By BUDDY MARTIN
Just a couple of days after the gleeful leap of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott into the Salvation Army bucket in the end zone at AT&T Stadium, Steve Spurrier was walking into a Gainesville restaurant when he noticed a bell ringer.
Spurrier, always known as a thrifty man, reached into wallet and found five $1 bills, folded them up and stuffed them into the red kettle.
“I can guarantee you,” daughter Amy would write later on Facebook, “that’s all the money he had with him.”
Spurrier was but one of millions impacted by Elliott’s simple gesture — perhaps even a bit of a prank — that elicited such a positive response from fans and people everywhere.
What was it about Elliott’s antics Sunday night in a win over Tampa Bay that made so many people open their hearts and wallets? Maybe it’s the Christmas season. Maybe it’s the novelty of it. Or maybe to see something so refreshingly unselfish and purposeful after witnessing so many cheesy and often even vulgar touchdown celebrations, the people have spoken. It’s not so much the celebrations we don’t like, it’s the rudeness, self-serving act by overpaid athletes who only want to call attention to themselves.
For some reason, we don’t mind the Lambeau Leap because it appears the Packers’ players are just celebrating with their fans. No penalty for that.
But the NFL just isn’t going allow jumping in buckets. And so the officials assessed a 15-yard penalty.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn’t support the action of the leap and said he understood the difference. “I thought it was creative, but he shouldn’t have done it,” Garrett said. “You have to understand what’s legal and what’s illegal. You can jump into the stands in Green Bay, but you can’t jump into the Salvation Army bucket in Dallas.”
Maybe we’re giving Elliott too much credit. Some suggest he was just the Accidental Philanthropist.
“Funny what he did. He had no idea of the repercussions,” Fox NFL Sunday host Terry Bradshaw said. “Look what it’s turned into. I guarantee you the Salvation Army has collected more money than they ever have. And all because of the simple gesture of jumping into the tub and sticking your head out. It was funny! And I’m glad to see the results are so positive.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggested it was an act of valor and that “the Salvation Army should give him the highest award.” Jones said he was itching for a fight with the NFL and they “would fine the daylights out of me and I’m going to take ’em to the Supreme Court. And we’re gonna get the Salvation Army a lot of notice.”
Later the mic’d up version of the Elliott leap produced this conversation with Tony Romo right after the moment:
“Did you just jump in Salvation Army Bucket?” Romo asked.
“Yeah,” Elliott said.
“You’re stupid!” Romo said with what was described as “a good-natured shove.”
“I had to,” Elliott said after his 13th score of the season. “It’s a classic. Hey, I just broke the rookie touchdown record!”
(Emmitt Smith and Herschel Walker scored 12 for Dallas.)
Entering into the conversation, Garrett said, “You can’t do that! They just threw a flag on you. You see what I’m talking about? It was a hell of a run, though.”
Had there been a fine by the NFL, it might have backfired.
“There could have been a fine,” Bradshaw said. “I’m sure they they (the NFL) thought about it. I guarantee you they thought about it. And there may have been an outpouring of rage against the NFL.”
There were thousands of tweets, almost all positive. Except for the one by Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., already fined four times in his young career, who wrote, “That’s funny there’s no fine for that. I could only imagine if I was the one to do it. Just bein honest.”
Maybe Elliott didn’t realize the impact of his action at first, but he certainly did after the fact when he agreed to donate his own money.
Added Bradshaw: “These young kids are doing so many things. We’ve had all kind of demonstrations at the goal posts. All kinds of fines. But this is the season to be jolly and is about giving and helping.”