Fans are always finding new ways to show their appreciation for the athletes they love.

We buy jerseys, wear wigs, spend hours in the backyard trying to imitate a player's signature move. A bunch of us name our pets after them; a few name our children the same way.

But the NFL's latest trend is by far the best. Fans all over the league, inspired by both friend and foe, are pouring money into players' foundations and charities, allowing split-second actions that happen on the field to have a lasting impact off of it.

Children's Minnesota, a nonprofit network of children's hospitals and medical facilities, finds itself the recipient of one of those movements this week, sparked by a punter who has spent his entire career in a Saints uniform.

A tackle, torn rib cartilage, a heart-breaking playoff loss, a ridiculous NFL rule and a couple of handshakes have inspired 5,479 people — mostly Minnesota Vikings fans — to donate $221,143 to Thomas Morstead's foundation, What You Give Will Grow, in the span of five days.

Morstead never saw anything like this coming.

"Of course not," he said. "Nobody sees this happening. I didn't think I did anything extraordinary in the game that would warrant this, but it's been a crazy week."

Vikings fans are not the first to put their money where a player's heart is.

Fantasy football players who won championships across the country this year donated portions of their winnings to the charities championed by players who helped their teams, including as much as $10,500 in honor of Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley.

Buffalo Bills fans took that idea to another level. When Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tossed a last-minute touchdown pass to beat the Baltimore Ravens and send Buffalo into the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, Bills fans responded by pouring more than $300,000 into the quarterback's foundation. Bengals fans, in turn, did the same thing on a much smaller scale for Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles after the Jaguars' victory over Cincinnati's rival Pittsburgh.

Morstead might be the first player to inspire such an outpouring of support in a losing cause. One of the last Saints into the locker room Sunday after Minnesota's heart-breaking touchdown as time expired, Morstead then trotted back onto the field for the NFL-mandated conversion try, shaking a few Viking hands at the line of scrimmage.

A Minnesota fan started a movement on Reddit, and the next thing Morstead knew, he was promising to come back and deliver a check personally if the amount he took in this week topped $100,000. 

That goal fell swiftly as the movement swept Minnesota, galvanized by the punter's promise to bring the donations back to the state of their origin. Fourth-grade kids collected money in class; the Saints and Vikings organizations combined to pitch in $10,000.

Even Saints coach Sean Payton, lightly jabbed by a Minnesota furniture store that offered him a free couch to watch the NFC championship game in response to Payton's Skol clap to mock Minnesota fans late in the game, extended an olive branch to Vikings by donating both the couch and $25,000 to Children's Minnesota.

Morstead has been overwhelmed.

"This is by far the biggest amount of money we've raised for one event for the things that we do," Morstead said. 

Movements like the one that swept up Morstead this week should happen more often. 

Athletes draw a lot of flak from fans for a lot of reasons, but when it comes to charity, most of them are a lot like the rest of us. When they choose a cause, they choose it because it is close to their hearts.

What You Give Will Grow has focused heavily on child-life programs because of the inspiration of James Ragan, a friend of Morstead's who died at age 20 from pediatric bone cancer and osteosarcoma. Ragan told Morstead how much child life had helped him get through treatment; those stories always stuck with the Saints punter.

But starting a foundation is no easy task.

"It's not for everybody," Morstead said. "It's very tough to get a foundation going, just logistically and expense-wise. The IRS doesn't get to touch the money, so the restrictions on it are extreme."

Morstead started What You Give Will Grow once he felt established in New Orleans. Over the years, the foundation has given more than $2.5 million worth of money and goods to a wide variety of causes. 

That's real impact on real people. 

Children's Minnesota released a video Friday showing an endless stream of kids, parents and staff thanking Morstead and Vikings fans for their efforts.

What a wonderful impact to come out of a football game. 

Maybe it shouldn't be the only one.

Mark Ingram, who turned in the best season of his career for the Saints this season, operates his own foundation, aimed at helping the kids of incarcerated parents. Drew Brees has the Brees Dream Foundation to help cancer patients. Kenny Vaccaro is trying to get the Kenny Vaccaro Foundation, aimed at providing better education for economically challenged kids, off the ground.

And it's not just the players who have been able to establish foundations. Up and down the roster, almost all of the Saints who took the city of New Orleans back to the playoffs have a charitable cause close to their hearts. 

A good way to say thanks for this season might be sending a few bucks to the causes they value most.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.