On a cold Christmas Day, a man in a Santa suit walked around Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood, anonymously handing out gifts both to the homeless and to random people walking on the streets.
Bags of clothing, ear muffs, scarfs, hygiene products and other gifts were handed out by a man who no one at the time realized was an NFL running back looking to quietly bring a little holiday joy to some people who needed it most.
"I just wanted to do a little something different for Christmas this year, and that was to go out on the streets of Seattle, just myself, and pass out gifts," Thomas Rawls said. "It was kind of crazy, because they just knew me as Santa and not Thomas Rawls. It was a humbling experience, and I'm glad I did… I was in the holiday spirit, just brightening up people's day."
Asked if he ever revealed himself to the people receiving gifts, Rawls said, "Never. It didn't matter. It was fun and exciting just to see their reaction and their smiles without seeing me. I was in disguise."
Rawls' Christmas on the streets of Seattle came just hours after he and the team returned from Dallas following their 21-12 victory over the Cowboys, a game in which he saw his first significant playing time in six weeks. With Mike Davis taking over the starting job, Rawls has played sparingly, if at all, in recent games, twice being a healthy scratch. On Sunday, Rawls enjoyed a bit more playing time and success, rushing five times for 20 yards, including a 15-yard run that was Seattle's longest rush of the day and one of just three explosive plays for the offense. Rawls' best two runs, that 15 yarder and a 6-yard gain on his first carry of the game, both came on Seahawks touchdown drives.
"He looked good," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He was very aggressive at the line of scrimmage. It was good to see him. He hit the line of scrimmage really well and was ready for the opportunity. He did a really good job."
Asked if Rawls earned himself more carries with that performance, Carroll said, "There's no reason for us not to. What he did this last time out was favorable, and we'll just respond to that accordingly."
Yet even with the modest success Rawls enjoyed Sunday, it has been a difficult season for the third-year back, who showed so much potential as a rookie. After making the team as an undrafted rookie in 2015, Rawls took over the starting job late in the season for an injured Marshawn Lynch, and ended up rushing for 830 yards and four touchdowns while averaging a league-best 5.6 yards per carry. Rawls suffered a serious leg injury late that year, and while he made it back for the start of the 2016 season, he sustained another leg injury early in the year and struggled to get on track. Even so, Rawls rushed for a Seahawks postseason-record 161 yards in a Wild Card win over Detroit, but for a number of reasons, he has been unable to find success this season, gaining 149 yards on 55 carries.
"I think it has been frustrating for him, without question," Carroll said. "He wants to play more and he had the intention of playing more, and so did we, it just didn't quite come together that way. He has been great attitude-wise, working hard, busting his tail every day."
Rawls described this season as "a little frustrating," but has maintained a positive attitude throughout.
"I want to be out there a little more, but I know I've got other guys in this locker room, and I've also got to trust the process of these coaches," he said. "One thing I do control is going out there working hard, continue to lead, being coachable, doing everything in my power to just continue to get better and not get distracted from those things, continue to keep my mind on the field."
And frustrating season or not, Rawls still wanted to spend part of his Christmas anonymously brightening the day for others.
"I'm all about empowering people," he said. "Just being me… I know who I am and I know I can make the world move a little bit."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 21-12 win over the Dallas Cowboys during Week 16 at AT&T Stadium.