DALLAS — Ezekiel Elliott saw the huge red Salvation Army kettle during warmups. Then he got an idea.
It was Sunday night in Arlington, Texas, and the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elliott, the Cowboys’ rookie running back, has been a star for Dallas this season, helping lead the team to a playoff berth and a tie for the best record in the NFL.
So when Elliott scored on a touchdown run from 2 yards out, setting a Cowboys’ single-season record for rookie rushing touchdowns with 13, he decided to celebrate in a creative way. He jumped into the nearby kettle, playfully ducking down inside.
“That bucket is just sitting right there by the end zone,” Elliott said to reporters after the game. “So it’s only right someone jumps in it.”
The Salvation Army played along, tweeting out a request: “Zeke made an important contribution for @dallascowboys tonight. Can you contribute to the millions in need?”
Elliott’s celebration drew a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, backing the Cowboys up 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. The immediate speculation was that the NFL — at times known as the “No Fun League” for its crackdowns on players’ end-zone celebrations — would fine Elliott for his antics.
But Elliott had a plan for that.
“I’m going to match whatever they fine me to a donation to the Salvation Army,” Elliott said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jokingly took it a step further.
“I will tell you the Salvation Army should give him the highest award,” Jones said. “My dream is that the NFL would fine the daylights out of me and I’m going to take them to the Supreme Court and we’re going to get the Salvation Army a lot of notice here.”
On Monday morning, the NFL said it would not fine Elliott.
But Elliott still plans to donate to the organization, tweeting on Monday that he would contribute he even though he won’t be fined.
The Salvation Army said in a statement that the organization is grateful to Elliott and the Cowboys “for giving us a boost at such an important time.”
“The Salvation Army was given a wonderful gift last night when Ezekiel Elliott chose to jump in the end zone’s red kettle, which is on display as part of our longtime partnership with the Dallas Cowboys,” Lt. Col. Ron Busroe said. “As a result, we saw a 61 percent increase in online donations from when Ezekiel jumped into the kettle through mid-Monday morning, as compared to last Sunday.”
After the game Elliott acknowledged that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told him to be mindful of such celebrations, as the penalties put the special teams in a bad position.
“I thought it was creative, but he shouldn’t have done it,” Garrett said.
But Elliott thinks — at least in this case — his teammates weren’t mad at him.
“That penalty did move the kick back 15 yards, but I think the kickoff team, they had my back,” Elliott said. “They covered really well, and they (the Buccaneers) didn’t get to the 25. They had my back.”
It probably helped that the Cowboys won the game, 26-20.