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Play of the year

The best play in the NFL this year involved a perfect pass, a great catch, huge celebrations, and even tears.

It was the day when Jason Simmons and Ahman Green of the Houston Texans facilitated a $50,000 down payment for ReginaFoster, a single mother who is raising an autistic child named Reggie.

The idea to help a family in need came out of a jersey swap. When Green signed with the Texans during the offseason, Simmons was already wearing jersey No. 30, the number Green had worn since his college days at Nebraska. Green called Simmons and asked if he could have it. Simmons said yes, but under one condition: Instead of paying Simmons for the number in cash, cars or jewelry -- as often happens in professional sports leagues -- they would find a local family and offer assistance.

Out of a list of candidates last summer they picked Foster, who was able to move her son from a small apartment into a larger house in a Houston suburb. Green donated $20,000, Simmons $5,000 and Texans owner Bob McNair matched them.

During a trying NFL year off the field, the benevolence of the Texans provided a sense of balance. Simmons, Green and Foster showed that the widening gap between professional athletes and the general public is not always impossible to bridge.

"It was something that pro sports needed, not just football," Green said in a recent telephone interview. "You hear a story like that, it makes you want to pass the word along."

Green, Simmons and Foster have done their part, spending large chunks of their time throughout the year retelling their story. I caught Green one afternoon in the Texans training room. Simmons interrupted his off-day at home for a chat. Foster took a break from her work day to talk about the pride of being a home owner and the benefits to her son, who now has a backyard of his own.

"Children with autism basically need a structured life, where everything is the same," said Foster, whose new home is closer to Reggie's school. "He has a schedule that he has to follow when he gets home."

Last month, the Texans held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Foster home, and the family officially moved in. In more good fortune, her mortgage payment is less than her old rent payment, and she can continue in her job at a loan company.

Foster hasn't wasted any time settling in. She hosted the family's Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in her life as relatives from all over Texas filled the home for turkey, stuffing and sweet potato pie.

Foster admitted that she felt an unexpected pride being able to host more than a dozen family members in her new house. Her old place couldn't have held them.

"My mother and grandmother were crying because they know how long I've been struggling," she said. "It was very emotional."

The dinner was such a big hit that the family has decided not to wait until next Thanksgiving to gather at the home again.

"We'll also have Christmas dinner here," Foster said.

The players, meanwhile, continue to feel the good vibes of making a positive change for a mother and her son. Simmons, a defensive back, said he has two new friends in the Fosters. Green, a running back, is already planning to send a Christmas card.

"You don't get a lot of opportunities to help out a complete stranger, to make a change that might help them for the rest of their lives," Green said. "We didn't think it would be this big of an impact. We didn't know that having a child with autism, how much it affects him being in one place and helps to benefit his growth."

Simmons said he feels better about helping the Fosters than any tackle he has ever made.

"No one is going to remember Jason Simmons the football player," he said. "If someone can remember Jason Simmons the man, it's even better."

The Fosters, no doubt, will never forget.

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