The little baby was less than 48 hours old and his dad wanted a picture with the orange-clad visitors for the kid's scrapbook when he grows up. The boy across the hall was recovering from his fourth heart surgery, which had come only that morning. He is five years old.
Friday was a special day in the tour of the SBC Cotton Bowl Classic festivities and the Texas Longhorns had stopped at the Children's Medical Center. After all the players met with kids in the auditorium, small groups toured the rooms. Included was a stop in the cardiac care unit. A couple of kids there wanted to meet senior QB Chris Simms and they got a bonus of Simms and a handful of other players.
At each stop, the players dropped off gifts that Dr Pepper and the bowl had provided and signed autographs. However, for a group that has specialized in learning all about "One Heartbeat," the monitors in the critical care rooms were particularly significant.
What was most present, however, was hope. Head coach Mack Brown had told the players to go to the hospital with special intention.
"Don't go for the bowl and don't go because of Texas," he had said as the team met after the morning practice. "Go for the kids."
So it was that the entire squad, dressed in their orange sweat suits, made the afternoon trip to the hospital.
"What you are giving these kids is a thrill of a lifetime," Brown said as the team got off the buses.
During the holidays, the hospital staff tries to send all but the acutely ill youngsters home for a while so they can spend the holidays with their families.
"The ones who are here are either chronically ill or have issues that require them to be hospitalized," the child life specialist had told the team when they arrived.
Hospital visits are nothing new to many of the Longhorns because the football life skills program headed by Jean Bryant includes visits to the Children's Hospital of Austin each Friday before a home game. Even so, the instructions from the tour leader came in handy all the same.
"Remember these are kids and they can be overwhelmed by your size," she said. "Bend down, kneel and get on their level."
She then ran through a few more things most of us would have said had we not been warned.
"Many of them are small because of their illness, so don't ask how old they are. Some of them won't have hair because of chemo treatment, so don't assume it's a girl or a boy because you cannot tell."
Then, the most sobering statement of all came.
"Don't say 'I hope you get well soon' because most of them are chronically ill and will never be well."
Let that one sit in your Christmas stocking for awhile and see if a sprained ankle or an ailing shoulder is as significant as it was before you entered the door.
Inside the auditorium, a 14-year-old waited in his wheel-chair. His face brightened as he posed for a picture with Simms, who was a blond-headed look-a-like for the kid. Simms learned the young man had received a liver transplant when he was 14 months old and was awaiting surgery for blockage complications that had recently occurred.
Across the room, Brown was talking to a young boy whose face appeared to have been burned in a fire.
His dad said the burns came from a reaction to medicine and that he had been burned from the inside out.
"He's been in here for five days and he has stayed in his room," his father said. "He wanted to save his energy to meet the players. This is the first time he has been out since we got here."
In the auditorium, players created pictures with glitter and made sure all of the kids knew their jersey numbers. Aides reminded the kids that the Longhorns would be playing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. For the youngsters, there was not a whimper about the game being early on New Year's morning. For them, it was something to look forward to.
After the players had met with the kids in the auditorium and others had toured the hospital wards, it was time to go. The buses were ready to roll back to the team hotel. The day had begun with a practice that Brown had called the best of the season and it would end a few hours after the hospital visit with a team-only autograph session where players could sign footballs for each other. It was kind of a final session alone with each other.
The child life specialist had said the hospital had more than 300 beds and that the population was about equally divided between terminally ill patients and patients who would recover enough to leave, at least for a while.
Brown tells a story about having knee surgery when he was a player at Florida State. He remembers being in a room with another patient and feeling the pain after the operation. The man behind the curtain next to him was complaining of his feet hurting. Once, when the doctors were working with his neighbor, he peeked through the opening in the drapes.
That was when he learned that the man next to him had lost both legs in an accident. At that moment, his knee surgery seemed small.
When the team left the hospital, Brown thanked the staff and told them, "I think we got more out of this than the kids did."
The autographs and the teddy bears the players left behind and the smiling faces from the kids told a different story.
The amazing thing about the hospital was how, in the midst of serious illness, hope truly was the overriding feeling. What incredible strides modern medicine has made. A baby who was less that 20 hours old was recovering from a heart procedure. Kids who would never have had a chance 10 years ago will go on to lead productive lives. All of that is due to the immense advancements in medicine and to the work of the dedicated men and women who strive every day to make kids and the world healthier.
Friday, all the players had to give was their time and a smile.
For the residents of the Children's Medical Center of Dallas that was more than enough.