ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Dalton Risner cannot remember it himself, but his parents have made sure he at least knows the story.
And when the holidays roll around, Risner thinks about it — how when he was real young, before his family moved from Missouri to Colorado, their community supported them and bought them Christmas presents when they couldn't afford them for themselves.
"We didn't have a lot of money growing up," Risner says. "We were really poor, and when I was at younger ages, people dropped presents off at my house. This was back when I lived in Missouri. My dad worked three jobs. My mom was raising five boys all under the age of 10. And we didn't have very much money, and people would drop off presents at our door. And that was the only way I could have a Christmas growing up."
De'Vante Bausby knows that feeling, too.
When he was a child, Bausby was one of three children in a single-parent home, and when they were in need around the holidays, helpful members of their community helped his mother make their Christmas dreams come true.
"I remember being young and growing up in Kansas City, Missouri," Bausby says. "The same thing happened to me with the football players, the Chiefs players. I remember just how I felt as a kid, being excited to make a Christmas list and them being able to get those things you asked for on the list. It was dope to me. So it was imperative that I did the same thing."
About two decades later, Risner, Bausby, several of their teammates and Broncos staff members are paying it forward this holiday season at an absolutely necessary time amid the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. As many have lost jobs or a significant percentage of their income, they adopted more than 60 people — a mix of individuals and families.
As NFL players, they feel a sense of responsibility to help those who need it. That guides them for the entire year, really, as part of being a Bronco is embracing the commitment to helping in the community.
"I think that with our platform in the NFL that we have, you have a multitude of things that you can do," Elijah Wilkinson says. "Support, help, and it won't really break the bank for you, and it will really help somebody else that's really in need. … It's not mandatory, but we do make a good-enough salary that you could help somebody else out and really make somebody's day and their holidays and really pick them up from the tough times that they've been experiencing."
This time of year — and especially this year — caring for our neighbors is the reason for the season.
"For the holidays, it's all about giving," Risner says. "It's all about coming together. We all look forward to Christmas so much, especially with a year like this. I've had my Christmas tree up for two months. It's all about finding joy and the things that we find joy in. There's just that Christmas feeling in the air. There's that giving spirit. I'm not a believer in you only give around Christmas, you only help out around Christmas. I think it's a yearlong thing. But I think more importantly, I know how much Christmas means to me and how many good vibes it brings to me and the holiday spirit and I want to be able to do that for other people, for people that can't necessarily create that holiday spirit with what they've been given in life. I want to help give that to them."
Risner, Bausby and Wilkinson all chose to support larger families with multiple children. Risner, who has four siblings, and Bausby, who has two, could closely identify with those households, and they could in part understand the struggles they may be facing.
Perhaps they can see a piece of themselves in the families they're helping.
In the wish lists they receive and fulfill, perhaps they can see a toy they would have liked, or that their brother or sister would have liked.
"Just remembering how I felt as a child — the joy," Bausby says. "If I could spread that love and make other people feel the same way, that's awesome, and I'm always down to do things like that."
In a normal year, Bausby and the other Broncos may have been able to deliver the gifts in person. The pandemic, naturally, means that the gifts will probably just be delivered with a card.
They won't be able to see the smiles on all their faces. But they'll definitely be able to picture them.