CHARLOTTE – It was a comeback for the ages, and children and families battling congenital heart disease are the beneficiaries.
Greg Olsen finished atop the leaderboard in the Walter Payton Man of the Year Charity Challenge, a social media competition to see which of the 32 candidates could generate the most hashtag mentions to earn a $25,000 donation from Nationwide. When the competition ended on Sunday, Olsen's hashtag (#OlsenWPMOYChallenge) had more than a million mentions thanks to an inspired effort from Panthers fans.
An official announcment regarding the winner will be made on January 12.
Olsen had been trailing 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith by about 100,000 mentions entering the final days of the competition. Then came an incredible surge of support for the Panthers tight end.
With the help of teammates like Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, Olsen picked up some steam Saturday. Actor William Shatner chimed in on Twitter to provide an additional boost. The man who famously played Captain Kirk in Star Trek no doubt respects Olsen's courage and dependability under pressure.
Before midnight Saturday, Olsen had taken a substantial lead.
Then "The Rock" entered the ring.
Like Olsen, Dwayne Johnson played college football at Miami, and the star wrestler turned star actor pitched in for a fellow Hurricane. With The Rock in Olsen's corner, it was only a matter of time before Olsen became the people's champion.
In addition to the $25,000 prize from Nationwide, Olsen is making his own personal contribution. Olsen said he would donate one dollar for every retweet up to 25,000. Fans responded by producing more than 32,000 retweets.
After Olsen surpassed one million mentions, head coach Ron Rivera pledged to donate $8,888.88.
The 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will be presented in Houston during NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 4, 2017, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.