TAMPA — 'Twas the night after Dallas, when all thro' One Buc, not a creature was stirring …
Who were we kidding?
All kinds of creatures were stirring Monday night.
And it was glorious.
In the dining room at One Buc Place, there was a blizzard of wrapping paper flying everywhere, present unwrapping that, once it began, beat any Bucs player's 40 time.
Watching the children was Santa, who paid for everything.
Santa stood 6 feet 4 and weighed 300 pounds.
Earlier Monday, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had been tired. There was the football game Sunday night. Then the Bucs plane was delayed. The team arrived in Tampa at 5:30 a.m.
"But when I walked in and saw these families, there's no way I couldn't have energy," McCoy said. "All these lives. There's 22 families. Maybe you can change a life."
The event was "McCoy Family Christmas." The McCoy family — McCoy, wife Ebony and their children — reached out to support 22 underserved families, including more than two dozen children, who had been chosen with the help of Metropolitan Ministries and United Way Suncoast.
Wish lists were collected, but the families weren't told what would come next. They were invited to meet with McCoy at One Buc for a tour of the facility.
Does it ever get old, kids coming into a room filled with presents?
The light in those eyes.
It's not always about the business of football. It's about caring. The Bucs and other teams do a lot of that at Christmas. Players do what's in their hearts, and we're all better for it.
"I got everything I wanted," said 12-year-old Curtis Smith. He showed off his Madden football game and NBA 2K17.
"It's an answer to a prayer," said Bridget Hill of Tampa, who sat with her young sons, Daniel and Sir-Devon. "I never met anybody famous. I wanted to cry, but I'm holding back my tears in front of them."
McCoy has sponsored Christmas events before. And it has never been just about footing the bill. McCoy worked the room Monday, asking what everyone got. Sometimes he just stood there to watch children amid a sea of video games and systems, dolls, clothes, baking sets, shoes, remote control cars, footballs, basketballs, Ballerina Barbie, Legos, Star Wars, laptops.
"I always say God blesses us so we can bless others," McCoy said.
It's that simple sometimes.
"My mother and father worked so hard to see we got everything we wanted for Christmas," McCoy said. "But I had friends who weren't like that. They'd come back to school and we'd talk about what we got for Christmas, and certain kids wouldn't get in the conversation. My wife and I wanted to make some kids not to have to go through that."
He remembered his favorite Christmas gift.
"A bike sitting under the tree. I was 8 or 9. That bike, sitting in the corner of the living room, right near the patio door. I went crazy. I wanted a bike. I just lit up."
A woman lingered after the event. Her name was Tierra Jones and she was holding her 3-day-old daughter, Zivaya.
Her other children, Zaria and Zechariah, were playing with their toys.
"This was a special day," Jones said. "It couldn't have come at a better time."
Single mothers weren't left out at the party. Jones mentioned that she had received a Google Chromebook. She had put in on her list. She said she attends Hillsborough Community College. She wants to study nursing.
"Eventually, I'd like to be a neonatal doctor," Jones said. "That's my dream."
McCoy carried a box of toys to the door for a family.
"This was an act of kindness," Jones said. "Christmas is for sharing. But it's more about family and the love. The true meaning of love. That's what we need."
It should be on everyone's wish list.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.