We have our game in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, which makes planning the holiday a little more difficult.

We decided as a family that we were going to do our big Christmas celebration last night. We opened up gifts together, had a nice holiday dinner and just enjoyed each other’s company for the night. For us, it was a chance to think about how far we’ve come over the years.

Our big tradition is that we as a family, at some point during the day, have to share a word that’s in our heart at that moment, something that you’re grateful for. We try to make the holiday not just about material things, but also about communicating our love for one another and encouraging each other. It’s a way to let the kids know that it’s not just about gifts and toys.

When I was a kid, I know I thought Christmas was all about toys and gifts. I enjoyed tearing open the wrapping paper and making a huge mess, trying to get to the latest and greatest thing that I received. You always wanted that new bike or something like it. As a child, Christmas was all about receiving. But now that I know my kids will have a different experience in life than I did growing up, I don’t want them to assume that they should get things just because. I want them to have a sense of value toward the things that they receive.

I value this holiday and my family a lot. But I also value my place in this community, which is why I think it’s especially important to give back at this time of year. So last Saturday, along with the Rams and the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, we hosted 39 Wishes. The three of us teamed together, and opened up the Edward Jones Dome to families in need in our community. I’m glad to say it was a huge success.

This event is something I’ve been a part of for two years now and it’s near and dear to my heart. Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year, so to be able to touch the lives of so many families around this time of year was just awesome.

The marriage happened because I wanted to get out and do something in the community for Christmas. So last year, I went to the Community Relations Department to share some ideas of what I wanted to do, and asked if they could find me a group home or something like that to work with. At the time, the Rams were working with the Bar Association to do an event for Project Angel Tree. But after a bit, they came back and asked me, “Why not just team up and make the in-house event even bigger?” After talking about it, we felt it was best to come together and work on a big event.

In just one year, the party grew so much, and we had more families this year than we did last year. Over 3,000 families came in to play on the football field, do a little rock climbing and have a great time. We even had a live band going. But most importantly, we gave out gifts to every family. That was definitely my favorite part of the day. To get to see the smiles on the kids’ faces, to talk to the families and shake the hands of the parents was special.

To get to interact with people in this community means a lot to me. They all told me how much they love watching football, watching us play on Sunday and how they are behind the team. It’s just amazing to hear how, for two or three hours a week, they can focus on what we’re doing and it takes them away from the adversity that they have going on in their lives.

Whenever I can, I sit and listen to people talk about what they’ve been through in life. Then I use their stories as inspiration. When you hear what some of these people have been through, you can’t help but be inspired. Sometimes when I hear people tell stories, I can relate it to other people I’ve met in my travels to let them know they’re not the only one going through something difficult, and that there is hope.

It’s all kind of a reminder of how much influence my actions and what I do can have on people. And it’s not only young people, it’s adults as well. The way you approach your business, the way you handle adversity, others see that. For me personally to continue to fight through and have a positive attitude, I believe it rubs off. It becomes contagious and has an effect on others. It’s a constant reminder that someone is watching.

I first really realized that two years ago. As a team we went 1-15, but I was able to rush for 1,400 yards while playing through the season with an injured back. A lot of people wanted me to shut it down for the year because the season was lost. But I continued to run hard and be productive, fighting through a season that many viewed as pointless. People still to this come up to me and refer to that season, and how inspirational they thought it was to see me continue to play with all my heart.

For people to refer to that, over and over again, lets me know that the game of football is so much bigger than what I once thought it was.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and thank you for continuing to support and inspire me.