The San Francisco 49ers announced its team award winners for the 2008 season on Wednesday.
Three veterans, who are in their first year with the club, were among the five winners.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce won the Len Eshmont Award, defensive lineman Justin Smith was selected as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award, and linebacker Takeo Spikes was chosen as the Hazeltine/Iron Man Award.
Veteran center Eric Heitmann received the Bobb McKittrick award for the third year in a row, while wide receiver Dominique Zeigler won the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award.
The Len Eshmont Award is voted on by each player on the team and is given to the player who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team. Eshmont, who coached at Navy and Virginia following his career in San Francisco, died in 1957. The award was established that year.
Bruce becomes the first wide receiver to win the team's most prestigious award since 1993 when Jerry Rice took home the honor. Bruce also becomes the first player to win the award in his first season with the team since Tony Parrish won the award in his inaugural season in 2002.
"When your peers vote you for anything,it stands out more than anything, because they are around you every day," said Bruce.
Bruce, one of the best receivers to ever play the game, joined San Francisco after playing 14 years with the St. Louis Rams. He leads the team with 52 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns. Bruce now has 14,875 yards and needs 60 yards to move past Tim Brown (14,934) into second place on the NFL's all-time receiving list. He also has 994 career receptions and needs just six more to become the fifth player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions.
The Bill Walsh Award was established in 2004 in honor of San Francisco's Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh. Walsh served as the team's head coach for ten seasons, from 1979-88. In that time, he compiled a record of 102-63-1 and led the team to three Super Bowls Championships. He was twice named Coach of the Year (1981, 1984) and was later named Coach of the Decade for the 1980s. The award, which is voted on by coaches only, is given to the 49ers team MVP, honoring his outstanding individual annual performance.
"I'm honored," said Smith. "Humbled, and just glad I get to play with these guys. I think we have a lot of stuff to build on, especially some of the things we've done defensively the past five or six weeks. It's one of those things we need to carry forward, finish out strong, and build on for next year."
Smith earned MVP honors this year as the big, durable defensive lineman has proven to be a consistent performer both on and off the field. He ranks among the team leaders in sacks (5.0), tackles (86) and leads the team with 51 quarterback pressures. Smith has also recorded an interception on the season.
The Bobb McKittrick Award was established in 1999 in honor of the 49ers long-time offensive line coach. The award is given annually to the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by Coach McKittrick during his 21 years of service with the 49ers.
Heitmann is the first player in team history to win this award for the third straight year. The seven-year offensive lineman out of Stanford has started every game for the second consecutive season.
"It's been great," said Heitmann of winning the award. "It's been great. I was able to play for some offensive linemen who had been coached by him, and just everything you hear is always how great he was."
The Hazeltine Iron Man Award is named for linebacker/center Matt Hazeltine, a 13-year performer who played more seasons at linebacker than any other 49ers player. Known for his durability and dedication, Hazeltine passed away in 1987 from ALS, and Bill Walsh established the award in his honor that year. The award is given annually to the most courageous and inspirational defensive player.
Spikes has fit that bill since joining the 49ers after about a week into training camp. Spikes ranks second on the team in with 106 tackles and leads the team with three interceptions. The 11-year veteran has also added four passes defensed and two forced fumbles on the season.
"It's a big honor," said Spikes. "I didn't realize what I won until a couple of minutes when it was explained to me. It's big, because of what comes behind it - the long hours, the long days that I spend here at the facility on a consistent basis. For it to not go unnoticed is what I'm proud of."
49ers owners Denise and John York established the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award in 2005, which will be presented each season to a rookie or first-year player who best represents the Dream of Thomas Herrion. The award goes to a player, like Thomas, who has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality.
Zeigler, an undrafted free agent out of Baylor has done just that. The wide receiver spent all of 2007, and half of 2008 on the 49ers practice squad before finally getting a chance to suit up in his first regular-season game. That came in the Monday Night Football game against Arizona where Zeigler caught the first ball thrown his way to keep alive the 49ers chances for a comeback. He now has five catches for 97 yards on the season.