FRISCO, Texas – Dak Prescott’s initial thought in the post-landing glee was to resist.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback had just popped out of a sack early in the fourth quarter, zigzagging in what would become a somersault of a rushing 20-yard touchdown. In their 2018 Thanksgiving game against Washington, the Cowboys were now in the lead. Prescott celebrated with his signature sky kiss, a nod to his late mother, and celebratory hugs with his offensive linemen.
Then running back Ezekiel Elliott ran to the end zone, lifting Prescott in his arms before quickly throwing himself in – donate? – him in the Salvation Army’s red kettle.
“The moment he picked me up, I was like, ‘I’d better not resist or I might hurt something,'” Prescott said. “Zeke is a person and a player for whom I am very grateful.”
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The antics marked the third celebration of Elliott’s Landing with the Red Kettle, the Salvation Army’s annual holiday fundraising campaign that started in 1891. The Cowboys will host their 25th Red Kettle campaign launch on Thursday. nationwide, with Kettles in the end zone and a halftime performance by country music artist Luke Combs.
This year’s Red Kettle’s involvement remains unresolved after Prescott and Elliott were fined in 2018 for what the league considered unsportsmanlike conduct. But the Cowboys appreciate what has become a source of team energy and philanthropic spirit. The campaign has served more than 748 million people with donations totaling $ 2.86 billion since 1997.
“It’s become that tradition,” Cowboys executive vice president and brand chief Charlotte Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s as much a part of who we are with the Cowboys as it is eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”
‘A completely authentic moment’
Perhaps Combs’ recognition of the Red Kettle’s antics exemplifies this reach. Multiplatinum Artist and CMA 2021 Artist of the Year said he was “used to seeing” Elliott jump into the red kettle.
“How many times do you jump in tomorrow, @ezekielelliott?” Combs posted on Instagram on Thursday.
Elliott may not have decided yet.
When he took the plunge for the first time in December 2016, the ploy materialized during warm-ups. Elliott saw the kettle and thought, “That bucket is right there next to the end zone, so it’s just somebody’s jumping in.”
He checked before the warm-ups to make sure there was nothing unsafe inside.
His moment came after scoring a 2-yard touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Still holding the ball, Elliott jumped into it. He then glanced over the top like he was looking for a clear rib, which has become an iconic meme. A longtime friend texted Elliott’s mother Dawn who was at the game and said, “This is totally something you would have done.”
Dawn Elliott saw how quickly her son rushed to the kettle and thought he had considered such an opportunity.
“I know my kid: he was expecting to do this,” she told USA TODAY Sports over the phone. “He’s always been a big kid. He’s been acting like that since he was little. He sort of never grew up.”
Jones said this infectious spirit teamed up with Elliott’s signature “Feed Me” gesture to form a catchy Salvation Army pitch. Looking out from the owner’s box, she heaved a sigh of relief when Elliott came out unharmed. After all, she said, the kettles were initially used to store fireworks for the team’s halftime performance. Jones also laughed when someone suggested she put Elliott in the business as a marketing ploy.
“He was just a 20-year-old who thought it was a good idea to jump in the kettle,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “I almost think if it had been someone else it wouldn’t have been so smart. But he even has to come out of there looking at his whole personality. For me, he’s just such a good spirit, such great generosity.
“It was a completely authentic moment.”
Elliott then donated $ 21,000 to The Salvation Army and solicited $ 21 in fan donations to help feed families in need. The campaign generated an additional $ 250,000 in donations, the team said.
And Elliott brought back the $ 21 donation in 2018 when he scored the game’s first touchdown. This time, Elliott had planted money with a photographer in the field, donating the $ 21 after his own score a few quarters before he finally donated Prescott. Prescott’s gift, Elliott concedes, was not planned in advance.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment,” Elliott said. “Just remember I threw it in there. It was fun. We had a great time.”
Looking for a race
On Thursday, the Cowboys 7-3 will look to bounce back from a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when the Raiders 5-5 visit Las Vegas. The Cowboys struggled to establish the offensive pace and physique they expected. Outside of an explosive 31-yard run, their remaining 15 carries totaled 51 yards.
“We have to re-establish our identity by just being physical, obviously setting the tone for the line of scrimmage,” Prescott said. “From there, after we do that, we can get our game going again, start a few games, build momentum.”
Prescott and Elliott’s ground play can create that momentum on and off the field of the Salvation Army campaign. The kettles will be there, the social service provider will collect for Christmas gifts, food, shelter, rent and aid to utilities with increased needs due to pandemic poverty. The Salvation Army estimates it will need $ 175 million to keep Americans at home this holiday season, the organization said. Prescott said that Elliott could be counted on to “always have a good spirit”.
Jones said she would encourage a celebration involving the Red Kettle even though the league has penalized taunts more fiercely this season. His father, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, has said he would like to sue the league for such a sanction and raise awareness for the Salvation Army even more.
“I encourage their ingenuity,” Jones said. “It’s definitely something that has used our visibility to inspire others to want to help and give back, but just as important to us, it has inspired a philosophy in our organization as to its importance and the responsibility we have to do. part of this team.
“Every year we build on that and let the guys see how important it is. They really embraced it.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.