The Saints have a knack for making fans cheer with their Sunday afternoon heroics — from a big hit on defense to a long touchdown pass.
On Monday, they earned similar praise by offering a helping hand for the holidays.
Receiver Robert Meachem and a group of Saints teammates hosted an annual toy giveaway, which included bikes distributed to 160 underprivileged children, purchased through team partner Academy Sports + Outdoors. With assistance from local Marines Forces Reserve, approximately 5,000 toys were given away at the Saints Practice Facility.
Later in the evening, Will Smith and his wife, Racquel, hosted their annual “Santa With the Smiths” holiday party benefiting Kingsley House. Twenty families from the program received a tour of the facility, a holiday meal and gifts.
The two events highlighted several days of charity efforts for the Saints.
“For me, I just want to make kids smile and help Santa drop off a few early presents, help some parents in a time of need,” said Meachem, back with the Saints this season after one year with the San Diego Chargers. He was originally drafted by the Saints in 2007.
Meachem said this event and others like it weren’t about rewards. They were about giving. Which is partly true.
For such generosity also helps to soothe tough moments in their lives. While Christmas presents for the families of Saints players aren’t an issue, clinching a playoff spot has become one for the players. Back-to-back losses, including Sunday’s 17-13 setback at Carolina threatens to waste Rob Ryan’s defensive renaissance efforts and derail coach Sean Payton’s first season back with the franchise after a year-long Bountygate suspension in 2012.
The Saints (10-5) will practice on Christmas in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tampa Bay (4-11) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A victory sends the Saints to the NFC playoffs. A loss, coupled by an Arizona (10-5) victory against San Francisco, ends the Saints season. (The Saints will also earn playoff berth if they lose and the 49ers win).
“The loss ... really stinks,” punter Thomas Morstead said. “So it’s nice to kind of get your priorities in check a little bit. This game’s important to all of us, obviously important to the city of New Orleans.
“But when you see some of these kids that don’t have much get a Christmas present that they really, really love, it’s pretty neat to see.”
Hours after receiver Lance Moore told local media that the Saints “just haven’t played well enough to win,” a telling statement so late in the season, he was posing for pictures with hundreds of fans, along with team owners Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, defensive end Cameron Jordan, Saints ambassador Michael Lewis and others.
This is all new for receiver Kenny Stills, a rookie from Oklahoma, who also took his share of pictures. This will be his first Christmas away from most of his family in San Diego, his hometown.
Still, he’s living his football dream, which includes being a part of moments like this.
“That’s why I made an effort to be at all the Christmas events this year,” he said. “It’s just great that we can be surrounded by such a great community and such great fans.”