NEW YORK -- Players entering their 10th season, coming off a
major injury and in the midst of a position change rarely make an
Ellis went from non-factor in Dallas to a dominator in his new
position after spending most of his career as a defensive end. He
had 12½ sacks, forming a dynamic pass-rushing force with All-Pro
linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
"It's been great," Ellis said. "I thank God for blessing me,
letting me get out there and have a good support group, starting
from the doctors. We have good people here, the coaches have done a
good job working me back into it. They've been telling me, 'You're
fine, you're fine.' It was just getting the confidence to get out
there and do it."
He did it so well that Ellis drew 12 votes from a nationwide
panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. In a
season marked by strong comebacks, Ellis beat New England Patriots wide
receiver Randy Moss, who was chosen on 10 ballots, and Pittsburgh Steelers
quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, selected on seven.
Ellis is the first Cowboy and also the first linebacker to win
the award, which went to Jets quarterback Chad Pennington last
"Guys will tell you the correct thing -- you don't seek after
those awards," Ellis said. "But when you're blessed to get any
award on a national level ... our [linebackers] coach, Paul
Pasqualoni, says the respect of the game is one of the reasons
everybody in the NFL plays. And he's right.
"So once you've got the respect of everybody in the country, if
you will, at doing something -- whether it's for your efforts on
coming back or for your just play on the field, whatever it is --
it's a great award to get, obviously."
Ellis became a starter as a rookie in 1998 after being selected
in the first round (eighth overall) out of North Carolina. He has
had a knack for finding fumbles, and he has 69 sacks in his career.
He also averaged 64 tackles in his first eight seasons as an end,
and he had eight sacks in 2005, his first year in a 3-4 defense.
But nine games into the 2006 season, Ellis tore his Achilles
tendon, one of the most debilitating of all injuries for a football
Even Ellis doubted his comeback at times.
"Oh, yeah," he said with a laugh. "It went through two
phases, really, two phases where I felt like that's going to be it.
When it first happened, I felt like that's probably going to do it
for me, because I'm familiar with the Achilles and know guys who
have torn it before. The guys I knew, most hadn't returned back to
that same rare form that they were before they left the game.
"Then the second time was in training camp. Everything started
going good. I started rehabbing here, then I got to training camp
and started to have pain around the heel part of it."
So Ellis stopped practicing and wound up missing the first three
games this season as the Cowboys slowly brought him along. But when
he got back on the field, Ellis was a revelation. He had 1½ sacks
in his first game, then two sacks in his first start.
"I have seen him out there week in and week out working really
hard," Ware said. "To see him come back and contribute even more
after that injury, it shows the courage that he has.
"He's sort of a like a DE/LB -- he's two players playing in the
4-3 and in the 3-4. He contributes on both. Just to have him out
there is a really big deal."
Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre got five votes, as did
Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram earned three and his teammate, defensive end Patrick Kerney,
got two. So did Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson.
Drawing one vote apiece were New York Giants receiver Amani Toomer,
Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams and
Washington Redskins defensive end Andre Carter.