FRISCO, Texas — Dak Prescott’s initial thought in the post-touchdown jubilation was to resist.

Just after being tackled by the Dallas Cowboys quarterback in the fourth quarter of that game, he was zig-zagging to what would turn into a six yard rushing touchdown. In their 2018 Thanksgiving game against Washington, the Cowboys now had the lead. Prescott celebrated by his signature kiss to Washington, an ode to his deceased mother. He also shared celebratory embraces during the game with his offensive linesmen.

Then running back Ezekiel Elliott raced to the end zone, lifting Prescott into his arms before promptly dumping — donating? — him into the Salvation Army red kettle.

“At the point he lifted me up, I’m like, ‘I better not resist or I might hurt something,’ ” Prescott said. “Zeke’s a person and player I’m very thankful for.”

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The antics marked Elliott’s third touchdown celebration with the red kettle, the Salvation Army’s annual holiday collection campaign that launched in 1891. Red Kettle Campaign Kickoff will be broadcast nationally by the Cowboys on Thursday. It includes kettles in each zone, as well as country music performer Luke Combs performing halftime.

This year’s red kettle involvement remains up in the air after Prescott and Elliott were fined in 2018 for what the league deemed unsportsmanlike conduct. However, the Cowboys are proud of what they consider a source to team energy as well as their philanthropic spirit. This campaign, which has raised more than $2.86 billion in donations since 1997 to help 748 million people, has been a success. 

USA TODAY Sports spoke with Charlotte Jones, Cowboys Chief Brand Officer and Executive Vice President. “It’s as much a part of who we are with the Cowboys as eating turkey is on Thanksgiving Day.”

“A truly authentic moment”

Perhaps Combs’ recognition of the red kettle antics illustrates that reach. The multiplatinum artist and 2021 CMA Entertainer of the Year said he’s “used to seeing” Elliott jump into the red kettle.

“How many times will you jump in this @ezekielelliott tomorrow?” Combs shared the following Instagram post on Thursday.

It’s possible Elliott hasn’t decided yet.

In December 2016, he made the first leap. The idea came about during warmups. Elliott saw the kettle and thought: “That bucket’s just sitting right there by the end zone, so it’s only right someone jumps in it.”

To ensure that nothing was dangerous, he checked the area before warming up.

He had just scored a touchdown run of 2-yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elliott grabbed the ball and hopped in. The iconic meme was created when Elliott peeked at the top of the ball as though he wanted to check for a clear coastline. A longtime friend texted Elliott’s mother, Dawn, who was at the game and said: “That is totally something you would have done.”

Dawn Elliott noticed how quick her son was at the kettle. She knew he wanted such an opportunity.

USA TODAY Sports spoke to her by telephone, saying that “I know my kid: He was waiting” “He’s been always a big kid. He’s acted like that ever since he was little. It’s almost as if he never grew up.”

Jones said that contagious spirit paired with Elliott’s characteristic “Feed Me” gesture to form an eye-catching Salvation Army pitch. Watching from the owner’s box, she breathed a sigh of relief when Elliott emerged uninjured. After all, she said, the kettles were initially used to store pyrotechnics for the team’s halftime performance. Jones laughed at the suggestion that Elliott had been put up for it to be a marketing stunt.

Jones said that Jones, a 20 year-old boy thought it was smart to leap into the kettle. It almost seems like a joke if it was anyone else. However, he must even get out from there looking to reveal his whole personality. To me, that’s just such good spirit, such great generosity.

“It was a totally authentic moment.”

Elliott later donated $21,000 towards the Salvation Army. Fans also contributed $21 to support families in dire need. Team said that the campaign raised an additional $250,000.

And Elliott brought back the $21 donation in 2018 when he scored the game’s first touchdown. This time, Elliott had planted cash with an on-field photographer, donating the $21 after his own score a couple quarters before he’d ultimately donate Prescott. Elliott acknowledges that Prescott’s donation wasn’t planned.

Elliott explained that it was a spur of the moment. He said, “Remember that I put him there. It was fun. The experience was enjoyable.”

You are looking for a running run

The 7-3 Cowboys are looking to bounce back from their loss against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday when they host the 5-5 Las Vegas Raiders. Cowboys were unable to create the type of offensive rhythm or physicality they want. The Cowboys’ remaining 15 carries were 51 yards apart from one 31-yard rush.

Prescott stated, “We must re-establish ourselves as physical beings and setting the tone at line of Scrimmage.” Once we have done that, it is possible to reset our play pace, start some plays, gain some momentum.

Prescott’s and Elliott’s ground game can create that momentum on the field and off for the Salvation Army’s campaign. Social service providers will have their kettles ready to collect for food, shelter and utility assistance in the case of pandemic poverty. According to the Salvation Army, it estimates that $175 million will be needed in order for Americans to stay home this holiday season. Prescott stated that Elliott is a “always great spirit” and can always be counted upon.

Jones stated that she will encourage red kettle celebrations, even though the league had penalized taunting much more severely this season. Her father, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, has said he’d love to sue the league for such a penalty and bring even more awareness to the Salvation Army’s cause.

Jones declared, “I encourage their creativity.” “It’s certainly been something that’s used our visibility to inspire others to want to help and give back, but equally as important to us, it’s inspired an ethos in our organization in how important it is and the responsibility we have to be part of this team.

We build on this every year and help the men understand it. It is something they have truly embraced.”

Follow Jori Epstein Twitter @JoriEpstein.



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