From quarterback Drew Brees to running back Pierre Thomas, several of the patients and parents at the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Ochsner Medical Center rattled off the names of favorite New Orleans Saints players – including a mother who admitted a one-time crush on former running back Deuce McAllister.
Tuesday, Coach Sean Payton likely nudged toward the top of the ladder, if he didn't ascend to the top rung.
Payton, through his Play It Forward Foundation, visited children in the cancer center and Pediatric ICU and delivered Baskets of Hope, baskets filled with age-appropriate and gender specific toys, games, books, crafts, movies, gift certificates and more.
Also, Payton distributed autographed photos and autographed 2013 Saints yearbooks.
Basket of Hope began in 1995 after 7-year-old Christina Brunette completed her cancer treatment at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis. Her family, thankful for her treatment and wanting to give back, developed the Basket of Hope program working closely with Cardinal Glennon staff members.
Basket of Hope has delivered thousands of baskets across the nation.
"This is the second time we've partnered with Baskets of Hope," Payton said. "Every once in a while, you work with a group that's so hands on and you really have a chance to see so many different children. And every time you walk into a room, there's a different story.
"You get five minutes with their family members, the patient – they're young, they're old. I always look forward to it. It's one of the things we do each year and this one is so hands on, especially right here in our community with Ochsner, the job they do, and Baskets of Hope. It's really easy to become a big fan of it."
Payton, too, made more than a few fans. Gasps were audible in several of the rooms he visited, smiles flashed by parents as often as children.
"The minute you walk into your first room, and you meet the parents, you meet the siblings and in a lot of cases, the patients are getting out the next day or in some cases they're going to be staying longer," Payton said. "But having been here myself for almost a week (following in-season surgery in 2011, when he broke his leg in a sideline collision), when you get company, it's something that brightens your day. For some of these kids, there are a lot of Saints fans and there is that excitement."
Excitement generated by Payton and the Play It Forward Foundation.
"I think, more than anything else, the conversation, the stories, their age, what school they go to, I think there's a great distribution arranged of children here," he said. "The ages, each one, there's a separate basket for them depending on how old they are.
"It's just a little time out of the day but it means a lot."
Sean Payton handed gift baskets out at Ochsner Medical Center on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Photos by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)