*"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." *
*- Buddy the Elf
Eight-year-old Ethan laid in his bed at Riley Hospital for Children on Monday afternoon surrounded by Colts players and cheerleaders.
Linebacker Edwin Jackson read a card he made for him.
"I made a list of how to have a great Christmas. First, you've got to make a list, you've got to stay warm, sing songs, be positive, have fun, spend time with family, watch a movie, eat healthy, and drink lots of water. Can you do that?" he asked.
Jackson and his teammates crossed one of those things off their list. Joined by Colts cheerleaders and Colts mascot, Blue, they went room to room singing Christmas carols and delivering gifts to Riley kids.
"This is definitely one of my favorite events," said long snapper Luke Rhodes. "It's fun to be here with a big group of guys and just bring joy. Like in the movie Elf, 'The best way to spread Christmas cheer…'"
Is singing loud for all to hear.
Tackle Anthony Castonzo is a regular. It's the event he looks forward to every year.
"I missed it one year. I had something else going on and I was devastated," he said. "It's going to be different this year because there's no (Joe) Reitz and no Andrew (Luck) here."
Just like football, it was next man up. And as the veteran of the group, Castonzo was up for the challenge.
"I have no idea if any of these guys can sing," he said. "I might have to do a little extra – we'll see."
But there was one thing he was confident in.
"What we lack in talent, we make up for in effort and enthusiasm."
And for the kids, that was all that mattered.
"They don't care what our record is," Castonzo said. "All they care about is we're Colts players coming in and taking the time out of our day to spend with them. It's awesome."
For Sammy, a three-year veteran of the Colts Cheerleaders, it was the appearance she'd been hoping to land since her rookie season.
"This is the appearance of the year," she said. "This is the one that my first year I'm like, 'I hope I get to do that one day.' I think it's just the fact that it's Christmas at Riley. Riley appearances are so much fun and they're so memorable and you know you're making an impact every time you're here."
And it's no different for the staff.
"I look forward to it every year myself and I fight with my own team members about who's going to go hang out," said Dr. Paul Haut, Chief Operating Officer for Riley Children's Health. "It is just special. The kids and the families just light up. The team members here in the hospital love seeing it happen. And I think it reflects the amazing partnership that Riley has with the community, but especially with the Colts."
It's something the families remember long after they leave to go home.
"Last year, I got a card from a family that said one of the most amazing experiences of Christmas was for their child and his sister to get to meet the Colts during caroling," Haut said.
The Colts visited Riley Hospial for Children to sing carols and deliver some holiday cheer to young patients and their families.
Like everything else, it takes teamwork.
"I feel like we're pulling it together," said Sable, two-year veteran of the Colts Cheerleaders. "We were trying to get our groove down and now we're doing better – figuring out each other's voices, what we like to do."
A singer herself, she experimented a little, but quickly realized they were best sticking to the playbook.
"One of the songs, Sammy and I tried to harmonize with each other and all the guys were thrown off," she laughed. "They were like, 'Wait a minute. What are we doing? What do we do from here?'"
But they nailed "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." And, she said, at the end of the day, it wasn't really about the songs or how they sang them.
"Just seeing the look on the kids' faces. At first, they're a little shy. Once we talk to them a little bit and start singing, they open up and their eyes light up."
To walk into a room and lift the spirits of a child is a gift.
It's something the Colts do all year long, but it takes on special meaning this time of year.
And it's a gift that gives back to them every time they give it away.