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NFL’s new pay-it-forward trend sees Vikings fans donate $200k to Saints punter Thomas Morstead’s foundation

This is our favorite thing in the NFL.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL isn’t necessarily known for bringing out the best in its fans. The 2017 season brought a new trend of generosity that may change that.

The latest example raised over $200,000 to benefit children who are undergoing treatment for serious illnesses in Minnesota through a surprising source: Saints punter Thomas Morstead.

In the Divisional Round against the Vikings last weekend, Morstead played in evident pain with torn cartilage in his ribs. He was also one of the first Saints players back on the field so the Vikings could kneel down a meaningless extra point attempt after they pulled off the last-second 29-24 win over New Orleans.

Vikings fans took note and wanted to pay their respects for his sportsmanship. They started giving money to Morstead’s foundation, What You Give Will Grow.

It didn’t occur to Morstead that Vikings fans would think anything of it.

“I didn’t realize how my actions were being perceived throughout the game,” Morstead told SB Nation. “So I was very shocked.”

Morstead is passionate about child life programs at hospitals, which provide fun activities for kids and also help put them at ease about medical treatment and procedures they’re facing. Morstead presented the money that Vikings fans donated to the child life program at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis-St. Paul on the Saturday before Super Bowl LII.

“When people give, it’s nice to give to the community that you live in,” Morstead said. “And so it’s very thoughtful of all these people, but I just think that those funds should be going to people in their community that will need it.”

Dennis Lomonaco, the executive director of What You Give Will Grow, was just as surprised when he realized that donations were rolling in from Vikings fans.

“I kind of thought it was our own fans, because I didn’t really see anything odd about that. It was like, oh, you know, good season, tough loss,” Lomonaco said. “And didn’t really think anything of it, but I kind of thought it was odd, because the amounts were rather small comparatively to the donations we normally get. Because they were like $5 and $10, $25 dollar amounts, and they were just consistent.”

On Monday morning, he got an email from the Vikings fan who put out the call on Reddit for donations to Morstead’s foundation.

“He said, ‘I’m a Vikings fan, and I started this thread on Reddit, and wanted to know — I saw that you guys were raising money, and I wanted to know if we made a dent in your fundraising goals.’ And that was the first that I connected it — at that point, several hundreds of people donating to the foundation — that it was Vikings fans,” Lomonaco said.

Lomonaco texted me at 10:12 a.m. ET on Wednesday to let me know that donations had surpassed $12,000 and that fans were contributing about $1,000 every 20 minutes. By 1:27 p.m. they were about to hit $46,000. By 8 p.m. that evening, they were over $100,000.

That means Morstead is making a trip to Minneapolis.

As of Friday, that amount has doubled.

For Morstead and his foundation, the kindness of Vikings fans was an unexpected boost after a painful loss on Sunday.

“I did not expect my morning to be brightened up by a bunch of Vikings fans,” Lomonaco said.

But don’t expect anyone to start shifting their NFL allegiances.

“The lady who runs the child life department (at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis-St. Paul), she goes, ‘You and Thomas are honorary Vikings,’” Lomonaco said. “I said, ‘Hey, hey, hey. I don’t know about all of that, now.’”

Vikings fans are just following the lead of Bills fans.

It all started with Bills fans and Andy Dalton

The Bills mafia saw their team make the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons in the most dramatic of fashions. A last-minute touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd gave the Bengals a win over the Ravens and helped the Bills lock up a playoff spot. Bills fans wanted to thank Dalton.

So Kevin Forrest, a lifelong Bills fan, got creative. He donated to Dalton’s foundation. The AJD Foundation provides support to seriously ill and physically challenged children, as well as to their families. Bills fans joined the charge at $17 a pop, a nod to the team’s long absence from the postseason.

“Obviously, Dalton was the one that threw the pass. Boyd had to catch the ball and made an amazing run after the catch. But my mind went to Dalton,” Forrest told SB Nation. “So I was thinking, ‘Hey, how can we repay this guy?’ And I went to send him a tweet directly, and then I figured he’s never going to see this thing. So I just Googled him real quick and one of the first results was his foundation.”

Bills fans didn’t forget Tyler Boyd, though

Tyler Boyd’s mom, Tonya Payne, is the president of the Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association. She said Bills fans reached out to her son via social media to see where they could donate to thank him for scoring that touchdown.

“So he kept saying, ‘Well, maybe we should just have people donate to a specific charity,”’ Payne said. “You kind of want to make sure that it’s something legit, so that the money gets used appropriately. So being that I am the president of the actual Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association, I said, ‘Well, I can set it up for it to go to them.’”

Boyd, who played football within that same association as a kid, thought that was a great idea. Payne said that within 10 minutes of setting up a YouCaring link, Bills fans had given $1,800. That number skyrocketed to $20,000 in eight hours. Within another 24 hours, fans had given over $50,000.

When the fundraiser closed, fans had given a whopping $65,263 to the cause.

Bengals fans ended up getting in on the charitable giving action. They just had very different motivation.

Bengals fans thanked Blake Bortles for beating the Steelers

Bills fans were just relieved to see their team finally make the playoffs. Bengals fans, on the other hand, were happy to see the Steelers, an AFC North rival, eliminated from the playoffs by the Jaguars. They turned that pettiness into donations to Blake Bortles’ BB5 Foundation. The money raised will benefit first responders, and children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brittany Roberts from the BB5 Foundation told SB Nation that they had a hard time connecting the large number of donations they were receiving from the state of Ohio at first.

“We’d already received a couple that said, like, ‘Oh, Blake was on my fantasy football team. Thanks so much. You helped me win my fantasy football league.’ Or like, ‘Good job beating so-and-so team.’ So we just thought it was people excited about the playoffs, and donating because the Jags did great and beat a team that they didn’t like or something like that,” Roberts said.

“And then there started to become a lot. So we looked at each other, and we were like, wow, these are a lot coming from Ohio, and we hadn’t put two and two together yet.”

Then a Bengals fan tagged the foundation’s Twitter account along with Mo Egger, a Cincinnati radio host, and asked how many donations Bortles had gotten from Bengals fans. Egger must have mentioned it on the air, because Roberts said they saw a spike in giving during the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET block when his show is on the air in Cincinnati.

As of Thursday morning, Bortles’ foundation had received over $11,000 from more 500 Bengals fans. Roberts said the part she enjoyed the most was seeing the unusual dollar amounts people would come up with to donate.

“We just thought it was really creative and unique, whether it was $45.42, because that was the final score of the Jaguars-Steelers game, or if it was $7 to keep the Steelers from the Stairway to Seven — whatever it was, we got a big kick out of those unique numbers.”

Eagles fans are giving to Mike Zimmer’s foundation as an apology

Vikings fans didn’t receive the warmest welcome from Eagles fans in Philadelphia when the two teams met in the NFC Championship Game. After the Eagles’ win, some fans decided to do something tangible to apologize for other fans’ behavior toward their Minnesotan guests.

Zimmer’s foundation provides opportunities and scholarships to young people in memory of his wife, Vikki, who passed away in 2009.

While this trend of giving to opposing players or coaches is new, the connection between charity and football isn’t.

Two Patriots fans had the right idea last postseason

Emma Sandoe and Josh Gondelman are both Patriots fans who were troubled by the organization’s connection to Donald Trump. Rather than push for a boycott of Super Bowl LI last year, which they knew would be completely ineffective, they tried another approach.

They still wanted the Patriots to win, but they were torn about supporting the team.

“Something didn’t feel exactly right about being as gung ho as we normally are,” Sandoe told SB Nation. “So we said we should do something, and this sort of came out of the whole time — that particular time, especially, shortly after the inauguration and feelings of everything being in such transition that we wanted to do something good to alleviate those more conflicted feelings.”

Gondelman, a writer for HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, echoed Sandoe’s perspective.

“I was having mixed feelings about my enthusiasm for the Super Bowl itself coming into conflict with the politics of the NFL and some key Patriots figures specifically,” Gondelman said. “It seemed like, as long as I was going to watch the game, I might as well try to do some good at the same time. I figured it was more productive to appeal to the generosity of people who were still going to watch the game than to try and stage some kind of small-scale boycott that wouldn’t make as much of an impact.”

So the two encouraged fans to donate to non-profit organizations of their choice.

Gondelman pledged $100 for every Patriots touchdown and $50 for each field goal to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. And even Falcons fans got in on the action.

It’s a little different from what we’ve seen this season, because the money wasn’t going to a player from a rival team. But no matter what the circumstances are, it’s heartening to see football inspiring people to give generously to those in need.