Ted Washington casually bent over to sign another autograph for one of the 84 signature seekers from Buffalo's School 77. He clearly was more interested in inspecting the shoe styles kids selected at the Payless Shoe Source on Hertel Avenue than he was in posing for media photo ops.
"I'm NOT doing this for the publicity," he said, scribbling his name on another scrap of paper.
Of course, he did fulfill his media requests. But he would have been just as happy if no cameras or tape recorders showed up to document his generosity. All he wanted was to give some kids some shoes.
It's a common scene, particularly around the holidays -- Buffalo Bills donating time, money or their personal image to raise money for a favorite charity. But figuring out the best beneficiary of your professional football success can become more complicated than figuring out the NFL's wild-card playoff race.
"You get a lot of requests," Bills wide receiver Eric Moulds said. "And as a person you want to try to meet everybody's accommodation but you really can't, so you try to go out there and get one or two or three things that you feel you can help (with). . . . You just got to go out and whatever you think feels best for you. Whatever's in your heart you got to go out and do that."
Washington's heart belongs to inner-city kids. He established his own foundation in 1998 to raise money for a variety of youth-centered charities. It's his way of giving kids in Buffalo something he lacked growing up -- positive interaction with caring role models.
"I go back to where I grew up and I didn't have the opportunity to have someone come up to me, offer me something or give me any positive advice and this is my way of giving back," Washington said. "I didn't have celebrities who would come around and motivate kids and I told myself once I make it into the league, knowing how I grew up, I wanted to give to the community.
"One way is to go to kids. Kids who are not as fortunate as other kids are. Give them something. They see that somebody, a celebrity or a role model that cares about them and to me I think it's going to help them in school, in life and let them know that there are people out there that care about them.
"I'm not really a media guy. I don't really want this publicized. It's not about that. A lot of people won't do it. They have the money to, but they won't do it. I just do it because I feel good about it and it's coming straight from the heart."
For Washington, it's a purely altruistic action, which is why only store manager John Ferguson would reveal that the donation of $15,000 turned into $17,650 worth of product, thanks to the benefit of the chain's current sale. That meant that 1,000 school kids from Buffalo received a pair of shoes and another item -- like socks or slippers -- thanks to Santa Ted.
The holidays become the focal point for giving to charities and helping with not-for-profit causes, and Washington is not alone among area athletes.
Rob Johnson and Gabe Northern attended the Roswell Park Pediatric Christmas Party to sign autographs and help hand out presents while Jay Riemersma and Ken Irvin teamed up with Buffalo Sabres Rhett Warrener and Jay McKee for the annual Kids Escaping Drugs poster.
But the giving doesn't end Dec. 26.
Take Moulds. Andre Reed got him involved in hosting an annual Christmas party for underprivileged inner city kids in connection with the United Way. But Moulds also spends time working for the Boys and Girls Club -- he donated a new weight room after his rookie season and often goes to the club to talk with the kids.
"We're not just athletes here in town for six months and then we're out of here," Moulds said. "We try to give back and do different things to help people. . . . It's an opportunity for me to come out here and let you know I'm a normal person just like you. It's just that I'm in the limelight a lot. You can dream like this and these dreams are attainable if you go about the right way of doing it."
While Washington and Moulds picked causes close to their heart, punter Chris Mohr wanted to use his celebrity to help a deserving cause still missing an athletic spokesperson. So he went to Denny Lynch, the Bills' director of community relations, and asked for help in hooking up with a reputable agency that didn't already have a member of the Bills affiliated with it.
That's how he became involved with the Cerebral Palsy Association about five years ago. He helped host a holiday celebration this week for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Western New York and has already raised thousands of dollars for the organization, donating $200 for every fair catch he causes.
For Mohr, involvement with charity is just part of the job description for professional football players.
"The Lord has blessed us with such great health and great careers and we make more money than we need to make, so we're obligated to give back to people who are less fortunate," Mohr said. "It really makes you appreciate your health and your child's health. It's very uplifting. It's something I wish everyone could experience because we're all spoiled. Everybody in this room is spoiled. If they can't comprehend the fact that they ought to be able to give to people less fortunate, that's not real good."