In the days leading to Christmas the predictably lengthy line stretched forever. But no one complained and why get antsy when it meant an audience with a jolly soul with a wide smile.
Santa Claus? Guess again and good luck coming up with David Quessenberry.
“Man it was teammates, it was coaches, it was trainers and it was everybody in the organization that has been here for my journey,” Quessenberry said of those thrusting an open hand for him to shake.
Quessenberry, the former La Costa Canyon High star, finally played for the Houston Texans on Sunday. Before turning to the New Year, we replay this Christmas Miracle.
“It’s been a long road,” said the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Quessenberry.
It was a rough stretch of highway as Quessenberry had to pancake-block non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to realize his goal of competing in the NFL.
After being diagnosed with cancer in the Texans’ offseason workouts in 2014, there were few guarantees for Quessenberry. Wearing shoulder pads for Houston was a long shot, but one Quessenberry embraced.
Quessenberry’s will to prevail over his disease was a powerful message.
“Everybody in the locker room feeds off his energy,” wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “What he went through to come out and to still be a part of this team everyday like nothing happened to him, everybody feeds off of his energy. Honestly, I don’t know if he knows it, but everybody in this locker room looks up to him.”
To earn that respect without taking a snap illustrates Quessenberry’s impact. That’s why no one revolted when Quessenberry, in his NFL debut, was selected a team captain.
If speculating he had chills for the pre-game coin toss, you would be right on the money. When Quessenberry’s mug filled the Reliant Stadium video board, fans turned up the roar.
“Hearing the crowd cheer, to give me an ovation and show me some love, that was very special,” Quessenberry said. “I was high-fiving my teammates and it hit me. It was like, ‘Wow, these guys have seen me through my whole journey.’ To see them back on the field it was cool for me and hopefully it was cool for the fans.”
Quessenberry’s biggest boosters were in Carlsbad. His parents, David and Maureen, were already planning a Christmas shindig. Then word spread that Quessenberry, a guard, would be active in the nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers — the dinner party grew considerably.
“I’ve got a huge family and they were all going to my parents’ house anyway and they just kind of pumped it up,” Quessenberry said.
“It really kind of lined up perfectly. It was a prime-time game and they could see it on the West Coast. And that’s just not my family but every person that I have met and wished me well through my fight. That meant a lot to me.”
In a game that meant little to the Texans, they fell 34-6. But it was a contest that meant everything to Quessenberry.
“It was very emotional for me,” he said. “It was something that was really special.”
That goes for Quessenberry, too.
“What else can you say about that guy,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “That guy was in a tough spot not too long ago and for him to come back and play in an NFL game is an incredible thing if you ask me.”
Did somebody ask Santa for something good to happen to a great guy?
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports