The lights are bright, the noise deafening. Football is a physical and mental battle. On this day in early December, some 69,000 raucous fans packed CenturyLink Field to watch the Seahawks dismantle the San Francisco 49ers. Yet, the Hawks know, the game they play provides a platform to do something bigger than themselves. If you needed proof, all you had to do was look at their feet.
Every year the NFL gives players a chance to showcase a charity of their choice on their shoes with the My Cause, My Cleats game. For tight end Nick Vannett the choice was an easy one. Never Ever Give Up: The Jessie Rees Foundation for Childhood Cancer (NEGU).
"There's this girl, Jessie Rees, who started it," explained Vannett. "She was terminally ill. She felt like there wasn't much in the hospital room to do, to play with, to take her mind off what was going on with her. So she wanted to do it for other kids dealing with the same situation she was."
NEGU's mission is simple, yet powerful. Help every kid fighting cancer to never ever give up. One of the ways the foundation does this is by distributing JoyJars, stuffed with toys and activities and filled with love.
"Whenever I go room-to-room in these hospitals and visit with these kids, I get a kick out of it," said Vannett. "Just to be able to brighten their day and see how excited they are, it's almost like they forget what they're dealing with at the time".
He knew he wanted his cleats to showcase the contents of a JoyJar. To make that vision a reality, he enlisted the help of Sean Vergara, a 22-year-old visual artist, who specializes in custom shoes.
"[Nick] was really specific," said Vergara. "He wanted to make it colorful, he wanted to have the logo. The main part to him is giving the children these toys and just seeing the smile on their faces.
Vergara was a hot commodity among the Hawks. He also designed cleats for David Moore, Rasheem Green and J.D. McKissic - but Vannett's were by far the most intricate.
"There's all kinds of prep," explained Vergara. "You have to spend hours on (the cleats) before you can even paint colors. So it's a process, but it's a lot of fun."
Those hours of painstaking work paid off.
"It was just incredible what he did," said Vannett. "It actually turned out better than what I thought the cleat was going to look like. He did a great job and I'm just so fired up about how the cleats came out.
They may be just a pair of cleats, but if you look a little closer you'll see the story they tell, the message they send is as important as it is profound.
"Never ever give up. That's just what we really try to encourage. Just tell [the kids] to keep fighting on."
Vannett's game-worn cleats are now up for auction, along with a number of other pairs worn by the Seahawks. All the proceeds from the cleats go to NEGU.