At left, Jenna tries to decide on gift ideas for herself as she shops Thursday with Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward during the 'Shop with a Jock' at Walmart, off W. Mason, in Green Bay. Walmart hosted Ryan Pickett, along with other Packers players, and 50 children from American Foundation of Counseling Services and Family Services at his annual holiday event. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
A young boy named Jayquon shops with Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly during the 'Shop with a Jock' at Walmart. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
For one night in one place, in a city crazy about its NFL team, the only football that mattered was in a cardboard box wedged into the corner of a shopping cart.
The box was surrounded by Barbie dolls. And everyone, even the football players, was OK with that.
Sure, the man pushing the cart, Casey Hayward, gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to be a cornerback for the Green Bay Packers. And sure, the shoppers doing double-takes at Hayward and the teammates who joined him Thursday to lead flocks of children around Green Bay’s West Mason Street Walmart knew that the men with the oversized bodies, oversized clothing and oversized smiles play football for the city’s team,.
But that wasn’t the most important thing, either. At this moment, it was about helping a girl named Jenna find a Batman toy for her brother’s Christmas gift — and the message that helping her sent.
“I remember being a little kid, and wanting all the toys that I couldn’t get,” said Hayward, who has endured a frustrating football season, much of it lost to injury. Then he helped Jenna and fellow bundles of quiet energy pick out Barbies — and that lone football — to brighten their Christmases. And smiled.
“I just love kids,” he said, “and giving back to the kids.”
So does teammate Ryan Pickett, whose foundation helped bring Hayward and a half-dozen teammates together with 50 children at Walmart to make certain there would be some toys for those children and maybe their brothers and sisters. Using $5,000 worth of gift cards donated by Walmart, the players helped buy a nail salon for Lilly and score some Play-Doh for Grace and to locate some Beats headphones for A.J. and fill a shopping cart with Legos for the quiet child hiding behind one of Jerel Worthy’s tree-trunk legs and ... you get the idea.
“A lot of these kids don’t have very much,” said Ansley Fous, a California publicist who works with the Ryan Pickett Foundation on the shopping spree and a charity golf tournament. “We want the focus (Thursday) to be on them.”
And so it was.
Packers fan Andrew Williams of Marinette, shopping at Walmart on Thursday night, recognized after a few moments that the 325-pound man beneath the blue Houston Astros hat was defensive lineman Johnny Jolly. And that Jolly was doing something extremely important for the Green Bay community.
Even if there was no football in Jolly’s shopping cart.
“Good job, Johnny,” Williams said, walking up to the player. “It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing for these kids. They’ll never forget it. And I know I won’t.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PGDougSchneider