WR Keenan McCardell had to send his surprised shoppers back into the aisles several times to get more gifts
Christmas came a day early for 10 kids from the Hillsborough Department of Child Services Foster Care program. Playing the role of Santa: Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Keenan McCardell.
Arriving in his sleigh (a 50-foot limousine) at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning, McCardell picked up Austine, Chamira, Corey, Deonte, Jasmine, Kevin, Shyanne, Stephan, Steven and Tahleek for a Christmas adventure.
McCardell wouldn't tell the children the intended destination as the 'sleigh' drove around Tampa for a short while. As the group pulled up to International Plaza, where a contingent of news crews and the Buccaneers mascot, Captain Fear, joined them, the children still didn't know what lay ahead.
"I wanted to keep it a surprise," said McCardell. "I think it makes it more fun and exciting for the kids."
After a few minutes of fun with Captain Fear, Keenan and the kids headed towards the play area of the mall, which just happens to be in front of a Kay Bee Toy Store. However, the gate to the toy store, like that of the rest of the shops in the mall, was still down at this early hour, so everyone kept busy by playing and indulging in Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
However, the gate to the Kay Bee store was raised a few minutes later and the kids were invited inside. Before they could begin to wander around, McCardell had an announcement for everyone.
"This is your North Pole," said the Bucs wideout. "We all know toys come from the North Pole and today this is going to be our North Pole."
McCardell then explained what he meant: each of the kids had $500 to spend on anything they would like in the entire store, an amount that increased to $600 each when Kay Bee made McCardell a member of its Toy Club and provided a 20% discount on all the morning's purchases.
The kids reacted to McCardell's announcement like…well, kids. As their screams of excitement died down, they were sent scurrying into the toy store's aisles in search of their perfect toys. Throughout the store, Barbies, action figures, baby dolls, Hot Wheels, PlayStation 2's and, of course, footballs were placed into baskets with care.
"Am I dreaming?" asked one of the excited kids of McCardell, who told the boy to pinch himself to find out. The reply: "I already did, but I'm so happy I still think I might be dreaming."
As the baskets were filled, McCardell made the store rounds, gliding from child to child to help make the perfect selections. There was one small problem, however. No one seemed to know just how much $500 worth of toys really was.
That led to a bizarre, repeated scene. Child after child would take their goodies up front to check out, only to be told by an adult to go back and get more!
"We had ten kids and every one of them had to go back at least two or three times," said McCardell.
"This was awesome," said Deonte. "I got everything I wanted, I even got some stuff for some people I know, too."
When the toys were finally bagged and taken back outside to be carried home, the goods proved to be too much to fit into Keenan's sleigh. Fortunately, there were two additional sleighs standing by to help get the toys, and the kids, home.
There was one more stop to make, however. McCardell knew his young shoppers would be hungry so he swung the group to a nearby fast food restaurant and treated everyone to a hearty breakfast. After the meal, the group headed back home to drop off the toys. As the sleighs were unpacked, McCardell took photos and signed Buccaneers pennants for all of the kids.
Finally, Santa McCardell had to depart on his sleigh and return home to plan his family's Christmas with Mrs. Claus, er, McCardell.
"Watching those kids and seeing how much fun they had and how exhausted they were from picking out toys was great," said McCardell. "We had a blast this morning."
Now McCardell knows just how Santa feels.