In Helping Haiti, Pierre Garcon Wins Fans in Miami

Padang ekspres.net-MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — At Pierre Garcon’s feet Tuesday sat a cooler containing six bottles of Gatorade, an N.F.L. sponsor. Arranged on the round table in front of him was a Gatorade tea towel, another bottle of Gatorade and the official Reebok Super Bowl XLIV baseball cap, its bill pointing toward the cameras so the game logo was in clear view.

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Steve C. Mitchell/European Pressphoto Agency

Pierre Garcon, a second-year receiver, with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning after the Jets game, in which he had 11 catches, including a touchdown. Recent developments on the 2010 N.F.L. Playoffs with background, analysis, timelines and earlier events from NYTimes.com and Google. The commercialization of professional football’s biggest game was in full bloom during media day, but Garcon, a second-year receiver with the Indianapolis Colts, did his part to shift the focus to compassion. He sat down to face a scrum of reporters holding a small cloth flag of Haiti, his parents’ homeland, from which he fashioned a bandanna.

“I hope I don’t get fined for it,” Garcon said as he tightened the knot and adjusted the cloth on his forehead.

At the beginning of the season, it was easy to overlook Garcon, a former Division III player stuck behind another young receiver, Anthony Gonzalez, on the Colts’ depth chart. After Gonzalez was lost for the season with an injury in the opening game, Garcon, 23, stepped in and made 47 catches, including four for touchdowns.

Four Indianapolis players had more regular-season receptions than Garcon, but none commanded more attention before the Colts met the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs on Jan. 16.

Four days before the game, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leveling much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and resulting in an estimated 200,000 deaths. As one of a few Haitian-Americans in the N.F.L., Garcon, who was born in New York and raised in South Florida, stepped to the fore.

He teamed with the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission to raise money for earthquake relief. The goal: to raise $150,000 and provide more than 500,000 meals.

“I felt like I had to represent Haiti,” Garcon said. “There are people out there trapped and dying as we speak, children with legs being amputated. I had to play for them.”

Garcon has been a revelation in the postseason. He made five catches in a victory against the Ravens and an American Football Conference championship game-record 11 receptions in the Colts’ win against the Jets, after which he exuberantly wrapped the A.F.C. championship trophy in the Haitian flag.

Garcon’s flags to riches story won him a cluster of new fans, and not just in Indianapolis. In Little Haiti, an area of Miami not far from Sun Life Stadium, where Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints will be played, drugs are rampant and a serial arsonist is on the loose. It can be a bleak place even on the sunniest day, but when Garcon waved the flag after the A.F.C. championship game, he sent a refreshing breeze through the streets.

At Chef Creole, a corner restaurant famous for its shrimp Creole and conch fritters, the mention of Garcon’s name prompted a patron, Franklin Monge, to kiss the tips of his fingers. “He’s a nice guy, and what he’s doing is good for the country,” Monge said.

Vermet Sejour, the restaurant’s manager, was born in Haiti but has lived in South Florida since 1996. He lost two younger brothers and a younger sister — all in their 20s — in the earthquake. Sejour said his sister sustained internal injuries and died last week after being transported to the Dominican Republic for treatment. Her funeral is Saturday.

“It hurts,” he said, “but I have to be here. I have to be strong.”

Sejour will take time off from work Sunday to attend the game, having been able to trade on the restaurant’s renown to procure a ticket. Following Garcon’s lead, he will carry a Haitian flag into the stadium after feasting on Creole barbecue at a tailgate party. Because of Garcon, Sejour will be rooting for the Colts.

“He’s waving the Haitian flag, and right now that’s all we’ve got,” Sejour said, adding, “He’s showing all the Haitians, ‘Look, I know where I came from.’ ”

At the Atlantis Barber Shop in the heart of Little Haiti, the owner, Jean Calixte, leaned back in one of his chairs and said he had never heard of Garcon before last month. “I don’t know nothing about him, but I’ve seen him on TV,” Calixte said.

Intrigued by the prospect of a Haitian-American performing well on the national stage, Calixte watched the A.F.C. title game.

“To me, he seemed like he win for the country of Haiti,” Calixte said, adding: “We are Miami Dolphins fans, but now we have a reason to watch the Super Bowl. Since Garcon is a member of the Colts and he’s a Haitian, I think most of us are going to cheer for the Colts now. To cheer for him is like cheering for Haiti.”

There are roughly 250,000 people of Haitian descent in South Florida. Garcon, who grew up in West Palm Beach, used to accompany his mother when she made on the 75-minute drive to Little Haiti to shop for groceries. If Garcon were to walk into his shop this week, Calixte said, he would cut his hair at no charge. “If I have an opportunity just to shake his hand, it would be my honor,” Calixte said.

In a little over a year’s time, Garcon has gone from a practice-squad player to a marquee name in the Super Bowl. He attributes his success to hard work and perseverance.

“I’m trying to give them a little bit of hope,” Garcon said. “It’s a hard time. People need it. I’m trying to do something positive for our community. There’s a lot of bad aspects of being Haitian, so trying to do something to let people know that we care and let kids know that they can be anybody they want to be.”

His message is simple: If he can realize his dreams, anybody can. “You don’t have to be from the biggest country,” Garcon said. “You don’t have to be from the best place. You just have to work towards your goals and stay focused. Perseverance takes you a long way.”

Dogged determination — and an influx of new blood — carried the Saints and their city from the depths of despair after Hurricane Katrina to the class of the National Football Conference. “What New Orleans went through is kind of like what Haiti’s going through right now with the earthquake,” Garcon said.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has relatives who live in Haiti and his parents are from there. He is selling a “Department of Domeland Defense” T-shirt that he designed, with proceeds going to the Haitian relief effort.

Vilma was moved nearly to tears when he saw highlights of Garcon parading the flag around Lucas Oil Stadium as if it were the A.F.C. trophy itself. “That was very moving, very touching,” Vilma said. “There are not many times I get emotional watching football. But I got emotional when I saw that.”

It gives Garcon pause to consider how different his life might be if his parents had not moved to the United States in search of a better life for their children; if he had listened to people who said he wasn’t good enough to play in the N.F.L.; if Gonzalez had not been injured.

“I’m glad to be here,” he said.

A few minutes later, Garcon stepped off the podium, leaving behind the baseball cap, the tea towel and the cooler of drinks.

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