Even before he became a New Orleans Saints player and began to experience Christmas day as a work day, Nick Toon had a taste of being in an NFL locker room on the holiday.
His father, Al Toon, was a receiver with the New York Jets. And there was a Christmas day or two that Nick, as a toddler son, spent the day with Dad at practice, scrambling around the Jets locker room, pretending that he also was preparing for work.
"It's always a pleasure to have your kids around and to be in a position to play at that level and have your kid, who loved the game, be there to enjoy it with you," said Al Toon, who finished his eight-year career – all with the Jets – with 517 catches for 6,605 yards and 31 touchdowns.
"I had a pretty good relationship with the training staff and the administration with the Jets after being there for a while and having some success," he said. "We'd bring him in the training room and they'd tape him up on Saturdays, the day before the game, and they'd all run around the field. It was nice to see all the young kids, especially the young boys, run around on the field and watch the dads look at their kids and think, 'Hey, that looks pretty fun.' "
Al remembers the moments a bit more vividly than does Nick, who was a youngster at the time. But those times were part of a pattern with the two, and their family.
"My memories of when my Dad was playing are a little bit spotty," Nick said. "I was 4 when he retired, so I wasn't that old. But I do remember being around the locker room and hanging out on the field and all of that stuff after the games.
"But for the most part, my memory of my Dad was him being around for Christmas when I was growing, because the majority of my memories when I was younger were after he was done playing."
These days, the father gets to enjoy watching the son work on his craft. And Nick Toon, who hopes to be an integral part of the Saints offense in the future, has progressed into a contributor for the Saints offense late this season, after spending his rookie season on injured reserve and catching four passes for 68 yards last year.
After being inactive for eight of the first 10 games, Toon has caught 16 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in the last five. His emergence coincided with Brandin Cooks heading to injured reserve with a thumb injury.
"Everybody wants to play, everybody wants to contribute," he said. "Getting an opportunity to do those things has been awesome."
It's been that, and more, for Al Toon as he watches his son's progress.
"He's worked very hard to get to where he is, to be able to step out on a field wearing an NFL uniform," Al said. "He talks about it all the time, that he feels very blessed that he's with the Saints and one of the best quarterbacks (Drew Brees) and one of the best coaches (Sean Payton), and offensive minds, of our age.
"He exercised an extreme amount of patience, as you have to at times. My advice to him was to just be ready and the situation would dictate when it was time for him to go out on the field. When your number is called, you go out and do what you need to do to contribute to the team. That's what you're looking for, just being ready."
This Christmas day Nick is getting ready to play for the Saints on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's a ritual he hopes to participate in several more times in New Orleans, as a core member of the Saints' receiving unit.
"It's a blessing," Nick Toon said. "All of us had aspirations of one day getting an opportunity to participate and play in this league. And every single one of us is blessed to have that opportunity to be here at work on Christmas."
Photos of New Orleans Saints WR Nick Toon from the 2013 season. (New Orleans Saints photos)