Even in the wake of bad game that resulted in a 42-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on national television, he put kindness at the forefront.
Ponder and his wife Samantha, a college football color analyst for ESPN, were walking through the Mall of America on Oct. 3, the day after that defeat, and a man with two daughters recognized Christian and wanted to have their picture taken with him.
After the picture was taken, the man, Justin Robbins, explained to Christian that he was taking his daughters, Brianna, 9, and Emily, 8, to Lululemons to try to cheer them up days after they tragically lost their mother in an auto accident.
It didn’t take the Ponders long to know what they wanted to do.
After Christian posed for the picture, the dad and daughters sat down on a bench to talk and post their photo with Christian on Facebook. The Ponders made their break for Lululemons ahead of the family and told the manager that whatever the family bought the Ponders would pay for it.
“We just met this family that obviously had a tragedy. The story shouldn’t be about us,” Ponder said Wednesday after WCCO ran a story about the incident. “It’s not really a feel-good story. These two girls, 9 and 8 years old, lost their mom. It’s sad. We were there and they had said they were going to Lululemons and my wife thought we’d stop by and told them that we’d take care of them real quick, but we didn’t expect to get the attention over it. We tried to do something that can hopefully make things a little easier. They’re going through obviously a tough time.”
It certainly made a positive and lasting impact with the family.
“When we walked into the store, the manager came out and he mentioned that they wanted to buy my daughters some clothes that day,” Justin told CBS, and he pressed the manager to find out that the Ponders had offered to pay the bill.
“After a while, my daughters had the whole store in a bag. So I decided to say, ‘You’re not getting all those clothes.’ I allowed them to get one outfit.”
While Justin limited the purchase, Ponder didn’t seem to care what the amount was. He said he wasn’t even sure how much the Robbinses spent. The Ponders were just aiming to make the girls’ day a little brighter in light of their recent loss.
The birth of their own daughter, named Bowden after Christian’s college coach, Bobby Bowden, earlier this year only brought the Robbins’ tragedy closer to the Ponders’ hearts.
“Yeah, I can’t imagine losing a family member. If my daughter lost me or my wife, that’s a hard transition and that’s a big loss,” Ponder said. “I felt for those little girls. To lose their mom, that’s terrible, and it sounds like from what I’ve read, they were two gymnasts that (their mother Maggie) was involved with the gymnastics teams. It was tough.
“They seemed like for that moment they were handling it alright. Hopefully it would keep them a little distracted from everything they were going through.”
Christian said Samantha frequents Lululemons often, but he was thankful that the manager trusted them to stop by later and pay the tab.
It didn’t matter to Christian that he is often the focus of criticism among fans. This wasn’t about football; it was simply about compassion for those in need.
“Football is one thing and life is completely different. Life is a lot bigger than the game of football,” Christian said. “I’m called to do other things than play football or outside of the game. People are people. The criticism comes with this position, but people deserve to be treated right. If I’m in the position to help someone, I’m going to try to help somebody. They were nice. When we talked about the game Thursday night, it wasn’t negatively. He was positive and supportive. I look past (the negativity).
“For me and my faith, I try to serve in a quiet manner. Obviously with the NFL, especially with the things that are going on right now, you want some good publicity for the league. Especially my wife and I, we try to do things where it’s in the quiet because we don’t want the recognition. That’s not what it’s not about.”