THE PHILADELPHIA Eagles have a secret Santa on their team - and, no, it's not Andy Reid.
While Big Red might have the right physique to play the Big Red Guy, it turns out injured cornerback Ellis Hobbs is the Eagle most likely to be mistaken for Jolly Old St. Nick.
Hobbs, 27, stepped into a South Philadelphia Toys "R" Us yesterday afternoon, smack in the middle of one of those manic Christmas-is-just-a-week-away sales.
No one noticed that an Eagle had landed. There were no cheerleaders flipping through the store, no public-relations handlers handing out photos, no sign even of Swoop, the mascot.
The stage was set for an entirely unremarkable tale. But then Hobbs did something wonderful, something that would make even Ebenezer Scrooge hoot, "God bless us, everyone!"
He approached Jennifer Santoro, who was waiting in line to buy about a hundred bucks worth of toys for her 6-year-old son. With little more than a wink and a touch of his nose, Hobbs offered to pay for her toys.
Santoro, 34, blinked. The first word that came to mind, she said, was "scam," not Santa.
"He said, 'Excuse me miss, I'm Ellis Hobbs from the Philadelphia Eagles. Would you mind if I purchased those toys for you?' " said Santoro, a manager at the Conestoga Bank, on Passyunk Avenue near Moore Street.
"I think I said, 'Get the hell out of here. Why? Are you for real?' I asked for his I.D. I thought it was some kind of scam," she said.
The married father of two explained that he was fortunate to be in a position to make someone else's holiday a little brighter.
Santoro, who was picking up Wii games along with Spider-Man and Iron Man toys for her son, Stephen, finally relented.
"I was literally down to my last hundred dollars for presents. It was so awesome, what he did," she said.
Hobbs kept on playing Santa, too. Santoro said he paid for toys that the woman behind her in line was about to purchase, and might have spread even more holiday cheer after that.
No one knows for sure; Hobbs didn't want to talk about his visit to the Toys "R" Us because he didn't want to make it seem as if he was seeking publicity, said Eagles spokesman Derek Boyko.
Boyko confirmed that Hobbs paid for the toys at the store, on Oregon Avenue near 3rd Street.
Santoro said she was struck all the more by Hobbs' kindness when she went back to work and looked him up on Google.
She learned that he has been haunted by the Grinchlike specter of serious injury ever since he was traded to the Eagles from the New England Patriots in 2009.
He suffered a season-ending neck injury midway through his first season, playing mainly as the team's kick returner.
Any hope of a big rebound season went down the drain on Nov. 21, when Hobbs suffered another season-ending neck injury while returning a kick against the New York Giants. It's unclear if he'll ever play in the NFL again.
"I felt really bad when I read that about him," said Santoro, who lives in South Philly. "If I saw him again, I wouldn't ask for his I.D. I would probably hug him!
"He really wanted to help other people," she said. "Do you ever hear a good story like that?"
Yes, Virginia . . .