seen frequently praying quietly on the sidelines, without much fan fare.
In addition to his tremendous amount of success in leading the Packers (including a Super Bowl victory and a league MVP title), Rodgers has been able to keep attention to his actions on the field.
Look for Rodgers to continue his passing dominance for a long time.
Eli Manning/Peyton Manning
When it comes to success, it's all in the family for quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning (which is why they're down as one person for this list).
The sons of former star quarterback Archie Manning, the pair have put together impressive resumes of their own through their pro careers.
Both have won a Super Bowl (Eli just won his second this past season), both have attended multiple Pro Bowls and both are considered among the game's best.
Beyond their excellent football careers, both have shown a comedic side off the field which comes out in ads like the attached video, or this ad for Oreos.
For his part, Peyton put together one of the best guest hosting jobs for an athlete in Saturday Night Live history.
One of the league's best talents, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is also one of the league's most interesting and marketable players.
On the field, Brady has put together a likely Hall of Fame resume, including multiple Super Bowl championships. Off the field, his marriage to Gisele Bundchen made him recognizable to a large number of people who may have never cared to think about football.
Brady put up another great season in New England this past season, falling just short in the Super Bowl. With his seemingly ageless talent and hard work, it's tough to imagine Brady not getting more chances to add more titles to his impressive resume.
It's tough to hear about the actions of players like Braylon Edwards (included in the attached video) and not be encouraged at how generous people can be.
Edwards last year fulfilled a promise to help fund the college tuition for about 100 Cleveland-area youth, which came with requirements for community service and maintaining an acceptable GPA.
The $1 million he spent to help the kids matched almost his entire salary for 2011 with the San Francisco 49ers, who unfortunately cut him toward the end of the regular season.
Those students now find themselves on the way to improving their lives, and for many of them it would not have been possible without Edwards' generosity.
It's tough to have a list like this and not include New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
His open displays of faith may have become his visual trademark (Tebowing anyone?), but his hard work and determination on the football field have garnered him praise from fans, teammates and the rest of the league community.
Few stories can top that of New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was able to earn his way into the league even after being diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma (a form of bone cancer) while in school at Boston College.
Herzlich stayed around his college team and the game even as he was sidelined for a season to take in treatment, helping to raise money and awareness about cancer research.
With successful treatment of his cancer, Herzlich was able to return to his team, and after leaving school he signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
As a cherry on top of this encouraging story sundae, Herzlich was a part of a New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl this past season.
While the New Orleans Saints may be going through strife given the serious allegations against their former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, there's no denying the character of their quarterback Drew Brees.
The face of the franchise's emergence following Hurricane Katrina, Brees' play and work in the community have endeared him to Saints fans for life.
With questions looming about the future of the organization, fans should have some hope for the team's success as long as Brees stays under center.