For the second week in a row, large men dressed in red took time out of their busy schedules to greet young girls and boys in need of some extra cheer this holiday season.
Following last week's impactful Special Teams Santas delivery by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Andrew DePaola, Michael Koenen, and Patrick Murray, a huge contingent of Buccaneers players – once again including Murray, as well as Mike Evans, Charles Sims, and the team's Rookie Club – spread holiday cheer to some of their youngest fans currently sidelined by illness at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
"This is what it's all about," said Evans. "We're on a platform now. As professional athletes, that's our duty: to give back to people – people in the hospital having to maybe spend it here at Christmas – and just come and do whatever we can to brighten their day."
Seventeen Buccaneers players, along with Captain Fear and Buccaneers Cheerleaders Ali, Brittany, Jeannie G., and Tricia split up into groups and spread throughout the hospital's seventh and eighth floors to deliver Buccaneers pennants, sign autographs, and visit with patients who are currently hospitalized.
"It means a lot," said Sims. "Just being around the guys, coming and giving back to the kids – it's the holidays so you want to make everybody happy."
Tuesday's visit was part of an annual tradition by the Buccaneers Rookie Club, which wrapped up an eventful season of community activities by traveling across the bay to greet children and families battling challenging circumstances at a tough time of the year.
"It's never fun to be in the hospital over the holidays, so we really work hard to make sure the kids are having a great experience, and one of those reliable factors has always been the Buccaneer rookies because it's been a tradition for many, many years," said hospital spokesperson Roy Adams. They always come on their day off in December and the families light up."
"Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year and some of these kids and their families have to spend their Christmas here," added Evans. "There are some tough families here and some tough kids that we saw today. I couldn't imagine it, so whatever I could do to help, I'm going to do it."
Since entering the NFL, the Buccaneers rookies have participated in a variety of outreach activities as part of an effort to engage the team's youngest players with the local community. The rookie members have helped dedicate Buccaneers Academy Fitness Zones at local schools, greeted military at MacDill Air Force Base, and hosted a PLAY 60 celebration for local students.
For Evans, the visit not only served as a perfect way to wrap up the rookies' community program, but also served as a fitting springboard for future opportunities to make a difference.
"It's bonding and getting us started off on our careers," the wide receiver said. "I want to do things like this throughout my career and do whatever I can to help the community."