PHOENIX -- The kids didn’t know what to do.
One by one, as Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu pulled up to their Phoenix homes on Monday night, they watched as the Honey Badger emerged from his vehicle. Others answered the door to find one of the NFL's top defensive players standing in their doorway. And all of them had a variation of the same reaction.
“Oh, s---,” said one boy in tears as he realized who had just pulled up to his house to deliver an early Christmas gift.
Partnering with Heart for the City -- an organization Mathieu has been involved with for two years that offers sports programs, after-school and summer programs, workforce development and more to the inner-city youth of Phoenix -- the Cardinals star handed out $10,000 worth of his own money in food, gifts and cash to 10 children in nine different homes in need of a boost during the holiday season. Each family received two hams, a bag of potatoes, a bag of oranges, rolls and a container of juice. Then Mathieu handed out gifts, from plush animals to bicycles to Cardinals clothing, based on the child’s age and family makeup. A total of $1,000 was allocated to each child, and what remained after the food and gifts -- an average of about $800 -- was put on a cash card for the families to use.
“I like seeing people happy, I like seeing people smile and I like families together, enjoying each other,” Mathieu said. “So that’s the ultimate reason why I do it.”
Mathieu was welcomed with hugs from kids and their family members throughout the evening. Some were excited that an NFL player was standing in their living room. Others were grateful for the help during the holidays. One father, overwhelmed to the brink of tears, thanked Mathieu three times after Mathieu gave him a cash card.
“Anytime you see parents break down or parents cry, it’s always for genuine reasons,” Mathieu said. “Those moments would probably be the moments that stick with me the most, are the moments that I find myself thinking about all the time.”
Mathieu said he doesn’t get anything else besides the satisfaction of helping others, adding that he tried to give back long before he had the fame and fortune he currently possesses. But now that he’s in a position to help others financially, he wants to take advantage of it.
“I’m just really blessed to be in the position I’m in,” Mathieu said. “I’ve always wanted to see other people smile, so this is something that I like to do.”
It didn’t matter which house he pulled up to, the reactions were, in large part, similar.
At the first stop, when the boy came to the front door, he just stood and stared at Mathieu, scratching his head while taking deep breath after deep breath.
“Dang,” he said. “I’m shocked.”
Another boy quickly told Mathieu he was his favorite player.
Another reaction was pure awe: “That’s Tyrann Mathieu.”
A lot of hugs were handed out, not just by the kids he was there to see, but by their mothers and grandmothers who were thankful not just for the financial help Mathieu provided, but for his taking the time to see their children.
“Christmas is always a good time,” Mathieu said. “For me, it was all about enjoying family. It wasn’t necessarily about receiving gifts most of the time. It was just one of those days where you knew you were able to see all your family. You see all your cousins. Everybody would be outside playing football.”
As Mathieu was walking out of one house, a mother shared him two parting words: “Bless you.”
A lot of photos were taken as he went from house to house. Families wanted to document the moment, moving themselves around to get every photo arrangement possible.
One girl couldn’t help herself when Mathieu walked in.
“Oh, my gosh, can I just give you a hug?” she asked excitedly.
But for all the genuine pleasure the families shared, there was also a comedic moment of genuine honesty from one mother: “I was picturing him more big,” she said.