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Army-Navy annual football game, Philadelphia, Pa.
Photo Courtesy of Danny Wild
www.DannyWild.com

NFL FOR WARRIORS

Many of our Military have had very successful college careers and some even went on to the pros. Many NFL athletes and teams have and do participate in USO tours and support our troops and veterans in various ways. In this section numerous teams and players are showing their support.

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Everyone listed here has visited the troops overseas, at a medical facility or have supported our troops in other ways.

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NFL's Salute To Service

NFL Salute To Service

NFL and the Armed Forces

Supporting the military is part of the fabric of the NFL. This support takes place both at home and abroad, with NFL players and coaches traveling overseas to salute the troops, as well as with team recognition of our servicemen and women through the “Salute to Service” campaign.

Through its long standing partnerships and support from our 32 teams, the NFL takes pride in supporting military personnel and remains committed to raising awareness for the sacrifices they make on our behalf. All proceeds from the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign are donated to the NFL’s three military appreciation nonprofit partners: USO, Pat Tillman Foundation, and Wounded Warrior Project.

Below are examples of how partners use the funds:

The Pat Tillman Foundation provides scholarships for service members, veterans and their spouses as part of the Tillman Military Scholars program.

The USO built the NFL Sports Lounge at the USO Warrior and Family Centers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Md.) and Fort Belvoir (Va.) as part of NFL's funding of the Operation Enduring Care initiative.

The Wounded Warrior Project hosts Physical Health and Wellness Expos for severely injured veterans around the country.

www.NFL.com/Salute

Roger Goodell -- NFL Commissioner

Photo courtesy of Roger Goodell and the National Football League

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on his USO tour to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 becoming the first sports commissioner to visit the troops overseas as part of a USO trip.

"Several things about the trip were very striking - how our servicemen and women never complain about anything, how much I admired them, and how much the NFL meant to them," Goodell told Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "The positive attitude and pride they take in their mission and our country are inspiring. You go over there thinking you're doing something for the troops, but you return recognizing it is one of the most meaningful things you have ever done for your own sake."

Goodell’s father, the late US. Senator Charles E. Goodell (N.Y.), served in the US. Navy during World War II and the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War.

The NFL and USO have worked together on overseas morale-building visits for nearly 50 years. Commissioner Pete Rozelle started the relationship with the USO n 1966 becoming the first sports organization to send players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have been active supporters of our veterans and service members for many years. Players, alumni and cheerleaders have visited with service members throughout New England. Many have visited veterans at local VA hospitals. During the Patriots “Military Appreciation Week” the Patriots have hosted a Football Skills Camp for veterans from each of the six New England states. Patriot’s alumni play the roles of coaches teaching veterans the finer points of drills and throwing and catching. The Skills Camp held in the Dana Farber Field House at Gillette Stadium and is also attended by the Patriot Cheerleaders.

The Patriots celebrating “Veteran and Military Volunteerism” have worked with Homes for our Troops, the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, Pease Greeters and the USO.

The Patriots Charitable Foundation has hosted a week-long focus on “Veteran and Military Volunteerism” in conjunction with the team’s ongoing “Celebrate Volunteerism” initiative. “I consider our veterans and active duty soldiers as the true unsung heroes of our country, said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “We look forward to honoring our military with events throughout the week, including a pregame Salute to Service on Sunday that will include representative from each branch of the military. It’s always great to give our fans an opportunity to show their appreciation to those real Patriot heroes”.

In April 2015 the Super Bowl winning champion Patriots were hosted at the White House by President Obama. Before that event many members of the team visited Walter Reed Medical Center. The Patriots began this tradition after winning their first Super Bowl in 2002 and Thursday was Mr. Kraft’s and Coach Belichick’s fourth visit. Belichick grew up in the military culture as the son of a football coach at the Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis Md., and Mr. Kraft has always felt an obligation to honor the military.

Kraft speaking about being in Washington and visiting Walter Reed said, “It was a day to celebrate the Patriots, and honor the soldiers who allow us to enjoy the Patriot victories. We’re in the heart of the free world, in the greatest country in the world,” said Kraft. “It’s pretty cool. We have a chance to do some good to”.

Visiting the White House on April 19, 2017, to be recognized by President Trump for their fifth Super Bowl win the Patriots had invited seven wounded veterans from Walter Reed Medical Center to attend. The President praised the Patriots for being supporters of the military and veterans.

Robert Kraft owner of the New England Patriots greets a veteran at Walter Reed Medical Center
Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

“We realize what a great country this is and how thankful we are to be here,” Kraft said. “We celebrate sports today, but we also celebrate what’s great about America. Being at that hospital, it was pretty special”.

Head Coach Bill Belichick and player Jerod Mayo at Walter Reed Medical Center having some laughs with a veteran
Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

The trip to Walter Reed for many members of the team and organization was outstanding, Belichick said “Those are the real heroes, today and every day, defending our freedom.”

“Those guys are out there fighting and dying for our country and protecting our freedom, “Belichick said. “They make what we do possible. There’s no way to express the gratitude that I feel for what they do for our families and our country.”

Jared Mayo and Devin McCourty visiting with a wounded warrior
Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

Matthew Slater hanging out with a wounded warrior
Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

Robert Kraft, Coach Belichick and players with hospital staff
Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

Service members lead the New England Patriots onto the field
Photo by Steven Senne/AP

Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera

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Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Photo courtesy of Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers
Photo by Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez / Carolina Panthers

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Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Photo courtesy of Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers
Photo by Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez / Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera became the fourth coach in Carolina Panthers history on January 11, 2011.

In five seasons, Rivera has guided the team to a Super Bowl appearance, an NFC Championship and three NFC South titles. He is a two-time (2013 and 2015) Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award winner.

In 2015, Rivera led the Panthers to the second Super Bowl appearance in team history following a franchise-best 15-1 record and their third consecutive NFC South championship. In the process, Carolina became the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 14-0, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots and 2009 Indianapolis Colts. Carolina’s 18-game regular season winning streak was the longest in NFC history. In 2014, Rivera led the Panthers to their second consecutive NFC South championship and the team’s first playoff win since 2005. The Panthers became the first team since 1970 to overcome a six-game losing streak and win their division. In 2013, Rivera directed Carolina to 12 wins, the NFC South title and its first playoff appearance since 2008.

Before joining the Panthers, Rivera coached the San Diego Chargers (2007-2010) and Chicago Bears (2004-06, 1997-98) and Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003). In 2006, the Bears defense led the NFL with 44 takeaways, helping propel Chicago to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. He is just the third Latino head coach in NFL history, joining Tom Flores with the Oakland Raiders (1979-1987) and Seattle Seahawks (1992-94) and Tom Fears with the New Orleans Saints (1967-1970).

A second-round draft choice in 1984 by Chicago, Rivera played nine seasons with the Bears. Primarily an outside linebacker, he was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl XX winning team.

As a player, Rivera was known for both his skill and determination on the field and his dedication of time and energy to the community. As a result, he was named the Bears Man of the Year in 1988 and earned the club’s Ed Block Courage Award in 1989. He has carried that same community commitment to coaching, sponsoring a bowling tournament to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, USO and Humane Society.

An All-American linebacker at the University of California (1980-83), Rivera finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in sacks with 22 and tackles with 336.

Military Support

Having spent time on five military bases in three different countries as the son of a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army, Rivera is committed to promoting the military for the USO of North Carolina. As a military brat, Rivera learned to live by a certain set of core values. They're the same values he tries to instill as a coach in his players and in his locker room. Leadership, teamwork, responsibility, accountability, listening, attitude, preparation and effort. He relates everything he learned from his father and his military experience and how that could be applied to a football team -- or everyday life.

My father, Eugenio, was a chief Warrant Officer fourth grade,” said Rivera. He served 32 years. He joined when he was in Puerto Rico and was pretty much assigned all over the United States, but our home base was Fort Ord, California. That’s where my three brothers and I were born.”

“It was a great way of life for him, and it was a great way of life for my family. We really enjoyed growing up that way.

Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, care about military and veteran issues, supporting events for the USO in North Carolina, They buy tickets for, and host, a military family at every Panthers home game. In addition, Rivera speaks out about the importance of employers hiring veterans, who he believes have all the training and discipline to make great employees and even greater leaders.

“I’d like to believe that if you paid attention and really watched what your parents went through as a soldier, you understand a lot sooner than other kids what it means to be an American,” he said. “You are taught self-sacrifice early, you are taught to do things for the greater good a lot sooner, and you understand the significance of making a commitment and giving your all. When you hear people talk about being brought up in an environment where you learn early on about commitment, teaching and sacrificing, that shapes who you are. I think that’s a bonus for coaches because you know young people like that are even more committed.” From an interview with Mark Seavey, in The American Legion, January 2016

Tom Coughlin, Former Head Coach New York Giants and current Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Former Head Coach New York Giants and current Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the
Jacksonville Jaguars, Tom Coughlin on game day

Photo by Evan Pinkus – Courtesy of Evan Pinkus and the New York Giants

On January 10, 2017 the Jacksonville Jaguars hired Tom Coughlin to be their Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Coughlin was the franchise's first head coach when the Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995. He guided Jacksonville to the 1996 and 1999 AFC Championship Games during his eight-year stint with the team. Coughlin was out of football in 2003 and in 2004 was hired by the New York Giants.

Coughlin was one of the very best coaches in the Giants’ 91 year history. The 2015 season was Coughlin’s 12th and final season with the Giants. He is just the second man in Giants history to coach the team for at least 12 consecutive seasons. With the Giants, Coughlin was 102-90 in regular season and 8-3 in the postseason. Coughlin led the Giants to two NFC East titles and five playoff berths. His eight postseason triumphs tie him with Hall of Fame member, Bill Parcells, for most ever by a Giants coach. Coughlin was the teams wide receivers coach under Parcells from 1988-90.

His signature achievements are the Giants’ victories against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. Coughlin’s 2-0 record in Super Bowls makes him one of 13 coaches to win multiple Super Bowls. He is one of 19 coaches with a perfect Super Bowl record.

In 2009 Coach Coughlin spent his July Fourth holiday weekend in Iraq visiting the troops. Here’s some of what he had to say about his inspiring visit:

“We come to these kids, and so many look like kids I could be coaching, from a world where guys in sports are called heroes,” Coughlin said while in Baghdad. “Only now we’re the ones in the presence of real heroes. Wherever we’ve gone, I’ve reminded the guys in uniform that when we were winning the Super Bowl, they called us ‘road warriors,’ because we won all those games on the road. But then I tell them we weren’t the real warriors, they are.”

“It gives you the deepest possible feelings of patriotism,” Coughlin said. “But it gives you great humility as well. This isn’t about what people might think of the war. This is about the people who have fought it, the people who want to be here, the leadership they show, and the virtue. Coaches talk about discipline and organization all the time. Then you come to a place like this, see the level of discipline and organization here, the coordinated events of a multi-national force trying to end this conflict, and you’re just blown away.”

Tom Coughlin said, “People in our country are always going to be divided on politics, that’s part of the greatness of our country. But I don’t believe anyone is divided on the support for our troops, our admiration for real warriors. And if there’s one message we’ve tried to convey while we’ve been over here, it’s that. Just that. They keep thanking us for being here and I keep saying, ‘Are you kidding? We’re here to thank you. We’re honored to be in your presence.”

“Ever since I got into coaching,” he said, “I’ve been in the business of leadership. Now I’ve witnessed this kind of leadership, in the presence of heroes. You know what all of us coaches did over here? We watched and we learned.”

“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”

USO tour excerpts from the NY Daily News.com titled, “Tom Coughlin makes an unforgettable trip to Iraq for the Fourth of July weekend”, July 4, 2009 and written by Mike Lupica

Larry Izzo Special Teams Coach Houston Texans

Larry Izzo, one of the most acclaimed special teams players in NFL history, is currently the special teams coach for the
Houston Texans. Larry has supported the military throughout his career. As part of USO tours Larry has traveled to Afghanistan,
Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar with most of his time spent in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Photos courtesy of Larry Izzo and the National Football League

Izzo was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at Rice University, where he played linebacker. As a senior he was a team captain, and consensus first-team All-Southwest Conference selection. In 2002, Izzo graduated from Rice with a degree in business.

In a 14-year NFL career (1996-2009), Izzo played for three teams and was both a three-time Super Bowl champion with New England and a three-time Pro Bowler. His teammates selected him as a special teams captain nine times, including eight with the Patriots.

Izzo began his career in 1996 as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. His first year he was voted the special teams alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl team and was an all-rookie selection by Pro Football Weekly. In 2000 he was elected the Dolphins’ special teams captain and earned his earned his first Pro Bowl selection after finishing with a team-high 31 special teams tackles.

Prior to the 2001 season, Izzo joined New England. In his first season with the Patriots, Izzo was voted special teams captain for the first of eight consecutive seasons. The following year, Izzo was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.

Larry Izzo during his Middle East USO tour

Photo courtesy of Larry Izzo and the National Football League

Merril Hoge - Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, former ESPN Football Analyst, current Author and Motivational Speaker

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Merril Hoge ESPN / NFL Football Analyst

Photo Courtesy of Merril Hoge

athletes-for-warriors

Merril Hoge visiting with troops in the Middle East

Photo Courtesy of Merril Hoge

Former NFL running back Merril Hoge is an analyst for a variety of ESPN programs, including NFL Live, NFL Matchup, NFL PrimeTime and SportsCenter. He also contributes insight and analysis to ESPN’s annual Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage and appears on multiple platforms, including ESPN Radio and ESPN.com.

An eight-year NFL veteran out of Idaho State University where he set 11 school records at running back, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was the team’s starting running back for six of those seasons. He set the team record for most receptions by a running back, totaling 50 in 1988 and was one of only two Steelers to rush for more than 100 yards in back-to-back playoff games. He concluded his career in 1995 with the Chicago Bears after suffering a series of concussions. At the time of his retirement, Hoge had played in 122 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL at that time.

Outside of his television work, Hoge is Chairman and a member of the board of the Highmark Caring Foundation, which has created four centers in Pennsylvania (downtown and suburban Pittsburgh, Erie and Harrisburg) for grieving children, adolescents and their families who have lost loved ones. The foundation is particularly meaningful to Hoge, who lost his mother when he was just 21 years old.

Hoge, who battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003, received the Chairman’s Advocacy Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2004 and 2008 for his outstanding participation in driving awareness for LLS and its mission. Hoge is also extremely active in concussion research and in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries. In the fall of 2009, Hoge testified at a congressional hearing on head injuries in football, and, in January 2010, he was appointed to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management.

Hoge was named in March 2010 to the board of directors for USA Football, the sport's national governing body on youth and amateur levels, and in March 2011 he participated in the NFL-USO Tour to Afghanistan. In September 2010, Hoge released his first book, “Find a Way: Three Words That Changed My Life,” about the life philosophy that has guided him and enabled him to overcome obstacles throughout his life.

About his USO Tour to Afghanistan

A quote from Merril Hoge--- “I feel honored to go over there and in some way bring a little bit of relief to people who fight for me every day,” said Hoge. “Every time I lay my head down at night, I am thankful for what they do to protect our country and serve. We’ll spend time there with the men and women who lay their life on the line every day and it’s such a small sacrifice and an honor to be able to go over there and experience that.”

www.MerrilHoge.com

Chris Mortensen – ESPN / Senior Football Analyst – US Army Veteran

Chris Mortenson ESPN Senior NFL Analyst

Photo courtesy of Chris Mortenson and ESPN

Chris Mortensen, an award-winning journalist and one of the most respected and accomplished reporters covering the National Football League today, joined ESPN in 1991. A senior NFL analyst, Mortensen regularly appears on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, SportsCenter, NFL Live and other programs, in addition to being part of ESPN’s annual Super Bowl week and NFL Draft coverage. On Fridays during the fall, Mortensen co-hosts a two-hour national NFL show on ESPN Radio joined by Mike Tirico and Keyshawn Johnson. His work also regularly appears on ESPN.com.

A native of Torrance, Calif., Mortensen attended El Camino College, and then served two years in the Army during the Vietnam Era before he was honorably discharged. Among other military related events he has been honored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Organization for his support of the troops.

Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh

On right, Head Coach John Harbaugh

Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

Head Coach John Harbaugh visiting with the troops in Iraq in 2009. On his left is General Raymond T. Odierno, Commanding General,
United States Forces – Iraq – 2008 - 2010

Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

Coach Gary Kubiak left side of banner visiting with the troops in Kuwait in 2011

Photo from NFL.com and by Steve Manuel/USO

Coach John Harbaugh

The NFL awarded Head Coach John Harbaugh with the 2013 “Salute to Service Award” presented by USAA, the League’s Official Military Appreciation Sponsor. The award was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support military and their families.

"My good fortune is that I've had the opportunity to spend time with members of our military. From those stationed in the Middle East to others I have met in the States, there is a common theme with those I have met and some whom we've put in front of our team. These are great and smart men and women. And, they are sacrificing for all of us," said Coach Harbaugh. "They deserve our respect, support and, importantly, our thanks every day. We try to do that as often as we can. They inspire us. Members of the military are all about team. They have each other’s back. They defend us. They protect us. I salute all of them.”

In 2008, Harbaugh helped institute Military Appreciation Day, an annual event that takes place during Ravens training camp. Since its establishment, an estimated 8,000 service members have enjoyed preferred seating and opportunities to meet with Ravens players and coaches each summer. Once the season begins, Harbaugh then invites wounded warriors to be his guests at every Ravens home game. Excerpts from the Baltimore Ravens web site and NFL.com
www.BaltimoreRavens.com

Former Tennessee Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt current Offensive Coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers

Coach Whisenhunt former head coach of the Tennessee Titans current
Offensive Coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

Whisenhunt a native of Augusta, Georgia, played tight end as a walk on at Georgia Tech from 1980-84. He was drafted in the 12th round and played nine seasons in the NFL, including four with the Falcons, two with the Redskins and three with the jets.

Whisenhunt entered the NFL coaching ranks in 1997 as the tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Progressing through the coaching ranks with various teams in different positions finally becoming an offensive coordinator for the Pittsburg Steelers in 2004. A year later he help lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory against the Seattle Seahawks. In 2007 he became the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals taking over a franchise that had losing seasons in 20 of the previous 22 seasons. In his second season the team captured the NFC West title, an NFC Championship and the first-ever trip to a Super Bowl. His third year produced another NFC West title, the franchise’s first back to back titles in 35 years. Whisenhunt was head coach of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 and 2015. In 2016 he was hired as offensive coordinator for the now Los Angeles Chargers.

In July of 2011 Whisenhunt took part in a USO tour to Iraq with several other coaches. Whisenhunt writing from Iraq on July 4, 2011 said:“The emotional connection to the troops and seeing how excited they were to see somebody from home that was something I didn’t expect. The human element, even though you think you know what it will be, once you see the conditions they live in, but the enthusiasm they have for their job, that’s what hits you where you aren’t expecting it.”

“In talking to other coaches, those are the things we will be thinking about for weeks and weeks about this trip. Today, on the Fourth of July, I was just proud to see the troops and how they represented our country. I am grateful to be an American and to have these people helping another country as well as defending our freedom.”Excerpts taken from the Arizona Cardinals web site story, “Fourth of July With the Troops”, by Ken Whisenhunt.

Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders

Squad photo of the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders

Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders are among the most highly regarded and recognized cheerleader brands in the world with monthly page views of their website estimated at over 750,000. They are the most accessible and visible ambassadors of the Miami Dolphins. They are in the community on a weekly basis and make over 400 appearances per year. The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders are the face of the organization locally, nationally and globally. This ethnically diverse team represents all women - professional, educated, and hard working. They are our mothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors. They reach a broad range of fans and are blessed with the ability to be positive role models and to inspire young girls through public speaking, physical fitness and etiquette.

The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders represent the very best aspirations of the team itself, symbolizing the pursuit of perfection, intelligence, performance, teamwork and competition. Their own special personality traits deliver positivity, upbeat energy, fitness, healthy lifestyle, dance, fashion and a passionate love for Miami Dolphins football.

DolphinsCheerleaders.com

Military Support

One of the top initiatives of the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders is to support our service men and women. The MDC have traveled across the globe with the USO, Armed Forces Entertainment and Navy Entertainment to entertain our troops and bring a little piece of home to those serving abroad. The squad has participated in over 20 military tours overseas in the past 15 years including multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to touring overseas, the team has visited many bases stateside from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Seattle all the way to the Naval Air Base in Key West. Some staple events that the Cheerleaders participate in locally are Fort Lauderdale’s Fleet Week, POW Day at the VA Hospital in Miami and Honor Flight.

Tours throughout the years

Nov. 2001 - Kuwait, UAE
Jan 2003 - UAE, Oman, Qatar
Nov. 2003 - Kuwait, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar
Feb 2005 - Osaka and Okinawa, Japan
2005 - Bosnia, Kosovo, Austria
Jan 2008 - Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, USS Tarawa, USS Truman
Dec 2008 - Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait
Jan 2009 - Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti
April 2010 - Haiti
Aug. 2010 - Curacao and Honduras
Jan 2011 - Tokyo, Japan
Feb 2011 - Guantanamo Bay
Feb 2012 - Guantanamo Bay
Feb 2012 - Germany, Bosnia
Oct 2012 - Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan
Jan 2013 - Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt
Feb 2013 - Guantanamo Bay
Jan 2014 - Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan
Oct 2014 - Afghanistan, Kuwait, Djibouti
Jan 2015 - Ethiopia, UAE, Bahrain
Jan 2016 - Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Afghanistan

General John F Campbell (middle) commander of the Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces—Afghanistan with Command Sergeant Major Delbert Byers welcome the Dolphins Cheerleaders and two former players.
Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Dolphin Cheerleaders spending time with the troops
Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Dolphin Cheerleaders spending time with the troops
Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Dolphin Cheerleaders spending time with the troops
Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders

The Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders 2016-2017 full squad.

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Through the years, the Colts Cheerleaders have travelled the world to visit military bases and participate in USO and Armed Forces Entertainment shows. This has included tours to the South Pacific, Mediterranean, and Japan to name a few. They have also visited many bases stateside.

In recent seasons, during the Colts home game near Veterans Day, the Colts Cheerleaders participate throughout the game in a salute to the troops. The squad dons four sets of unique uniforms that represent the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines branches of the military. Throughout the game day schedule recognition of those that serve in the military is the theme of the afternoon beginning with the pre-game introductions-- each of the Colts runs onto the field with a member of the military, with their families cheering loudly.

Colts Cheerleaders performed for the U.S. Military in Curacao inside an airplane hanger.
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders spend time with U.S. Navy on base in Curacao
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders perform for the U.S. Coast Guard in Puerto Rico.
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders in their Army tribute uniforms
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders in their Marine tribute uniforms
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders in their Air Force tribute uniforms
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders in their Navy tribute uniforms
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Colts Cheerleaders in their Navy tribute uniforms
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders

The Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders 2016-2017 full squad.

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Most know them for the spirit they bring to game day, but off the field, the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders are every bit as accomplished as attorneys, chemists, accountants, entrepreneurs and educators – and wonderful community ambassadors. Logging more than 400 visits each season, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders represent the club in Atlanta and abroad, visiting military personnel in Egypt, Japan, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Bosnia, Kosovo, Guam, Hawaii and Okinawa. Through community giving, they serve as role models for young women and girls. These young women give back in powerful ways, and work especially close with causes that promote awareness for physical fitness, education, mentorship for girls and breast cancer research and awareness. Currently a squad of 36 women, the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders began to energize the Falcons Faithful. Through the years, the ladies have been featured in a myriad of national publications and media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, Lindy’s Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Jezebel, NFL Network, Fox Sports South, The Learning Channel, MTV and Maxim.com

Visiting with the troops at Fort Hood, Texas
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Visiting with the troops at Fort Hood, Texas
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Visiting with the troops at the Naval Air Facility in Atsugi Japan, the largest Navy air base in the Pacific Ocean.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Visiting with the Marines on Guam Island
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Cheerleaders on the range taking target practice instructions from Marines on Guam
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons and the Cheerleaders honoring the troops on game day
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Pre-game warmups as visiting service members perform push-ups with the Cheerleaders
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Cheerleader Eiesha H. who is studying for her PhD with her husband Captain Jarrell Horsley,
Combat Engineer Officer for the United States Army.
Photo courtesy of Eiesha H. and the Atlanta Falcons

Visiting with the troops in Hawaii
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders Overseas

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders visiting wounded troops overseas

Photo Curtesy of Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders visiting with the Tennessee National Guard in Kuwait

Photo Curtesy of Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders have a long history of actively supporting our men and woman in the military. The Titans support of the military began at the top of the organization as team owner K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. who passed away in 2013 served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Adams had encouraged players, coaches and staff to support the military since he founded the team in 1959.

Over the years the Titan cheerleaders have traveled to bases in Alaska, Japan, Guam, Hawaii, South Korea, Curacao and Kuwait to name a few.

In the states, every year they attend the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne and known as the “Night Stalkers”) “Safety Day” at Fort Campbell in Tennessee visiting with family and soldiers.. They have also visited Fort Lewis Washington, Luke Air Force Base Arizona and Fort Hood Texas.

As Cheerleader Julia said about the importance of visiting stateside bases,“You always hear of ways to support our troops overseas but it’s easy to forget about the wives and families that are here anxiously awaiting their return.”

Former Tennessee Titans Cheerleader Stormi Wagley with her husband Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Wagley

Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Wagley an Apache helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne walks on
the Titans field with his wife Stormi after his return from Afghanistan.

Photo Courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

Stormi, served as a Titans cheerleader from 2011 through 2013. She has been a strong supporter of the troops and her husband’s military efforts. During her first year on the squad Stormi joined five other Titan Cheerleaders on a USO tour in Kuwait visiting six bases there. Stormi began volunteering with the USO in 2011. About her trip she said:

“Being able to bring a smile to the troops and let them know that we as Americans support them was the highlight for me. Nothing can replace the feeling of comfort by being home, but we can sure try. If I had the opportunity to go again my bags would be packed.”

“While some support our country by being on the front lines like my husband, I support our country by supporting him. It means a lot to me to know that I chose to marry a man who is willing to fight for what they believe in, and for that I will always stand next to him.” Excerpts taken from the Tennessee Titans web site story, “Titans Cheerleader Stormi Supports Husband’s Military Service."

Still active with military support in November 2016 Stormi was selected as the Tennessee Titans nominee for the NFL’s “Salute to Service Award”. The Salute to Service Award annually recognizes one NFL player, coach, personnel and alumni from each team who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community, as nominated by NFL clubs. Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Dan Quin was the 2016 award winner.

Former Saint Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher

Former Rams Head coach Jeff Fisher on game day

Photo from NFL.com

Photo by G. Newman Lowrance --- gnlphoto.com

Former Rams Coach Jeff Fisher with soldiers of the 2/1 Cavalry Division at FOB Warrior in Kirkuk

Picture by Specialist Kimberly Millett, Multi-National Forces - Iraq Photojournalist

A native of southern California, Fisher was a high-school All-American wide receiver at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calf. He went on to play at USC as a defensive back and earned Pac – 10 All-Academic honors his senior year. Drafted by the Chicago Bears in the seventh- round he played five years until an ankle injury ended his career.

Fisher has 19 full seasons as an NFL head coach. Among active coaches, only New England’s Bill Belichick, who is in his 19th season, has as much experience as Fisher. With 156 career victories, Fisher ranks 16th on the NFL’s career wins. Entering 2014, he’s third among active coaches, trailing only Belichick (199) and Tom Coughlin (158)

Fisher joined the Rams after spending 16 full seasons as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, 11 as executive vice president. In his tenure he guided the Titans to six playoff appearances, three division titles, two AFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.

In January of 2012, the Rams hired Jeff Fisher to be the 22nd head coach in franchise history. In his five season his best number of wins was seven occurring three times. With the team moving to Los Angeles for the 2017 season Fisher was fired on December 2016. As head coach since 2012 Fisher compiled a 31-45-1 record with zero playoff appearances.

In 2009 Fisher along with Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden took part in the first NFL-USO coaches’ tour to Iraq.

The soldiers expressed their gratitude over and over to the NFL coaches who made the trip.“They kept thanking us” said Fisher. “We kept thanking them.”

In 2011, in an effort to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher along with former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, former receiver Chad Lewis along with four injured members of the armed services; Bryan Wagner of Exeter, Calif., Ben Lunak of Grand Forks, N.D., who each lost a leg, Mike Wilson of Annapolis, MD, who struggles with symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and Nancy Schiliro of Hartsdale, N.Y. who lost an eye, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest in the world.

While the Titans head coach Fisher frequently took his players to meet soldiers from Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and located near Nashville. Excerpts from the Los Angeles Rams web site, NFL.com and internet information www.TheRams.com

Former Los Angeles Rams Offensive Guard Davin Joseph

Offensive Guard Davin Joseph

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams

Davin attend Hallandale High School (Hallandale, FLA) where he was a four year starter and named All State…Broward County defensive player of the year as a senior…ranked eighth among the nations heavy weight wrestler as the 2A state wrestling champion in Florida.

At the University of Oklahoma played in 50 games with 40 starts at both guard and tackle (2002 – 05). Was a consensus All-Big 12 as a senior and was named second team Academic All-Big 12.

Davin was selected in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2006 Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and playing guard was selected to the Pro-Bowl in 2009 and 2012. Davin signed with the Rams in January 2014.

Davin is heavily involved with community service. In 2011 he founded “Davin’s Dream Team Foundation”, a foundation to help people in need and to inspire them to be great. Through this foundation he supports student athletes, sick children and the poor. Through his support of the United Way and many other causes in the Tampa Bay area he was named the Buccaneers 2011 and 2012 Man of the Year for his leadership and efforts on and off the field.
www.DavinsDreamTeam.org

In March of 2013 Davin took part in a USO tour to Afghanistan along with Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Von Miller, then Browns Linebacker (now a Colt) D’Qwell Jackson, then Panthers wide receiver (now Ravens) Steve Smith and Houston’s defensive end JJ Watts.

“From the time we first got there, probably about an hour in, we were mingling with troops just about everywhere we went. Everything – the vibe, the energy – was so exciting. It was nonstop love and respect, for us and from us back to them, and that’s how the trip really got started.”

“It’s a humbling experience to see what goes on there, how they live, how they work, how they survive and it really makes you grateful for what we have here in America. Once you sit down and talk to a lot of them and you hear their stories about how they got into the military and about the grind that is their life, you have a ton of respect for them and the sacrifices that they have to make. Not knowing if they’ll make it back home, missing their family and even the quality time that they miss with their young ones, their wives and their parents. They sacrifice a lot to be able to serve our country, so of course you have a ton of respect for them.”

"It’s a mutual feeling amongst the guys that went, that we are willing to do that anytime. After that experience, knowing that we felt like we really helped is something that we are all about doing again. We’ve come away from the trip making friends and learning about the people that really make our lives possible. My son might not be happy with my decision to leave for a week, but I would definitely do it again. No question.”

Excerpts from Buccaneers.com/news/article-1/Exclusive-QA-Davin-Joseph-on-the-NFL-USO-Tour/86a2b7e5-9741-4069-b258-d3bac4bbebb9.

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid

Coach Andy Reid during game day National Anthem

Photo courtesy of Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs

Brad Childress Co-Offensive Coordinator

Coach Brad Childress at practice

Photo courtesy of Brad Childress and the Kansas City Chiefs

Brad Childress Co-Offensive Coordinator

Coach Childress hugs his son Lcpl Andrew Childress during a USO tour stop in Afghanistan July 2, 2010. Childress had no idea his son would be meeting him. Coach Childress participated in the USO tour as Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings visiting with troops in both Afghanistan and Germany.

Photo from NFL.com Photo by Fred Greaves/USO

Andy Reid enters his second season at the helm of the Chiefs in 2014. He was hired as the club’s13th head coach in franchise history on January 7, 2013. Reid joined the Chiefs after 14 seasons as Head Coach/Executive Vice President of Football Operations of the Philadelphia Eagles where he compiled a 130-93-1 (.583) regular season record. He added six division titles, five NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. In his coaching career, Reid’s teams have made the playoffs 16 times and he has coached in three Super Bowls and eight NFC Championship Games. He owns three NFL Coach of the Year titles.

In his first year at Kansas City Reid was named the 2013 AFC Coach of the Year after his squad recorded the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history. In his first year at the helm, Reid’s team finished with an 11-5 record, a nine-game turnaround from the previous season. The club qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2010. Additionally, Reid mentored 10 players who earned Pro Bowl honors, more than any other team in the NFL in 2013.

Among coaches with 200 games under their belts, Reid’s winning percentage ranks 13th all-time and second among active coaches behind Bill Belichick. Reid is also one of six active coaches in the NFL to have reached the century mark in regular and postseason wins, joining Belichick, Shanahan, Coughlin, Fisher and John Fox.

Reid attended BYU (79-82) where he played Tackle and Guard. From there it was several college coaching stops leading to the NFL in 1992 with the Green Bay Packers. There he coached until 1998 when the Eagles appointed him their new Head Coach. In 2013 he became the Chiefs Head Coach.

Coach Reid a longtime supporter of the troops participated in a USO tour in July 2010 to Germany and Afghanistan along with at that time Head Coaches Brad Childress of the Vikings, Panthers Jon Fox and the Bengals Marvin Lewis. As Andy Reid visited with injured soldiers in a hospital at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, the then coach of the Eagles couldn't get over how eager they were to return to action. "You see guys in there, some of them missing limbs and some pretty beat up," Reid said. "These guys couldn't wait to go back out there, if they could, and fight to protect our country. It's quite an amazing thing. I’m not sure that in the States we really have a full grasp of what they are doing over there, their desire is quite incredible."

Bio from the Kansas City Chiefs web site www.KCChiefs.com USO tour excerpts from ESPN/Sports and Associated Press

Washington Redskins Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica - US Army Veteran (West Point grad)

Special Teams Coach Ben Kotwica at Redskins practice

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Coach Kotwica spent eight years in the United States Army after graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Kotwica was a three year starter at Linebacker and captain of the only ten win team in Army history. His military career included operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Korea and Iraq.

Kotwica was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Aviation Branch of the Army and was selected to fly the AH-64 Apache Longbow, the world’s best attack helicopter. He was an Attack Helicopter Platoon Leader in support of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1998-2001.

In 2000, Kotwica deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina for eight months before returning to the states to attend the Aviation Captain Career course. He completed the course in the top 10 percent of his class. Two years later, he returned overseas to Camp Page, Korea where he served as a Military Intelligence Officer for six months. In early 2003, he was selected to serve as the Battalion Executive Officer for a unit comprised of more than 300 soldiers, 24 attack helicopters and more than $400 million worth of equipment.

In January 2004, he briefly returned to Fort Hood, Texas to serve as the Training Officer for the 1st Calvary Division. Two months later, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, serving as a Combat Attack Helicopter Commander and flying more than 1,000 combat hours in support of five maneuver Brigades within the 1st Calvary Division. His missions included convoy security operations; VIP escorts for former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and search and destroy missions to suppress insurgent activities.

During his service, Kotwica was awarded with the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star. Excerpts from the Washington Redskins web site
www.Redskins.com

Pierre Garcon, former Wide receiver Washington Redskins currently with the San Francisco 49ers

Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon at Redskins practice

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon posing for photos with some of the troop

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Pierre Garcon grew up in Florida and attended Norwich University for one year before transferring to the University of Mount Union in Ohio. At Mount Union he set school records of 202 receptions and 47 TD receptions. He was also selected as a First Team All-Ohio Conference choice and the Ed Sherman Award as the league’s most outstanding receiver for two consecutive years.

Garcon stated his NFL career with the Colts in 2008 as a sixth round draft choice and eventually signed with the Redskins in 2012. Through Garcon’s five seasons with the Redskins he has amassed 376 receptions for 4,549 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In March 2014 Pierre Garcon along with Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Brandon Fields of the Miami Dolphins did a USO tour to Afghanistan.

"Being part of this USO tour has been a memorable experience for me, seeing everything the men and women in uniform do for us back home. Talking with the troops and seeing the effects we had on them will live with me forever. I’m so happy I came on this trip and now I’ve met some friends that I will remember forever. Thank you to the troops for all you do,” said Pierre Garcon.

Drew Brees --- Quarterback for the New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees on game day

Photo courtesy of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees is the 2009 Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. A native of Austin, TX, Brees attended Westlake High School and lettered in football, basketball, and baseball and as a senior in 1996 led his football team to a perfect 16-0 record and the 5A State Championship while garnering 5A Offensive Player of the Year honors. He attended Purdue University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Industrial Management from the prestigious Krannert School of Management while lettering in football from 1997-2000. A two-time Heisman finalist, Brees led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl appearance during the 2000 season. In that same year he won the Maxwell Award as the nation's top collegiate player as well as being named Academic All-American Player of the Year and was a recipient of the National Football Foundation's post-graduate scholarship. In Brees' five years with the San Diego Chargers and eight years with the New Orleans Saints, he has been elected to nine Pro Bowls while being named 2004 Comeback player of the Year, 2006 All-Pro Team, 2006 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, 2008 and 2011 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and Super Bowl XLIV Champion and MVP.

As much pride as Brees takes in his on field performance, he takes even more pride in his community service endeavors. Drew and his wife, Brittany, established the Brees Dream Foundation in 2003 and since then have contributed over $20,000,000 to help improve the quality of life for cancer patients and provide care, education and opportunities for children and families in need.

Brees a huge supporter of the troops has proudly participated in five USO trips to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Turkey, Djibouti, Dubai, Okinawa, and Guantanamo Bay. He is also on the board of directors of the World War II museum in New Orleans and both of his grandfather’s fought in WWII. "If you come to New Orleans, you've got to go," he says.

Drew currently lives with his wife Brittany and sons Baylen, Bowen and Callen in New Orleans, LA.

To learn more about Drew Brees visit www.DrewBrees.com
Follow Drew on Twitter at @drewbrees

VERNON DAVIS --- Former Tight End for the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and currently with the Washington Redskins

Vernon Davis having fun on game day

Photo Courtesy of Gracie Slegers -- www.Imageandstylemagazine.com

Davis attend Dunbar High School in Washington DC where he was a letterman in football, basketball and track. Davis played tight end and safety, but he also played wide receiver, kick returner, linebacker and defensive end. His high school football awards included:

  • US Army All-American Bowl

  • Rated third best tight end in the nation by ESPN.com’s Tom   Lemming

  • A Mid-Atlantis all-region pick by SuperPrep and the third best   player at any position in the region

  • Second Team All-USA by USA Today

  • Ranked as the fourth best tight end in the nation and the   seventh best player (overall) in the Atlantic East by Rivals.com

  • Gatorade Player of the Year for the District of Columbia

Davis went on to play for the University of Maryland where he majored in studio art. In 2005 he was a consensus All-American and an ACC first team selection. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end.

Davis was selected 6th overall in the first round of the 2006 draft by the San Francisco 49ers where he continues to play at tight end. Davis has twice been appointed captain and received the Len Eshmont award as the club’s most inspirational player and was selected as an NFC starter in the 2010 Pro Bowl. In 2015 Davis was traded to the Denver Broncos for a 6 th round pick in 2016 and 2017. In March of 2016 Davis signed as free agent with the Washington Redskins.

Davis is involved with several philanthropic activities. To encourage the participation of young artists in a manner that wasn’t available to him as a poor kid from DC he funded the Vernon Davis Visual Arts Scholarship. The annual award goes to a deserving college-bound high school art student in the San Francisco area. His past philanthropic endeavors have included hosting the Sound Mind Sound Body Football academy which mentors hundreds of young high school students aspiring to college athletic careers; participation with the Starkey Hearing Foundation which provides the gift of hearing around the globe, supports Pros for Africa which takes NFL players on annual relief missions and has appeared in the Until There’s A Cure HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. In 2010 Davis represented the NFL by traveling to Afghanistan to spend time with the US troops by invitation of the USO.

Davis was part of the 2010 NFL All-Star Tour that visited troops deployed in Afghanistan and Qatar. Teamed up with Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Davis was thoroughly impressed by the servicemen and women. Davis said at the time, “I’ve had a terrific experience on my USO tour. The troops have taught us so much and it is amazing to see their courage and bravery.”
www.vernondavis.com

Charles Tillman --- retired former cornerback for the Chicago Bears

Charles Tillman receiving the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy from
Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Photo courtesy of Charles Tillman and The Chicago Bears

Charles Tillman receiving the 2012 NFL Salute to Service Award, presented by USAA, the
official Military Appreciation Sponsor,for his exceptional efforts to honor and support
U.S. Service members.

Photo courtesy of Charles Tillman and The Chicago Bears.com

Tillman a native of Texas was a two time all-district 8-5A and all-area team selection at Copperas Cove High School. He was named to the Super Cen-Tex team by the Austin American Statesman and was an All-state class 5A honorable mention. A four year starter at Louisiana-Lafayette (1999-2002) he was a 2-time All-Sun Belt selection and earned All-American honors as a senior.

Tillman entered the NFL as a second round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2003. Earned back to back Pro Bowl nods in 2011 and 2012 and was named 2013 Walter Payton Man fo the Year. Ranks third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, first in INT return yards and holds the team records for defensive TDs (9) and INT return TDs (8).He has started 150 of 154 career games played , recording 944 tackles, 36 INTs, 113 PBUs (passes broken up) 42 forced fumbles, 3 sacks and 8 fumble recoveries. His 42 forced fumbles since 2003 are the most in the NFL. His 9 defensive return TDs are tied for fourth most in the NFL since 2003 and his 8 interception return TDs are tied for second. In 2015 Tillman signed with the Carlolina Panthers.

Off the field, to name a few, Tillman’s contributions are equally impressive. Along with his wife Jackie they created the Cornerstone Foundation in 2005, and through their efforts they have impacted over one million Chicago area children and raised more than $1 million.

The foundation began by providing children with educational opportunities and resources to excel in the classroom. But after Tillman’s three month old daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and received a life-saving heart transplant in 2008, the Cornerstone Foundation changed its mission to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children.

The Cornerstone Foundation’s programs include “Charles’ Locke,” “Field of Dreams,” “Holiday Celebration,” “Mother’s Champagne Brunch” and “The Tiana Fund.”

Charles’ Locker provides pediatric hospital patients with access to iPads, laptops, gaming systems and other kinds of entertainment to help pass the time during their hospital stays and annually reaches more than 370,000 children.

The Tiana Fund has distributed more than $1 million to over 300 families who have been identified by local organizations as at risk or in need.

Tillman is an avid supporter of the military and in 2010 participated in an 8 day USO tour to Kuwait and Iraq, and among many other things has volunteered with the USO of Illinois on Thanksgiving to serve meals to the troops and provided soldiers with tickets to games . These are just a few of the many things he does for the troops.

“The military had a major impact on my life”, Tillman said. “My father did 20 years of service and my father in law did 30. The military has been awesome to my family forever. It’s great to be able to spend so much time with military members. I’m grateful for what they do for this country.”
Bio and information from www.Chicagobears.com

WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD

The prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is given by the NFL and is administered by the NFL Foundation. It is the only award that recognizes a current NFL player for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. Established in 1970, the award was renamed in 1999 after the late Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton, who represented the very best of the NFL as an athlete on the field and as a role-model off the field. There is no greater distinction an NFL player can achieve than being named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

Salute to Service Award

Presented by USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor for exceptional efforts to honor and support U.S. Service members and veterans.

www.CharlesTillman.org

Joe Thomas --- Current Left Tackle for the Cleveland Browns

Joe Thomas on game day

Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Joe Thomas in Afghanistan

Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Joe Thomas, a Wisconsin native captained his high football and basketball teams in his senior year. An honor Roll student he was selected for US Army Academic All-American honors. As an offensive tackle at the University of Wisconsin he was a two time first team All-Big Ten selection and was awarded the Outland Trophy and Jim Parker Trophy his senior year.

Selected third overall in the 2007 draft by the Cleveland Browns he has not missed a game since starting that season and in fact has not missed a single snap. Thomas joins Hall of Famer Jim Brown as the only two Browns to make the Pro Bowl in their first seven seasons. Thomas on making his 7th straight Pro Bowl became one of only 11 players in NFL history to make it their first seven seasons. For the 2013 season Joe was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of The Year Award. This honor is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service activates as well as his playing excellence.

In 2010, Joe traveled to Afghanistan to visit the troops through the NFL/USO Tour. To this day, he is still in contact with many of the service members he met during that trip. Upon his return, Thomas supported a national USO campaign to raise additional funds in support of our troops, lending his name to the nationwide effort as well as creating “Thomas’ Troops,” a gameday ticket program for the USO of Northern Ohio. Along with other former NFL players and coaches, Thomas visited the Pentagon this offseason to take part in the Military-NFL Culture Change Campaign focus group to help educate people about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries.

Alex Mack--- Former Center for the Cleveland Browns Current Center for the Atlanta Falcons

Alex Mack on game day with the Cleveland Browns Currently with the Atlanta Falcons

Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Alex Mack in Afghanistan

Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Alex Mack a California native was both an offensive and defensive lineman in high school and was a two time all league and three time all county defensive linemen. Mack attended the University of California and was awarded the Draddy Trophy as a senior, given to college football’s top scholar-athlete. He was also two time finalist for the Remington Trophy given to the nation’s top center. Mack was a two-time All-American, Pac-10 Conference’s Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2008 and a four time league academic honor roll honoree.

Mack was drafted in the first round at number 21 by the Cleveland Browns in 2009 and started every game at center as a rookie. Mack had not missed a game or a snap in until he broke his fibular on October 12 2014 against the Pittsburg Steelers. Mack was selected to the 2009 All-rookie team and is a two time All-Pro (2010, 2013). In 2016 Mack signed a five year deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

Alex Mack traveled to Afghanistan as part of the 2012 NFL/ USO Tour. A quote from his blog --- “What their jobs entail, to see what they go through, how they are accomplishing their mission, it has just been incredible. Something that goes unnoticed out here are the restoration projects that our military work on with the Afghan communities. Teaching them how to run and support their own military, how to run their own police force and creating sustainability in their own infrastructure seem just as important as any other part of the mission. I think what it comes down to is all of us want to do more. All of us want this to continue because it has been such a great rewarding experience.”

Mario Williams --- Former Defensive End for the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins

Mario Williams on game day.

Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo News

Captain Tyler Terrazone and Mario Williams discuss weapons systems operations at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Captain Terrazone is an-15E Strike Eagle weapons system officer assigned to the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Williams

Mario Williams a North Carolina native attended North Carolina State University. This 6’-6” 292 pound defensive end was the first overall player taken in the 2006 draft. Taken by the Houston Texans Mario played with the Texans for six years signing with Buffalo as a free agent in 2012. In March of 2016 Williams signed a two year deal with the Miami Dolphins. Mario is a three time pro-bowler, 2008, 2009, and 2013.

Regarding his USO tour, Mario Williams was stuck by how young the soldiers were. He was prepared for their bravery and discipline, also their selflessness and patriotism. He d grown up around military families in North Carolina, and his brother-in-law, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Hodson, was killed in Iraq in 2003. So he's no stranger to the military.

“It gives you a reality shot about what's really important,” Williams said. “It was a shock to see these young guys, young adults, fighting every day. They're doing a job to protect us.” “The thing is, the soldiers were so excited to have us there, and that's something you don't forget,” Williams said. “They were grateful we were there, and here we are amazed at the things they do. They were looking for hope in athletes, entertainers and people they watch.” Excerpts from “Justice: Texans’ Williams visits heroes on USO tour”, By Richard Justice , Houston Chronicle, June 5, 2010

Brandon Fields -- - Former Punter for the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints

Brandon Fields former Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints punter

Photo Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Brandon Field in the middle with Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins on his left and Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
on his right at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, March 2014.

Photo by USO Dave Gatley--- Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Brandon an Ohio native attended Michigan State University where he earned Academic All-Big Ten Honors three years in a row and was a first team All-American selection. Brandon was drafted in the seventh round by the Dolphins in 2007. After seven season he is the Dolphin’s leading punter in team history for gross and net punting average. Also, his career punting average of 46.7 yards per kick is the second highest career average in NFL history. Brandon was released by the Dolphins in 2015 and signed by the Saints to replace injured punter Thomas Morstead.

"My experience has been an amazing one, very eye opening and humbling. The best part of this trip is being able to spend time with the troops and interact with them. It has been great to bring a little part of home to them and see them relax and smile as we talked and took pictures. We are truly blessed because of the sacrifices that our men and women of our armed forces are willing to make."

D’Qwell Jackson --- Former Inside Linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts

D’Qwell Jackson on his 2013 USO tour in Afghanistan

Photo Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

D’Qwell Jackson, a Florida native and linebacker was a two-time All American at the University of Maryland. He was a second round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns where he played seven years before signing with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014.

A quote from D’Qwell Jackson’s USO Afghanistan trip blog, “The trip’s been phenomenal. Just to be on the grounds where it actually happens and to see the young kids that sign up to travel halfway around the world and leave their families for what they stand for, it’s a great testament to their bravery.”

Alejandro Villanueva – Offensive Tackle for the Pittsburg Steelers, current US Army Captain and West Point Graduate

Alejandro Villanueva at Pittsburg Steelers practice

Photo Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Karl Roser

Photo by Karl Roser, Team Photographer

Alejandro Villanueva

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that orginally signed him.

Alejandro is a 6 foot 9, 277 pound graduate of West Point. As a freshman in 2006, he was a backup defensive end and played primarily on special teams. Early in his sophomore season, offensive line coach John Tice lobbied to have Alejandro play offensive tackle. Tice once saw Alejandro walk 30 yards on his hands and knew the caliber of athlete he was. Alejandro made the move to left tackle later that year and became the starter at that position as a junior in the Black Knights' triple-option offense.

Before Villanueva's senior season in 2009, new head coach Rich Ellerson moved Alejandro to wide receiver, and he led the team with 34 receptions for 522 yards and five touchdowns while serving as the team's offensive captain.

Alejandro spent the last four years on active duty serving a total of three tours in Afghanistan, two with the elite Rangers. He earned many honors for his service, including a Bronze Star for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National defense Service medal, Afghanistan Campaign Service Medal with Campaign Star to name a few.

Just before signing a rookie contract with the Eagles in May 2014, Alejandro was promoted to Captain. His West Point line coach Tice, who played and coached in the NFL for 17 seasons, said Villanueva would "fit in well in the NFL given his adaptability and work ethic." "He's a leader," Tice said. "There are all kinds of leaders in the business world and sports world, but the ultimate leadership has to be leading soldiers in combat. If you can handle that, you can handle anything."

Villanueva donates the proceeds from his jersey sales to military non-profits. In 2017 he launched a line of “BIG AL’S ARMY T-shirts with proceeds going to the “Legacies Alive” organization and the Army Ranger “Lead The Way Fund”.

David DeCastro – Offensive Gaurd for the Pittsburg Steelers

David DeCastro Offensive Guard

Photo courtesy of The Pittsburg Steers

Photo by Karl Roser, Team Photographer

David DeCastro Offensive Guard

Photo courtesy of The Pittsburg Steers

Photo by Karl Roser, Team Photographer

David DeCastro was selected by the Steelers in the first round (24tht Overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Stanford University. DeCastro majored in management, science and engineering. In his high school years was an All-State offensive lineman in the state of Washington and rated one of the top centers in the country. In 2008, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he was part of a turnaround for the football program which lead to three bowl games.

A standout athlete, DeCastro competed for the school's track and field team as a shot putter. He had a top-throw of 17.93 meters at the 2008 Washington 3A-4A State T&F Championship, winning the event. He also competed in the (top-throw of 37.24 meters).

A few of DeCastro’s college accomplishments:

  • DeCastro played three seasons beginning in his sophomore year and went on to start in all 39 games he played in at right offensive guard for the Stanford Cardinal…Finished his stellar career with 316 knockdowns, 68 touchdown-resulting blocks and a blocking consistency grade of 91.63%...His grade of 96.88% in 2011 was the highest mark by any offensive lineman (since consistency grades were kept in 1985) in Pac-12 Conference history.

  • His first season he earned All-Pac 10 Conference honorable mention

  • DeCastro’s second-season he was named second team All-American selection by The NFL Draft Report, as he set a then school season-record with a blocking consistency grade of 90.15% while starting all thirteen games at right guard and received All-Pac 10 Conference accolades.

  • DeCastro’s senior year he was a first-team All-American first-team selection by The NFL Draft Report, Walter Camp, Associated Press, Sporting News, American Football Coaches Association and Football Writers Association…Named National Blocker of the Year by The NFL Draft Report, as DeCastro set the conference season-record with a 96.88% grade for blocking consistency…The All-Pac 12 Conference first-team choice was an Outland Trophy finalist.

  • DeCastro has been a starter for the Steelers since his second season.

Military Support

In March of 2015 DeCastro visited with wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and followed by an eight day seven country tour overseas to visit with the troops. With him on this tour was Colts Head Coach, Chuck Pagano tight end Dwayne Allen and Andrew Luck, his college teammate.

“The best part was meeting the troops. I was so excited to see them, see what they go through, what they do. It was a cool experience for me. It was nice to see how happy they were and hopefully we gave them a little morale boost. Seeing the sacrifice, how long they are there, seeing how young they are. I didn’t realize how young they are. It made me feel old when I saw some of them. It’s eye opening.”

Joe Andruzzi --- Former New England Patriot

President of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation

Current Patriot Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach

Joe Andruzzi blocking

Photo Courtesy of the New England Patriots/ David Silverman

Joe Andruzzi at Walter Reed Hospital visiting with one of the wounded warriors.

Note Joe’s Super Bowl rings on the warrior’s hand.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Andruzzi

Born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Staten Island, Joe Andruzzi played football at Tottenville High School, where he was a Division II all American during his junior and senior years. He went on to play college football at Southern Connecticut State University where he majored in special education.

In 1997, Joe was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers, and in February, 1998, he was allocated by the Packers to play football in Scotland for NFL Europe. He was released from the Packers after three seasons and picked up as an offensive guard by the New England Patriots in 2000, where he played five seasons and earned three Super Bowl rings.

In 2001, Joe and his wife Jen met C.J. Buckley, a young man with an inoperable brain tumor. C.J. and his family became extended family members to the Andruzzis and his passing left a hole in their hearts. Always driven to help others in need, Joe helped launch the C.J. Buckley Brain Cancer Research Fund at Boston Children’s Hospital. In recognition of his contributions, he received the Ed Block Courage Award in 2002 (www.edblock.org) and the first Ron Burton Community Service Award in 2003.

Joe’s philanthropy didn’t stop there. As a brother to three New York firefighters, who were all involved in the September 11 attacks, he organized a trip for 100 New York firefighters to attend a Patriots vs. Jets game at Gillette Stadium in 2002. Joe, his father, and brothers were the honorary game captains.

In February 2005, Joe became a free agent and was signed by the Cleveland Browns, for whom he played two seasons. But on May 30, 2007, Joe was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. Quickly relocating back to New England, he underwent chemotherapy treatments at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Joe fought the disease with strength and courage, receiving his last treatment on August 6, 2007, before recovering for a year at home.

Since then, Joe has remained cancer-free, and lives a healthy life with Jen and their five children. Together, Joe and Jen run the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which works to lift cancer’s burden by providing financial assistance to patients and families. Reflecting the Andruzzis’ longstanding commitment to pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation also funds much needed innovative research into the nature of pediatric brain tumors. Since its inception, the Foundation has assisted more than 1,500 families struggling with cancer and donated more than $500,000 to Dr. Mark Kieran at Boston Children’s Hospital to help fund pediatric brain cancer research.

Currently, Joe spends his time as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots. When he is not at Gillette Stadium, Joe is a regular visitor at Children’s and the Jimmy Fund Clinic, often bringing former and current Patriots players along to brighten the days of patients undergoing treatment. Through patient outings and events, coupled with the Foundation’s financial assistance, Joe works to bring joy to patients and families, providing fun, hope and inspiration.

With all this going on in Joe’s life he still finds time to support our wounded warriors. Every year he makes his annual trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland to watch the Super Bowl and spend time with wounded veterans.

www.JoeAndruzziFoundation.org

Indianapolis Head Coach Chuck Pagano

Indianapolis Head Coach Chuck Pagano

Photo courtesy of Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts

In the five years as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano has led the team to three consecutive 11-5 seasons and two 8-8 season. Reaching the playoffs in the 11-5 seasons, Pagano became only the second head coach in NFL history to earn 11 wins in each of his first three seasons and became the third head coach in Colts history to reach the playoffs in each of his first three years.

Pagano was named head coach of the Colts on January 25, 2012. His first season proved to be one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history. Pagano was forced to take a leave of absence just three games into the season after being diagnosed with a curable form of leukemia.

With a 1-2 record, the Colts were without their leader in the midst of a transition that had started taking shape in the offseason. Those who expected the Colts to falter didn’t understand the principles on which Pagano built his squad. Terms like trust, loyalty, respect and team resonate throughout the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and are applied on game days.

Serving as the team’s interim head coach, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the Colts defied the odds and rallied to a 9-3 record. During that time frame, Indianapolis secured a playoff berth and accomplished one of their primary goals – extending the season for Pagano. Some of the victories during Arians’ term included a comeback win against Green Bay (Week 5) after trailing by 18 points, an overtime victory on the road at Tennessee (Week 8) and a last-second victory in Detroit (Week 13). In all, the Colts posted a 9-1 record in one-possession games in 2012, including winning their last eight.

As the regular season came to an end, the culmination of Arians’ stretch as interim head coach concluded with the team’s playoff-clinching victory at Kansas City (Week 16). The stage was set for Pagano to return after missing 12 weeks of action.

Division rival Houston visited Lucas Oil Stadium in the regular season finale in hopes of clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Colts were not deterred, however, as the team corralled the emotion in Pagano’s return and compiled a 28-16 win to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record. The real victory, however, was the return of a healthy Chuck Pagano. It was a day the Colts organization and fans will remember for generations.

Indianapolis’ playoff run ended earlier than the team had wished after falling to the eventual Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Wild Card playoff contest. What was not lost were the numerous team and individual milestones that the Colts established in a season facing low expectations. Most notably, the 11-5 record was a nine-win improvement from the 2011 campaign, which tied for the third-largest one-year turnaround in NFL history. The Colts also registered their 12th 10-plus win season in the past 14 years, which is the most of any NFL team since 1999.

Pagano and Arians were honored together by the Maxwell Football Club as the recipients of the 24th Annual Earle “Greasy” Neale Award for Professional Coach of the Year. The two also garnered AFC Coach of the Year honors as winners of the annual NFL 101 Awards. Pagano was selected by the PFWA as the winner of the 2013 George Halas Award, given to the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcame the most adversity to succeed. Each year, the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation recognizes individuals who make a difference in diversity and inclusion at an annual awards banquet. In February of 2013, Pagano received the foundation’s Game Ball Award for the differences he has made to level the playing field in the NFL for minorities.

Pagano a longtime supporter of the troops has visited with wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and In March of 2015 did an eight day seven country tour overseas to visit with the troops. With Coach Pagano on this tour was his quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Dwayne Allen as well as Pittsburg Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro. In 2016 he again visited with troops overseas on a USO tour that included players D’Qwell Jackson, Pat McAfee, Mike Adams and Anthony Castonzo.

Leslie Frazier, current Buffalo Bills Defensive Coordinator and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator

Leslie Frazier, current Buffalo Bills Defensive Coordinator and former
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers

An All-American defensive back at Alcorn State, Frazier played six seasons for the Chicago Bears (1981068), including starting on the 1985 Super Bowl championship team and leading the team in interceptions three consecutive seasons.

Frazier spent 11 seasons as a collegiate coach before entering the NFL. Getting his coaching start as the head at Trinity International University from 1988 to 1996 and leading this new program to two Northern Illinois Intercollegiate Conference titles. From there it was on to the University of Illinois for two years as the defensive backs coach and then to the Philadelphia Eagles as their defensive backs coach for four seasons. From there it was the Cincinnati Bengal’s as defensive coordinator, 2003-04, Indianapolis defensive assistant, 2005-06, Minnesota Vikings in 2007 as defensive coordinator and head coach 2011-13. He spent 1014 and 2015 as defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is currently an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.

Like others in the NFL, Frazier has sacrificed his only true "vacation" time of the year to let the troops know how much he appreciated them.

"I was expecting this to be an opportunity to boost their morale. But it's actually been the other way. They've been invigorating me. Just seeing their dedication, their focus, their sacrifice, it's truly amazing how much of themselves they're willing to give."

The most surprising thing to Frazier about his trip so far has been the conditions under which the troops work.

"I kind of wish some of our players in the league could come over here and just see what our troops are going through and what they're dealing with. If they did, I don't think they'd complain about practices in training camp when it gets hot. Because this here is a tough challenge. And yet the approach and the attitude that our men and women that are serving our country take, it inspires you in so many ways," Frazier said.

From Tampa Bay Buccaneers web site and NFL.com

Rocky Bleier --- Running Back Pittsburg Steelers

Rocky Bleier

Photo courtesy of Rocky Bleier

Rocky Bleier in Vietnam

Photo courtesy of Rocky Bleier

Rocky Bleier was a running back for the national champion University of Notre Dame Football team in 1966. In the 1968 NFL draft he was taken in the 16th round by the Pittsburg Steelers. Before the season ended that first year he was drafted into the US Army. At the height of the Vietnam War, Bleier was thrust into combat early and was seriously wounded when his platoon ran into an ambush. Receiving wounds from both rifle fire and grenade fragments in his legs, he was barely able to walk and his professional football career seemed to have ended before it began...

Bleier had to have had surgery to remove more than 100 pieces of shrapnel from his right foot and leg. It was one of several procedures he'd undergo to address his injuries, each of which put his football career in further jeopardy. The grenade blast cost Bleier part of his foot and walking, at the time, was a struggle.

"I asked the doctor at one time, if he thought I could play again and he said, 'No, I don't think you'll have the strength and the flexibility, given the damage that was done, to be a running back in the NFL. "But his perception of what it took to be a running back didn't fit my perception and what I knew. So I always wanted to come back and play."

From that point on, Bleier made it his mission to once again play for the Steelers. And with the support of Art Rooney, who placed Bleier on injured reserve as he recovered, rather than simply waiving him, Bleier did that.

In 1972, Bleier made the team, much to the astonishment of Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll, who had previously pushed to cut Bleier after his return from combat.

Bleier carried the ball four times between the 1972 and '73 seasons and was also part of the special teams unit. In 1974, he became a key part of the Steelers' offensive attack, starting seven games en route to the first of four Pittsburgh Super Bowls during Bleier's time with the team.

Blier played for the Steelers from 1972 to his retirement at the end of the 1980 season. In total, Bleier carried the ball 922 times for 3,826 yards and 23 touchdowns and also caught 133 passes for 1,226 yards and two touchdowns in 150 regular-season games after returning from Vietnam as a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient.

Read Rocky’s story, “Rocky Bleier recalls Vietnam War 40 years after it ended”  written by Sam Gardner, April 30, 2015 at: http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pittsburgh-steelers-rocky-bleier-recalls-vietnam-war-40-years-after-it-ended-043015

www.rockybleier.com

Gary Kubiak former Denver Broncos Head Coach and current Senior Personnel Advisor

Former Denver Head Coach and current Senior Personnel Advisor Gary Kubiak on the left with Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh

Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

Coach Kubiak retired in early January 2017 revealing that his career had taken a toll on his health. Kubiak told his team first, meeting with them after there Sunday win over the Oakland Raiders.

"As I told our team last night, this is an extremely difficult decision to step down as head coach. I love to work and I love football, but ultimately the demands of the job are no longer a good fit for me," Kubiak said in a statement Monday morning. "I gave everything I had to this team the last two seasons, but this year, in particular, has been tough on me. As hard as it is to leave this position, I know that it's the best thing for myself, my family and the Denver Broncos."

Less than seven months after stepping down as Denver's head coach, the Broncos announced on July 25th that Kubiak will be returning to the team as a senior personnel adviser. "It's an honor for me to continue to be part of this great organization," Kubiak said in a statement. "John [Elway] and I talked long ago about any opportunity like this, and I'm very happy to be able to contribute on the personnel side." Kubiak's new role with the team will allow him to be based in Texas where he lives and attend "various personnel meetings" in Denver throughout the year. "With as much experience as he has evaluating players, Gary's going to be a tremendous resource for our personnel department," Elway said.

A backup quarterback for nine seasons (1983-91) with the Broncos and an offensive coordinator for 11 years (1995-2005) with the club, Kubiak returned to Denver after spending eight years (2006-13) as head coach of the Houston Texans and one season (2014) as offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens.

During 21 seasons coaching in the NFL, Kubiak has coached 30 players to a total of 57 Pro Bowl selections. He has appeared in eight conference championship games and six Super Bowls as a player or coach and was part of three World Championship staffs (S.F., 1994; Den., 1997-98) as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator.

In his most recent position as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator in 2014, he oversaw one of the NFL’s most improved and explosive units to help the Ravens advance to the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. His offense posted the third-largest overall improvement (+57.5 ypg) in the NFL from the previous season and posted nearly 50 percent more big plays (74 plays of 20+yards) from the year before he arrived.

Kubiak spent eight years (2006-13) as the Texans’ head coach, leading the franchise to a 61-64 (.488) regular-season record and a 2-2 (.500) mark in the playoffs. He was named AFC Coach of the Year by the KC 101 Club in 2011 after guiding the Texans to a 10-6 record and the franchise’s first AFC South Division title, postseason berth and playoff win.

He followed that up with a 12-4 record in 2012—the most victories ever by a Texans squad—as the team featured an AFC-best nine Pro Bowlers and won its second consecutive division crown and AFC Wild Card Playoff Game.

Before his time in Houston, Kubiak spent 11 years (1995-2005) as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, helping Denver lead the NFL in scoring (24.8 ppg) and total yards (360.3 ypg) during that span. He also coached quarterbacks for his first eight seasons (1995-02) in Denver, including a four-year period from 1995-98 in which John Elway ranked second in the NFL in touchdown passes (101) and fourth in passing yards (13,739).

Denver’s offense also featured the league’s most potent rushing attack during Kubiak’s 11 seasons, averaging 141.5 yards per game. Among the Broncos’ NFL-best five individual 1,000-yard rushers in that period was Terrell Davis, who rushed for a career-high 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1998 to earn NFL Most Valuable Player honors from the Associated Press.

Kubiak’s first NFL job came with San Francisco, where he coached quarterbacks for the Super Bowl-champion 49ers during the 1994 season. San Francisco led the NFL with a club-record 505 points (31.6 ppg) during Kubiak’s year in the Bay Area, as quarterback Steve Young received Most Valuable Player recognition by the Associated Press and earned Super Bowl XXIX MVP honors.

Selected by the Broncos in the eighth round (197th overall) of the 1983 NFL Draft from Texas A&M, Kubiak appeared in 119 regular-season games during his nine-year playing career in Denver. He finished his Broncos career completing 173-of-298 passes (58.1%) for 1,920 yards with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Kubiak led the Broncos to a 3-2 record in five career starts filling in for Elway and was part of Denver’s five division titles, four conference championship appearances and three Super Bowl berths during that span.

After retiring from the NFL following the 1991 season, Kubiak coached running backs at his alma mater, Texas A&M, from 1992-93. During his two seasons, the Aggies posted a record of 22-3 and played in back-to-back Cotton Bowls. His star pupil at A&M was Greg Hill, who was a first-round pick by Kansas City in 1994.

As a quarterback at Texas A&M, Kubiak earned All-Southwest Conference honors as a senior in 1982 and was invited to play in the Blue-Gray and Hula Bowl all-star games. He set conference records for single-game touchdown passes (6 vs. Rice) and completion percentage (90.5% / 19-for-21 vs. Arkansas) during his junior season and ranked second in the SWC in passing (1,908) and total offense (1,986). He earned his degree from Texas A&M in physical education.

Always supporting the troops among other things Kubiak spent five days touring military bases as part of a USO Tour in 2011.

Dwayne Allen--- Former Indianapolis Colts and current New England Patriots Tight End

Tight End Dwayne Allen

Photo courtesy of Dwayne Allen and the Indianapolis Colts

The New England Patriots on March 8, 2017 acquired Dwayne Allen and a 2017 sixth-round pick from the Colts for the Patriots fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft.

Dwayne Allen grew up in Fayettville North Carolina. He attended Clemson University where he played for the Clemson Tigers football team from 2008 to 2011. He was redshirted in 2008. In 2009 he started six of 14 games and had 10 receptions for 108 yards and three touchdowns. He started all 13 games in 2010 and was a second-team All-ACC selection after recording 33 receptions for 373 yards with a touchdown. Allen was named the 2011 recipient of the John Mackey Award December 8, 2011 at the Home Depot College Football Awards Red Carpet Show. He graduated from Clemson on August 9, 2014.

Allen was drafted 64th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was the second tight-end taken in the draft as well as the second taken by the Colts. He helped fellow rookie Andrew Luck lead the Colts to an 11-5 record. His first year Allen and fellow rookie teammates T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Vick Ballard and Lavon Brazill combined for an NFL record 3,108 yards - the most by any rookie class playing for an NFL club since the 1970 NFL merger. Allen finished the 2012 season with 521 receiving yards on 45 catches, and 3 touchdowns. Allen was intended to be a large part of new Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense in 2013, but was placed on the injured reserve following a hip injury in the first game of the season. Allen battled a knee injury late in the 2014 season, but started 13 games for the Colts and finished with 29 receptions, 395 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

In December 2015 the Colt’s nominated Allen for the NFL’s 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. One player from each team is selected based on his off-the-field community service and on-field performance. The winner will be announced Feb. 6 as part of the NFL’s Honors Awards Show prior to Super Bowl 50.

“It’s an honor, man,” Allen told NFL Network. “It’s one I am not deserving of. I’ve tried to live my life and show an example that is worthy for others to follow“I just want this world to be a better place. If it’s me volunteering with the USO or something I’m very passionate about, you know, inspiring and empowering the youth, man, I do it wholeheartedly just to serve those people.”

Allen’s outreach efforts in the community have included becoming the director of the Indianapolis-based DREAM Alive, Inc.; Baskets of Hope, School on Wheels, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

Allen also found time to visit with the troops in March of 2015. Along with head Coach Chuck Pagano and teammate Andrew Luck he spent eight day overseas visiting troops in seven countries.

Andrew Luck --- Quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts

Quarterback Andrew Luck

Photo courtesy of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck was selected by the Colts in the first round (1st Overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Stanford University Luck majored in Architectural Design and graduated with a 3.48 grade point average. In his high school years he was considered one of the top prospects in the country. In 2008, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he helped turn around the football program, leading the team to three bowl games.

A few of Luck s college accomplishments:

  • Started all 38 games he played in at Stanford, completing 713-of-1,064 passes (67.0 percent) for 9,430 yards, 82 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, as he set school career records for touchdown passes and pass completion percentage.

  • Was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010 and 2011

  • Named the Maxwell Award Winner for the National Collegiate Player of the Year, the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year and the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year following the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Was also the recipient of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Trophy and named the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year by CoSIDA in 2011.

  • Finished his collegiate career at Stanford with 31 victories as a starter, the most ever attained by a Cardinal quarterback. His winning percentage (81.5) is the best in school history.

A starter in his rookie season Luck broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie against the Chiefs, throwing 205 yards to bring his season total to 4,183. Cam Newton held the previous record with 4,051 yards. He finished the season with 11 wins and 4,374 yards. His 2013 season had 11 wins and 3,822 yards and the 2014 season 11 wins and 4,761 yards. Lucks 2015 season was slowed by injuries and he missed seven games.

Lucks Colts franchise records:

  • Most passing yards in a single season (4,739)

  • Most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a single season (4,374)

  • Most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a single game (433)

  • Most pass attempts by a rookie quarterback in a single season (627)

  • Most pass completions by a rookie quarterback in a single season (339)

  • Most pass completions by a rookie quarterback in a single game (31)

  • Most passing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback in a single game (4)

  • Highest passer rating by a rookie quarterback with a minimum of 100 attempts (76.5)

  • Highest interception percentage by a rookie quarterback with a minimum of 100 attempts (2.87)

Luck has supported many community causes as well as our troops. In March of 2015 he visited with wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and In March of 2015 did an eight day seven country tour overseas to visit with the troops. With him on this tour was his Head Coach, Chuck Pagano tight end Dwayne Allen and Pittsburg Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro, his college teammate.

Anthony Castonzo -- Indianapolis Colts Offensive Tackle

Tackle Anthony Castonzo blocking against the Denver Broncos

Photo courtesy of Anthony Castonzo and the Indianapolis Colts

Castonzo spent a prep school year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he was a two-way tackle for the Blue Devils and also saw action at the tight end spot. He previously attended Lake Zurich High School in Lake Zurich, Illinois. When he finished high school no major colleges offered him a scholarship. After a year at Fork Union he was considered a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, and ranked No. 44 among prep school prospects in 2007.

Castonzo became the first true freshman to start on the Boston College offensive line since Paul Zukauskas in 1998. That same year with Matt Ryan at quarterback the Eagles' complied 5,924 yards in total offense. For his outstanding play Castonzo received All-ACC Freshman honors by The Sporting News and Freshman All-American honors by the Football Writers Association of America. Switching from right tackle to left tackle his sophomore year Castonzo earned a College Football News All-Sophomore First Team selection. In 2009, Castonzo was listed at No. 9 on Rivals.com′s preseason offensive tackle power ranking. Following his junior season, Castonzo was selected 2009 First Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. He set the record for career starts with 54 straight at Boston College and was a Rhodes Scholar nominee in 2010.

Castonzo was selected by The Indianapolis Colts with the 22nd pick overall of the 2011 NFL Draft. Ever since being drafted in the first-round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Castonzo has been a stalwart at the left tackle position in Indianapolis.

Castonzo played 1,115 snaps in the 2014 season, the most of any NFL offensive lineman. “He’s like that old pickup. You can always count on him,” Chuck Pagano said of Castonzo.“You can turn the (darn) thing over and he’s always going to start. He shows up week-in-and-week-out. I’m very grateful that we have him.

In February of 2016 Castonzo spent a week on a USO tour with Head Coach Chuck Pagano, Safety Mike Adams, Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and Punter Pat McAfee visiting with the troops at bases around Japan and aboard ships, and with military youths. .” Compiled from the Indianapolis Colts web site and Wikipedia.

John Fox Chicago Bears Head Coach

John Fox overseas visiting with the troops

Photo courtesy of John Fox and Professional Sports Representation

Fox has 15 years of NFL head coaching experience including four years at Denver (2011-14) and nine with Carolina (2002-10). As an NFL head coach, Fox has a 128-112 regular season record, six division titles, six double-digit win seasons and seven playoff appearances. In the postseason, Fox has amassed an 8-7 (.533) record as a head coach with three conference championship game appearances leading to two trips to the Super Bowl (XXXVIII with Carolina in 2003 and XLVIII with Denver in 2013). He is one of six coaches in NFL history to lead two different teams to Super Bowl appearances along with Don Shula, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil and Mike Holmgren. Fox ranks fifth among active NFL head coaches with 128 overall wins and his six seasons with at least 11 wins are third most among active head coaches.

Over his last four seasons with the Broncos he guided them to four division titles, joining Chuck Knox (L.A. Rams) as the only coaches in NFL history to lead their respective team to four division titles in their first four years with the franchise. Denver's regular season record of 46-18 (.719) is third-best in the NFL since 2011 and they are one of only three teams to win four division titles during that span along with Green Bay and New England. Denver had at least 12 wins in each of the last three seasons (13-3 in 2012 and 2013 and 12-4 in 2014).

Fox helped the Broncos adapt to play to their offensive strengths over his four seasons in Denver, ranking first in the NFL in rushing offense in 2011 (164.5 yards per game), before ranking in the top five in each of the next three seasons in passing offense: fifth in 2012 (283.4 ypg), first in 2013 (340.3 ypg) and fourth in 2014 (291.3 ypg). In 2013, the Broncos set an NFL single-season record with 606 points and their 7,317 net yards that season are second most in league history. Prior to his time with the Broncos, Fox spent nine years as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. He led the franchise to a 73-71 (.507) regular-season record, including three playoff appearances and two NFC South titles. The Panthers went 5-3 in the postseason under Fox, including winning four road playoff games, while appearing in two NFC Championship Games and earning the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance.

During Fox's time as Carolina's head coach, the Panthers defense was third in the NFL with 282 takeaways, fifth in Under Fox's tutelage as a head coach, coordinator and position coach, 37 players have earned a total of 72 Pro Bowl selections at 14 different positions during his coaching career.

A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Fox spent his teen years in the San Diego area and attended Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, Calif. He played defensive back at Southwestern Junior College in Chula Vista (1974-75) before transferring to San Diego State to finish his collegiate career. Fox graduated from San Diego State with a bachelor's degree in physical education and a secondary education teaching credential.

Coach Fox spent several days visiting with members of the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf as part of the NFL-USO Coaches Tour.

"As a son of a Navy Seal, I grew up in a military family and know first-hand the sacrifices the men and women in our military make," Fox said. "We get a lot of attention as players and coaches in the National Football League, but our service men and women are the heroes. They enable us to enjoy the freedom we have in our country and I view any opportunity to spend time with our troops as a privilege."

Joe Cardona Long Snapper for the New England Patriots, current Ensign US Navy and Navy Academy grad

Center Joe Cardona #49

Photo Courtesy of the New England Patriots/Keith Nordstrom

Ensign Joe Cardona, graduate of the Navy Academy

Photo Courtesy of the New England Patriots/Keith Nordstrom

Joe Cardona is a 2015 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Currently Cardona is an active duty Navy officer assigned to Navy Prep school in Newport Rhode Island. Cardona was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth round (166th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.Cardona is the long-snapper and has handled those duties through all 16 games this rookie season.

Cardona grew up in El Cajon California. In high school he lettered two years in football and four years in lacrosse. In lacrosse he was named conference MVP as a midfielder his senior year.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder, was a four-year player at long snapper for Navy where he was not charged with a single bad snap. He earned four letters and appeared in 52 games during his college career. He became only the second freshman to start at long snapper in Navy history.

Josh McNary -- current Jacksonville Jaguars and former Indianapolis Colts Linebacker and West Point Grad

Josh McNary on Game Day

Photo courtesy of Josh McNary and the Indianapolis Colts

Josh McNary at graduation
Photo courtesy of photographer Danny Wild www.dannywild.com

Josh McNary on March 16, 2017 signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after four years with the Colts.

McNary a native of Houston Texas finished his career at West Point as Army’s all-time leader in in sacks (28.0) and tackles for loss (49), while adding 195 tackles (117 solo), nine passes defensed, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He is the only player in school history to record two double-digit sack seasons, and also held school records for the most sacks in a single game (4.0) and a single season (12.5).

As a senior in 2010, McNary capped off his career by returning a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown in the Black Knights’ 16–14 victory over SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The win gave Army its first winning season since 1996 and first postseason victory since the 1985 Peach Bowl. McNary was one of five finalists for the 2010 Burlsworth Trophy, which honors the most-outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on. He was also on the preseason watch lists for the 2010 Lombardi and Nagurski awards, and was a semifinalist for the 2010 Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is presented to the nation's top defensive player.

Following his senior year, McNary was honored with the 2011 East West Shrine game Pat Tillman Award, given to the player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service.

McNary served two years of active military service and on April 10, 2013 the Indianapolis Colts signed him to a free-agent contract. McNary was placed on the Reserve/Military List but on July 30, 2013 was moved to the active roster and joined the team in training camp. McNary moved between the practice squad and the 53-man active roster over three seasons. He appeared in 13 games for the Colts in 2015 before being placed on injured reserve on December 29.

Jon Gruden – Current Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders and former ESPN and Monday Night Football Analyst

Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden visiting with the troops in the Persian Gulf
Photo courtesy of Jon Gruden and Professional Sports Representation, Inc.

During the summer of 2009, Gruden participated in the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour with Tom Coughlin, Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, and John Harbaugh, on a trip to meet and greet U.S. service members over several days in the Persian Gulf region.

After returning home Gruden had a whole new perspective on everything. “It was a life-changing experience for me, and I know the other coaches would tell you the same thing. A lot of those guys have been over there for so long, breathing dust and working hard. I thought I knew a little bit about teamwork and preparation. I thought I knew a little bit about being tough and enduring pressure. But what these guys and gals are going through is moving. I have a new respect for being an American. I have a new respect for our military. What they have accomplished in Iraq needs to be better documented. The progress they've made and the accomplishments they've made is extraordinary. To witness the progress in person, is an unbelievable feeling.”

Jon Gruden at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla, Dec. 8, 2017

Service members huddle around Jon Gruden during a football camp at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.,
Dec. 8, 2017. Gruden gave the participants a pep talk about communication and execution before
practicing plays.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez

Gruden spent the day at MacDill Air Force base running a football camp for the Airman. The day began with a meeting to install plays and assign players to certain positions, with many service members reliving their high school or college days. The service members then moved out to the football field, where Gruden conducted a full practice with a walk-through, individual work, running plays and even two-minute drills.

“I’m emotional when it comes to what these guys are giving us - the sacrifice and all the effort that they put in behind the scenes." said Gruden. "We just wanted to show our appreciation from Monday Night Football.”

Coach Gruden plays defense during his football camp held at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Gruden
taught the participants various plays and how to execute them
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez

Gruden the Football Analyst and Coach

The former ESPN Football Analyst was named Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders on January 6, 2018 signing a 10 year contract the longest contract ever given to an NFL coach. Gruden, previously coached Oakland from 1998 to 2001.

Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden joined ESPN in 2009 as an analyst for Monday Night Football. Twice nominated for a Sports Emmy, Gruden also contributed analysis throughout the year on ESPN Radio and other platforms, including Super Bowl week and NFL Draft. He also served as an analyst during ESPN’s 2010 Pro Bowl telecast.

Gruden has been widely praised for his groundbreaking SportsCenter Special: QB Camp prime time show which has become a popular element of ESPN’s annual pre-Draft coverage. The in-depth, one-on-one interviews and film sessions have featured Gruden mentoring top quarterback prospects such as Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Colt McCoy, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow. The success of these shows has led to similar specials, including a Gruden’s Champ Campspecial with New Orleans Saints Super Bowl winners Drew Brees and Sean Payton in 2010.

In addition to his NFL role, Gruden has called a handful of marquee college football telecasts since arriving at ESPN, including the Rose Bowl (2010) and BCS National Championship games (2010 and 2011) for ESPN Radio, and the 2011 and 2012 Outback and Orange bowl games, where he has worked alongside past MNF partner Tirico and others.

Gruden did his regular film study for MNF and conducts the QB Camp interviews at his Tampa, Fla., office which he has affectionately dubbed the F.F.C.A., Fired Football Coaches Association. Always looking to expand his knowledge of the game and learn from others, he regularly welcomes high school, college and professional coaches to discuss football strategy, philosophy and to review game film.

The dynamic, outspoken and often fiery Gruden was a highly successful NFL head coach for 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08). He compiled a career record of 100-85 and led his teams to five division titles. Gruden’s best season was 2002 when the Buccaneers finished the regular season 12-4 and captured the Super Bowl XXXVII title with a 48-21 victory over the Raiders, the team Gruden held build and had coached just one season earlier.  At the time, the championship made then 38-year-old Gruden the youngest head coach ever to win a Super Bowl.

Gruden began his NFL coaching career in 1990 when Mike Holmgren, then offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, hired him as an assistant in charge of quality control.  Gruden quickly ascended through the ranks by learning the famed West Coast offense pioneered by longtime 49ers coach Bill Walsh.  When Holmgren left the 49ers to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1992, he named Gruden the Packers’ wide receivers coach. After three seasons in Green Bay, Gruden moved on to become the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator under head coach Ray Rhodes. In 1998, Gruden was chosen by Oakland owner and general manager Al Davis to be the Raiders' new head coach at the age of 34.

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Gruden graduated from the University of Dayton in 1985 with a degree in communications. He was a back-up quarterback and three-year letter-winner for the Flyers.  After graduation, he started his career as a graduate assistant on Johnny Majors’ staff at the University of Tennessee in 1986.  He also served as the quarterback coach at Southeast Missouri State (1987-88), and the wide receivers coach at both Pacific (1989) and Pittsburgh (1991) in the college ranks.

Gruden grew up in a football family. His father, Jim, served as an assistant at Notre Dame in the late 1970s and later with the Buccaneers, among his 38 seasons of collegiate and professional experience.  Also, his brother Jay – named the Washington Redskins head coach in 2014 – served as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals for three years, an offensive assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Bucs for seven seasons, and spent 19 seasons in the Arena Football League as both an ArenaBowl-winning player and coach.

Gruden was named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” in 2001 and he was the first non-player ever invited by the Walt Disney Co. to star in its popular post-Super Bowl “What’s Next?” commercial (with quarterback Brad Johnson) after leading the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2003.  The recipient of the 2002 Coach of the Year honor at the ESPY Awards, Gruden was also recognized as Professional Coach of the Year at the 37th Victor Awards in 2003.  He wrote the book Do You Love Football?! Winning with Heart, Passion, and Not Much Sleep with longtime NFL writer Vic Carucci.

   

Bill Cowher -- CBS Sports Football Analyst -- THE NFL TODAY

Bill Cowher visiting with the troops in the Persian Gulf

Photo courtesy of Bill Cowher and Octagon

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher joined CBS Sports as an analyst for the Network’s NFL studio show, THE NFL TODAY, in February 2007. This season he once again joins James Brown and Deion Sanders for CBS and NFL Network’s pregame and post-game studio coverage of Thursday Night Football

Cowher, who in 2005 led the Steelers to their first Super Bowl title in 26 years, was the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL before stepping down following the 2006 season after 15 years with the Steelers. His 15 seasons with the Steelers ranks ninth in NFL history for longest head coaching service with one team. Cowher was only the team’s second head coach since 1969 after taking over for legendary head coach Chuck Noll on January 21, 1992, at the age of 34. In 1995, at age 38, he became the youngest head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl when the Steelers played the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

Cowher’s Steelers teams earned 10 post-season berths, captured eight division titles, advanced to six AFC Championship games, made two Super Bowl appearances and won one Super Bowl title. He led the Steelers to post-season appearances in each of his first six seasons tying an NFL record originally set by Cleveland Browns legendary head coach Paul Brown. During his 15 seasons, the Steelers had the league’s most division titles and posted the NFL’s best overall record in the regular season.

Cowher ended his coaching career with an overall record of 161-99-1 (.619) including a 149-90-1 (.623) mark in the regular-season. His record with the team ranks only second to Noll’s overall (209-156-1; .572) and regular-season (193-148-1; .566) records. Cowher’s regular-season (.623) and overall (.619) winning percentages are the second highest in Steelers history behind current head coach Mike Tomlin.

Cowher played five years as a linebacker and special teams standout for the Cleveland Browns (1980-82) and the Philadelphia Eagles (1983-84). He began his coaching career as a special teams coach in 1985 under Marty Schottenheimer and followed him to Kansas City as the eventual defensive coordinator before moving to Pittsburgh as head coach.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Cowher was born on May 8, 1957. He played linebacker for four years at North Carolina State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education in 1979. Cowher has three daughters, and resides with his wife, Veronica.

During the summer of 2009, Cowher participated in the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour with Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher, and John Harbaugh, on a trip to meet and greet U.S. service members over several days in Kuwait and Iraq. Cowher, made his second USO trip to Iraq over the Fourth of July weekend in 2012 with Eric Mangini, Leslie Frazier and Ben Kotwica. Cowher’s father served in the Air Force during WWII from 1940-1945.

FOX SPORTS

For years, FOX Sports has been a long standing supporter of our U.S. military demonstrating our support through a variety of activations. We have hosted multiple base trips, both domestic and international with FOX talent, employees and current and past athletes. We have broadcasted live hits with our talent from domestic bases on various military focused holidays. We are in our third year hosting an annual Veteran’s Day dinner and live taping experience here on the FOX Lot with roughly a hundred soldiers per year. Our “FOX Sports Supports” program is the charitable arm of FOX Sports and is crafted in such a way that we support at least one military focused non- profit per year.

J.J. Watt Houston Texans Defensive End

J.J. Watt salutes the troops after every quarterback sack

Photo courtesy of J.J. Watt and John Caplin Creative Artist Agency

Photo USA TODAY Sports

Watt with the troops in Afghanistan

Photo courtesy of J.J. Watt and John Caplin Creative Artist Agency

Watt attended Pewaikee High School in Wisconsin where he was a four-year letter winner in football and also lettered in basketball, baseball and track and field. During his senior year, he was selected for first-team All-State. During this time, he became a breakout football player, earning the Woodland Conference Player of the Year Award his senior year, and first-team All-State, All-County, All-Area, and All-Conference selections as tight end and defensive end. He was also named the team’s MVP.

Also a standout in track and field Watt competed in the shot put during his senior season, earning first-team All-state selection. He ended up capturing the state title in the shot put at the 2007 WIAA Division II Championship, setting a new school-record with a throw of 59 ft, 11.5 in (18.28 meters).

Watt attended Central Michigan for one year before transferring to University of Wisconsin where he was redshirted for the 2008 season and was named Wisconsin’s Scout Team Player of the Year. He earned the Ronnie Lott Trophy in 2010, voted AP and Sports Illustrated second-team All- American, All-Big Ten first-team, academic All-Big Ten, and was voted the team’s MVP.

Watt decided to forgo his senior season and entered the 2011 NFL Draft where he was selected in the first round by the Houston Texans and was the 11th pick overall.

  • Watt has gone on to be named Defensive Player of the Year three times --- 2012, 2014, and 2015. Watt joined New York linebacker Lawrence Taylor as the only players to win three DPOY awards. Other honors:

  • 4 x Pro Bowl -- 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

  • 4 x First team All-Pro -- 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

  • 3 x AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year – 2012, 2014, 2015

  • 3 x Pro Football Weekly Defensive Player of the Year – 2012, 2014, 2015

  • 3 x Sporting News NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- 2012, 2014, 2015

  • 3 x Pro Football Focus Defensive Player of the Year – 2012, 2013, 2014

  • 3 x Pro Football Focus Best Player of the Year – 2012, 2013, 2014

  • 2 x AFC Defensive Player of the Year – 2012, 2014

  • 2 x NFL sack leader -- 2012, 2015

  • 2014 MVP league Runner-up

  • First Defensive Player to be ranked #1 in the top 100 Players – 2015

  • First Defensive Player with multiple 20+ sack seasons 2012, 2015

  • Sports Illustrated 2017 co-Sportsperson for the Year honoree.

Charitable Work
The Justin J Watt Foundation is a 501c(3) organization looking to reach out to middle schools in Wisconsin and Texas, as well as deserving schools in any other state that have insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs, or that have no after-school athletics whatsoever. Participation in athletic programs provide to children the opportunity to expand their horizons and learn valuable life lessons that will serve them well beyond their years on the playing field. Providing these opportunities for children in the community will not only give them a safe, supervised, and structured setting in which to spend time after-school, but it will also teach the children how to work together within the context of a team, how to persevere in the face of adversity, and that hard work is the best path to success in any situation. The ultimate goal for this foundation is to provide an opportunity for kids to be kids. We want them to be able to have fun and enjoy playing sports with their peers, but at the same time, we want to help lay a solid foundation of characteristics on which they may build the rest of their life.
www.jjwfoundation.org

Military Support

Watt salutes the military every time he sacks a quarterback. A staunch supporter of our service men and women he gives 20 tickets to each home game to children and families of the military. He has also visited bases including a 2013 USO tour to Afghanistan. Watt was impressed with their dedication and how humble they were. Some of his comments about his USO tour:

“It means a lot to me to be a part of this tour, to be able to come over here, overseas, and personally look into their eyes and shake their hands and thank every man and woman out here, it means a great deal, because these are the people who are fighting for our freedom and the people who make my job possible. I play a game, and these people put their lives on the line for us. The troops have been great so far. The people have been great. It’s been really neat to see everybody.”

“The most common thing they say to us is, ‘Thank you for coming out and showing your support,’” Watt said. “To me, every single time that somebody says that, I look at them and say, ‘I don’t think you understand. I’m here to thank you guys. You guys are the heroes. We’re coming here because we want to show our appreciation for you.”

“This is definitely the thing I’ve most been looking forward to this whole offseason,” he said. “To me, these people volunteer to do what a lot of people don’t want to do. It’s almost hard to comprehend. They have wives, they have husbands, they have families, kids, moms and dads back home, and they’re over here putting everything they have on the line and their families are worried about them. It means a lot just to come over here, even just for seven days, to say thank you."

“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that just by shaking somebody’s hand, just by signing an autograph and taking a picture, you can boost their morale and you can make their day and you can help raise their spirits. These people are away from their families for 9, 10, 11 months at a time, and to hear them say how much it means to them that we just made a trip over here, it’s crazy. I’m grateful for these other five guys that are with me who came. You can tell how much it means to these troops. To be able to do this, it’s special, and I’m glad that we get the opportunity that the USO provides us.”

Hurricane Harvey
By the third week of September 2017, less than a month after Hurricane Harvey had devastated Houston and its surrounding region, Watt had raised more than $37 million in relief aid. Watt served as a beacon for what an athlete can do with their platform beyond sports. As Peter King, Editor in Chief of The MMQB, points out, “Nothing J.J. Watt has achieved in his career, or might still achieve, will measure up to what he did for Houston.”

Brian Cushing --- Inside Linebacker for the Houston Texans

Inside Linebacker Brian Cushing

Photo courtesy of Brian Cushing and the Houston Texans

Cushing of Park Ridge New Jersey played linebacker, tight end and running back for Bergen Catholic High School. He was named “2004 North Jersey Player of the Year” and played in the 2005 “U.S. Army All-American Bowl”. Cushing was recruited by all the top colleges but committed to University of Southern California where he was a four year starter and started in four Rose Bowls. One of only two players to have done this; Archie Griffin of Ohio State was the other. In the January 2007 Rose Bowl Cushing was named the Defensive MVP. His senior year he was named AP 2nd Team All-American.

Cushing was drafted with the 15th overall pick in the2009 NFL Draft by Houston Texans and had one of the best defensive seasons by a rookie in NFL history. Cushing was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 6 and again in In Week 8 Cushing was also named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. Cushing finished tied with Ray Lewis for the AFC lead with 133 tackles & added 4 sacks, 10 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, & 2 forced fumbles. He was selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl as a starter. On January 5, 2010, Cushing was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

In 2011, the Houston Texans finished the season with a 10-6 record and made it to the playoffs for the first time in team history. Cushing was named Team MVP and while he wasn't voted to the Pro-Bowl he earned AP 2nd Team All-Pro honors after finishing the season with 114 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Houston Texans defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, called Cushing a "holy phenom" and also said that "he's one of the best I've ever coached, and I've been at it a long time."

Cushing’s 2012 season ended on October 8 with a torn ACL against the Jets. His 2013 season ended on October 20 against the Chiefs when he broke his fibula and tore his fibular collateral ligament.

In his 2014 season he played in 14 games and finished with 41 solo tackles, nine quarterback hits, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and 1.0 sacks.

Cushing played a full season in 2015 completing his best year since 2011 with 63 solo tackles and 43 assists.

The Brian Cushing Foundation – Military Support

Cushing played host to veterans from Military and Family Readiness Center treating them and their families to a dinner. “We loved having an intimate event with members of our military”, Cushing said. “It was such an honor for us to spend time with such great people and really special to meet their families”.

The event was part of Operation Holiday Hope, a community outreach program of the Brian Cushing Foundation. The foundation was founded by Cushing and his wife Megan to serve and honor the men and women of the armed forces by providing resources and experiences to Houston area veterans and their families.

Cushing who grew up in a family characterized by military service and impacted by war, said he understands the effect military can have on a family. His father was an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. His mother was born in a Nazi forced labor camp in Germany. With this in mind, his foundation specifically seeks to help those which have been affected by loss, deployment or relocation.

Since 2014 ha has hosted a free football camp for military kids in Pearland, Texas. The foundation has also mapped out Cushing’s Camp, which provides special all expense paid trips for military and veteran families so they can spend quality time together.

“We love being able to help the heroes of our country that have dedicated their lives to our safety”, Cushing said.

To learn more about the Brian Cushing Foundation go to:
www.BrianCushing.org

Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are proud to celebrate and honor our past and present members of the armed forces. The organization continues to strive to give back as much as possible to those who fight for our freedom. From visits to training camp to surprise reunions, view all military appreciation coverage at: www.atlantafalcons.com/community/military-appreciation.html

Head Coach Dan Quinn receiving the “Certificate of Appreciation” from a member of the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion in appreciation of the Falcons ongoing support of our service members. Certificate was presented at the “Annual Fishing with the Falcons” event for service members.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Head Coach Dan Quin addressing soldiers at Ft Gordon during the Falcons “Military Apperception” event. Coach Quinn gave the opening welcome at the pep rally and presented Fort Gordon with Atlanta Falcons memorabilia including Falcon hats given to each soldier and family in attendance. Soldiers were able to meet and get autographs from Coach Quinn, players, alumni and cheerleaders.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Head Coach Dan Quinn with Falcon players and coaches taking part in military simulation training at Fort Gordon.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons “Military Day” held during training camp. An event for active duty, reserve service members and veterans as well as the general public to attend. The entire Falcons team participates in this daylong event.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Head coach Dan Quinn presents a team autographed helmet and personalized Fort Gordon Atlanta Falcons jersey as a thank you gift for the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade. Coach Quinn is presenting to Col. Eric T. Heist, commander of the 513th.
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

The Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns Hats Off to Our Heroes program was created following the 9/11 tragedy to support and salute the accomplishments and services of those from the local community. The Browns will proudly honor the men and women who risk their lives to serve our communities and country during each home game in the 2015 season. These distinguished men and women join us as our special guests seated in the HONOR ROW. The Honor Row is designed to express gratitude to those heroic individuals through an elite experience at a Browns home game as they are honored during the game by a standing ovation of appreciation from fans at FirstEnergy Stadium. Please be sure to turn your attention to the Jumbotron after the conclusion of the 1st quarter to honor those who serve our country! Hats Off to Our Heroes!

The Browns are grateful to the brave men and women of Northeast Ohio who so capably serve, protect, and defend.

The Hats Off to Our Heroes program is an annual and wide-ranging program that focuses on recognizing and honoring local heroes while creating an atmosphere of pride among all our fans. Originally centered on programming during September, the Hats Off to Our Heroes program is now highlighted during events and initiatives throughout the entire year.

The Cleveland Browns Hats Off to Our Heroes program was awarded the '2003 best Single Program' from the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, who referred to the program as "intriguing and creative."

First and Ten and our Hats Off to Our Heroes campaigns run hand in hand. The members of the Military that we honor are all ambassadors of our First and Ten program. Through their service to our country they are making not only their community a better place, but the country as a whole. We are truly appreciative to be able to give recognition to these brave individuals. They #give10 continually and we are proud to have them as Browns fans!

www.ClevelandBrowns.com

Hats Off TO Heroes: The Cleveland Browns welcome members of the United States Marines to their “Honor Row” on game day
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Hats Off TO Heroes: The Cleveland Browns welcome members of the United States Army in their “Honor Row” in a game against
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Hats Off TO Heroes: The Cleveland Browns welcome members of the United States Air Force to their “HonorRow” in a game against
the Pittsburg Steelers
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Hats Off TO Heroes: The Cleveland Browns welcome members of the United States Navy to their “Honor Row” as they took on
the New Orleans Saints
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Honoring military heroes, saying thank you to them, and showing their appreciation for them is something the Steelers do on a regular basis.

The Steelers always take part in the NFL’s “Salute To Service”, honoring the men and women of the armed forces as a Veterans Day observance.

When the Steelers stood alongside the veterans during the National Anthem this past season there was another one joining them. One of their own. Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva is a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and those who play with him have the utmost respect for what he has done.

“It’s always meant a lot to us that we can call one of our own, one of our brothers, a veteran”, said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “He is a guy who has served and given us the opportunity to play this sport. We appreciate so much what the military has done and means to all of us. He is one of our brothers and it’s awesome”.

“It just provides real perspective about who the real heroes are”, said Coach Mike Tomlin. “We get patted on the back for the things that we do in terms of entertaining fans week in and week out, but to have Al with us is a continual reminder that the people who serve our country and provide a blanket protection for us on a day to day basis are the real American heroes.

“I have family in the military so I completely have to humble myself and take my hat off to those people”, said nose tackle Steve McLendon. “They are doing an outstanding job. They continue to go in and fight, they have families and continue to go and fight for our freedom. I am appreciate of them. I take my hat off to them. I want to tell them keep yourself safe and thank you”.

X Steeler running back Franco Harris with Navy SEAL Brandon Myers
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Brandon Myers had been struggling, unable to be with his fellow Navy SEALS after a 27 foot fall on his ship during training, leaving him in a wheelchair and not doing what he loves most. Last season the Pittsburg native attended the Steelers-Colts game and had a chance to meet Steelers players and coaches, from current players to Hall of Famers, as he was a guest of the team during warmups.

“It was special,” said Myers. “It lets you know that people care about you. As tough a time as it was, as adverse as it was, being in the hospital, being away from my brothers, the fact that a bunch of professional football players would spend time with a busted SEAL put a smile on my face during a time I hadn’t had many.”

Myers met some of the players earlier that year when they were in San Diego to play the Chargers and visited La Jolla VA Hospital. But being back in Pittsburgh, seeing them at Heinz Field, it was something special for both players and Myers.

“This was awesome,” said Myers. “I was happy enough to just to be able to come home. I hadn’t been home in about a year. Just having this opportunity meant a lot. Days are tough. I am fighting to get back on my feet and little victories like coming to a game, getting on the field, they keep me driven. Being able to get here lightens my spirits in a time when I really need it”.

Linebacker Arthur Moats, Offensive Tackle Alejandro Villanueva (West Point) and Defensive end Stephon Tuitt at the VA Hospital in La Jolla California
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Stephen Tuitt sat back in his chair and listened. Listened to the stories, listened to history lessons, listened to what life was like for those who did battle in the war. And the more he listened, the more he learned, and his appreciation for those who served in the military increased.

Tuitt was one of three Steelers who visited the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, taking the time to thank the veterans for their service to our country as a part of the team honoring Veterans Day today.

“I got a chance to see life from a different eye, an eye that is wiser than me,” said Tuitt. “That is the good thing. You get a chance to get some knowledge of what is happening, what’s gone on, to share things for how it is now.

“The stuff they were telling me, it’s crazy stuff. At the end of the day, what we all agreed it’s a blessing for them to still be alive today because of everything that happened. You get a chance to see people who have been in the military, done things like that. I have a brother who is getting in the military, he is young. It puts me at a better perspective knowing they are helping America in a way that we aren’t able to do or have the courage to do.”

While Tuitt gained a whole new perspective on what life was like for the veterans, Alejandro Villanueva had a different perspective. Villanueva the Steelers starting left tackle is also a veteran. A former Army Ranger who understands what the veterans have been through isn’t looking to be thanked, instead looking to say thanks.

“To come here to the VA, which is a great organization, and spend time with them is something special,” said Villanueva. “Every single time you go see veterans, especially our elder generation, you reflect on everything they have done. It’s a chance to thank them for all of the work they have done.

“From my perspective, it’s something I wanted to do. I am more honored to have served than wanting to be honored.”

Linebacker Arthur Moats, whose father Arthur is a former United States Marine, has an incredible appreciation for those who have served, and knows that those men and women are the true heroes in the world.

“This was a great thing to be able to come here and communicate with the veterans and have that one on one time with them and let them know that we genuinely care about them,” said Moats. “My father was a Marine, so it holds a spot near and dear to my heart. Any time you are able to come over and uplift them, put a smile on their face and just hang out with them it’s a great feeling.

“They say we watch you, we look up to you. They are the real heroes. I told them we appreciate everything you do, the sacrifices you make so we can live in a country where we are safe and don’t have to be scared. We have the utmost respect for them.”

Army Staff Sgt. Michelle Satterfield was presented keys to her new house at the Steelers-Broncos game
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Army Staff Sgt. Michelle Satterfield was presented keys to her new house on Monday. Four months ago Staff Sgt. Michelle Satterfield of the United States Army, a member of the 14th Quartermaster in Greensburg, thought she was coming to Heinz Field for the Steelers-Broncos game to be honored as the ATI Salute to Heroes recipient for the game, something she was thrilled with and grateful for the honor.

But on that day she received the surprise of a lifetime when she was presented an oversized key to a new home, courtesy of the Steelers, Stephen Stiller “Tunnel To Towers” Foundation, FedEx and builders Blueroof Technologies from McKeesport in association with McKeesport High School.

Satterfield, a fourth-generation Army soldier who lived in West Virginia, had wanted to relocate to be closer to the 14th Quartermaster and the new home allows for that.

“I just want to thank everyone for all of the support and welcoming us into the community,” said Satterfield, a single mother of son Hunter. "I can't thank everybody enough. It's amazing how everyone came together for me."

The home was unveiled on Monday in a special ceremony, hosted by former Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley and attended by players Arthur Moats and Alejandro Villanueva.

“What we are doing today for Sgt. Satterfield is special, someone who served our country,” said Villanueva, someone who understands as he is a former United States Army Ranger. “A lot of people don’t realize how fortunate we are to come back to the United States and how appreciative the people are. As a veteran, I can tell you the appreciation from our nation is great. I just want to thank Sgt. Satterfield for her service and dedication to our country.”

Moats also knows what it’s like to have people support those in the military, as his father is a former United States Marine.

“It’s a huge honor to be a part of something like this,” said Moats. “Any time we are able to come together as a city, a state and support somebody who is in the Armed Services. We don’t take it for granted. We appreciate all they do for us.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers honored our nation’s military service members during a week 9 game at Heinz Field against the Oakland Raiders.
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Los Angeles Chargers

The city of San Diego is the nation’s eighth-largest city. Aside from sunshine, San Diego is most famous for its large and commanding military presence. Hosting both large Navy and Marine bases no other American city boasts a larger concentration of military personnel. Add to that families and veterans and it’s a huge NFL fan base.

The Chargers have made it a point to embrace the military and it's something they've done well over the years. They have built enormous goodwill with the local military by doing things such as: holding one practice per training camp at a military base and bringing troops to visit their practices.

Over the past 12 years, the Chargers have held walk-through practices at places like Camp Pendleton and the 32nd Street Naval Base. The Chargers are probably also the only team in the NFL that's ever held a walk-through on an aircraft carrier, which they've done twice.

Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy is a firm believer that it's important to thank the troops for what they do.

"It's great because we're very fortunate to live where we do, be in the profession we're in and live the lives we do because of all the men and women in this country that make great sacrifices for us," said McCoy. "So it's an honor to have them here and to thank them for everything they do for our country."

“The military is part of our community and I look forward to visiting with them every year,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It’s just a way we can show our appreciation for their service.”

The Chargers' support of the military doesn't just involve inviting troops to practices or holding walk-throughs on aircraft carriers, the team also likes to get the troops involved. They’ve held NFL-style combines for the troops, where each person was run through an array of drills, just like they would be if they had been at the combine in Indianapolis. Troops do the high jump, the long jump, run the 40 and testing their bench press skills.

In addition to “Military Appreciation” promotions, the Chargers invite military personnel to work security shifts at Qualcomm Stadium. And when they show up at a base they arrive in two charter buses for visits that draw huge crowds.

United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and double-amputee Brandon Dodson shares his inspirational story with the team
after practice. Dodson, a San Diego native, and long-time Chargers fan, was injured on his very last combat patrol on his fifth
deployment in Afghanistan.
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers hosted a true inspirational hero during their final preparation for the Baltimore Ravens in a visit that resonated deeply for the entire team.

San Diego native and Ramona High School alum Brandon Dodson is a huge Chargers fan. He’s also a double-amputee veteran currently rehabbing from injuries suffered bravely serving our country.

A United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, Dodson was injured on combat patrol in Afghanistan on Aug. 9th from an IED explosion. In addition to losing both legs at the knee, he also broke his pelvis, tailbone and ribs among other serious injuries. When the Chargers learned he was rehabbing nearby at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, they quickly reached out to invite him to their Saturday’s walk-through practice.

“It’s great to be able to have someone like him, who has done so much for our country, around to thank him for the sacrifices he and his family made to protect our country,” Coach McCoy said. “We are all very fortunate to be a part of the NFL, and without people like Sergeant Dodson we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

After watching practice, Dodson addressed the entire Chargers team. He told them his story of how he was injured, saying it was just “a bad day at the office”. Dodson explained how he was on his very last patrol of his fifth deployment when the IED went off. He spoke of what it will take to recover, and his determination to return to active duty in some fashion when he masters the use of prosthetic legs. He concluded by explaining what the Chargers have meant to him in his life, and how grateful he was to spend his afternoon with them.

Every member of the team was transfixed as Dodson spoke, giving him a stirring round of applause when he finished. The team demanded he break down the huddle, so they gathered around and joined in as he screamed “Charge on three…one, two, three CHARGE.” The whole experience was one Dodson said he’d never forget and has meant the world to him.

“For a team that is a big national team like the Chargers to pump the breaks and allow me to join them and see some of this stuff really makes me feel special,” Dodson said. “They allowed my family to come too, which is awesome. I wasn’t expecting any of this. I was thinking maybe I’d be a fly on the wall on the sidelines, but Coach McCoy jumped off the bus to my car and said, ‘Hey Jasmine! Hey Brandon! How are you doing?’ I wasn’t expecting that at all. He told me to stay close to him the rest of the day, so it’s been really cool. I want to thank the whole team for allowing me to come out here. I will never say I’m a hero. I just had a bad day at work, so for this entire team to thank me for my service, it’s awesome.”

McCoy was so impressed by Dodson and his family, including wife Jasmine and their almost two-year old son Indiana, he invited them back to the hotel to have lunch with the team. Dodson attended the game and was on the sideline for pregame warmups. Overall, the inspirational visit was one that affected many Chargers.

“We all know what these Marines and all our servicemen and women do, but when you see it first hand and a guy like that, it hits home,” Philip Rivers said. “A guy like that, who puts it all out there and been out there five times and on his very last patrol has that happen to him, the thing that stood out to me was that there wasn’t one bit of ‘Poor me’. He just said he had a bad day at work, and it puts it all in perspective. We have bad days at work, but his bad day at work lost both legs and he’s dealing with tons of surgery. So it was good for all of us to meet him. We all know that as professional athletes we have a lot done for us. We have it made, and then you see what a guy like that goes through to protect our country. It’s huge.” Brandon Flowers was another of many Chargers deeply impacted by Dodson’s visit.

“His determination is special,” the cornerback said. “Those guys look up to us, but those guys are my heroes. They put their lives and limbs on the line every day to protect us and our country. We just play a game that we love to play. They are two totally different things. He is a true hero, and seeing how he lost both his legs in one step, it puts it in perspective how he wants to go back out there and help our country. It says something about that guy and everyone in the Marines. I definitely appreciate everything they do."

As the Chargers walked off the field, every last one of them spoke of Dodson’s story, including former Charger Jarret Johnson. “It was awesome and inspiring,” he said. “We talk about how tough our job is and injuries and how hard we work, and it’s nothing compared to a story like that. The things those guys go through, and they do it for very little pay. They do it for honor, country and each other. So to hear something like that, it’s pretty inspiring.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers stays after practice to sign autographs for hundreds of active duty members and their families at the
Chargers’ eighth annual practice at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers

Every August the Chargers make their preseason visit to MCAS Miramar (Marine Corp Air Station). The 2016 season will mark the Chargers’ 28th “Salute to the Military” kicked off by another memorable visit to MCAS Miramar. It marked the team’s twelfth practice at the military base in what has become a time-honored tradition since 2005. The Chargers have also held walk-throughs over the years at Camp Pendleton, Naval Base San Diego (32nd Street) and on the flight decks of USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Still, there is something special about being at Miramar. “The Chargers integration here at Miramar has been a great thing for us,” said Colonel Jason Woodworth. “We’ve built relationships, and to have the team out here and see how a real NFL player acts like is inspirational. This means a lot to these kids, and it is a unique experience. Not many get to do this. Their mom or dad may be away on deployment, and this reminds them that they have people looking out for them.”

A number of Chargers have family ties to the military, including Corey Liuget who has two sisters, Ideidre and Latronika, currently serving in the Army.

“This is unbelievable to give these families something to look forward to. I know what it’s like,” Liuget said. “They are not going to be able to see their loved ones on most holidays, so putting on an event like this is important. It speaks very highly of the organization I am lucky to be a part of. Most of these people are here from different parts of the world, and it feels good to make a difference.”

Like Liuget, when former Charger Ricardo Mathews was with the team he was a fixture along the defensive line and has strong ties to the military.

“My father was in the Navy and so was my brother in law,” he said. “My dad was out of the Navy by the time I was little, but knowing what he went through, it means a lot to be here today for these kids. I am in a position to give back, and it wouldn’t be right to be in this position and not come out here to put a smile on their face. They are the real heroes. They made a choice to do what they are doing, so it is a privilege to be here and give back to them.”

The team began their visit by practicing alongside children from the Boys and Girls club. When they weren’t catching deep passes from Rivers along the sideline, some children were teaching Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen and other Chargers some celebratory dance moves. Afterward, each player handed out a pair of Bose headphones to a military family in addition to tickets to an upcoming game as they signed autographs.

The visit to Miramar was a first for the Chargers first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft Melvin Gordon, who is grateful to be in the position to give back to the military.

“It always means something to be able to give back,” Gordon said. “That is one thing athletes need to do move of, especially in the position we’re in. And to do it to those in the military is great. So it feels good to be able to be here right now.” Hours earlier, the Chargers and USAA joined forces for a one-of-a-kind combine for military members, who were put through the very same paces the players go through in order to make it to the NFL. Running through football drills similar to those used by coaches to evaluate potential talent, the military members got to further taste what it is like to be a real NFL star.

“Physical fitness is very important to the military community, so USAA and the Chargers have combined to create a military combine,” said USAA’s Brian Eaton. “The athletes out here today and military members are going through the same drills the NFL players go through at the Combine. You’ve got the cones, the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press and the 40. It’s a great way for the military to demonstrate their physical fitness, and also have a lot of fun.”

Approximately 50 active military members took part in the event, featuring combine mainstays such as the 40 yard dash. While no one came close to breaking Chris Jones’ 4.24 record set back in 2008, they certainly turned heads with the fastest time clocking in at 4.70.

Military personnel help lead the team onto the field, as part of the many ways the Chargers honored
veterans and active-duty members of the military at their annual Salute to Service game.
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers

The San Diego Chargers continue their long history of honoring veterans and active duty members of the military with the annual “Salute to Service” game, presented by USAA.

Prior to the game, USAA hosted over 100 service members at MCAS Miramar, where Chargers players visited the base to learn about the duties and responsibilities of the service members. Earlier in the season, USAA and the Chargers hosted the “USAA Military Combine,” where current military members competed in NFL Combine style drills.

On game day, USAA provided a special Salute to Service military-inspired surprise to fans as well as providing an additional surprise gift to the first 500 military members to show their military ID at the USAA display booth. USAA also hosted a 100 person tailgate for current and former military members. As part of the pregame entertainment, the Ex-Navy SEALS Parachute Team parachuted into the stadium followed by a special performance by the 3rd Marine Air Wing Band from MCAS Miramar.

Following the National Anthem, performed by Airmen First Class Michelle Doolittle of the USAF, Honorary Captain General Kevin Iiams-USMC participated in the coin toss that featured a specifically designed USAA Salute to Service coin. The US ARMY Reserves, 1394th Transportation Brigade presented the colors. During half-time, the Chargers recognized Wounded Warriors. The Chargers “Salute to Service game, presented by USAA”, is part of the National Football League and the NFL Players Association annual “Salute to Service” campaign.

Chargers players Craig Watts, Darrell Stuckey, Jeremiah Sirles, and Sean Lissemore thank members of the Amphibious Assault School Battalion at Camp Pendleton for their service
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers

On Veterans Day the Chargers paid a visit to Camp Pendleton along with USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the Chargers, to thank the city’s true heroes.

“I think the Chargers have a great relationship with the military,” said nose tackle Sean Lissemore. “They’ve come out and visited us during training camp and taken time out of their day. We like to continue that relationship, especially on a day like today. We can’t be more thankful for everything that they do to allow us to play this great game and have the freedoms that we have.”

Darrell Stuckey, Jeremiah Sirles and Craig Watts joined Lissemore and the Charger Girls to visit the Amphibious Assault School Battalion at Camp Pendleton. Together, they toured "water-to-land" vehicles and mingled with over 80 military members on the base. In addition to taking photos and signing autographs, the Chargers thanked them for their service.

Washington Redskins Salute

Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. Coast Guard. National Guard. Redskins Salute, the official military appreciation club of the Washington Redskins, was created specifically with current and former service members in mind as a free community to connect, serve and support military members, their families and friends. Redskins Salute is where the Washington Redskins recognize the duty to serve and support those who have courageously fought for our freedom, and an opportunity to thank our military for their continued selfless efforts to serve our country. A first of its kind in the NFL, Redskins Salute is where service members can connect with the team and with each other, sharing Redskins stories, experiences and the shared passion behind an 80+ year tradition with year-round benefits.
www.RedskinsSalute.com


To learn more about the NFL’s commitment to the military and veterans, visit www.nfl.com/salute

CHICAGO BEARS “HELLO TO OUR HEROES” PROGRAM

The Chicago Bears have a long history of supporting our service members and veterans. Through the Bears nearly 100 year history they have carved out a special relationship with our armed forces and continue to do so today. Through their “Hello To Our Heroes” and “Bears Care” programs they continue that tradition each year.

The Bears are proud to annually partner with The Boeing Company to present the Bears/Boeing Military Salute. At each Bears home game, a deserving member of the military is honored with an on-field recognition during the third quarter. The Military Salute provides the opportunity for the Bears, Boeing and our great fans to give thanks and show support to those who protect our country and to also honor the history and heritage of Soldier Field. Soldier Field is named as a tribute to all soldiers who have given their lives in wars.

Teen/Tween Tuesdays

The Chicago Bears and the USO of Illinois have teamed up to host quarterly events for pre-teen and teen-aged children of military service men and women. These events provide fun activities for children who typically move at least once every couple of years and are forced to adapt to new surroundings and make new friends with an added stress of separation from family due to multiple deployments. www.ChicagoBears.com

The Road Home

Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears, recently awarded a $300,000 grant to The Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush, reflecting a three-year commitment to fund outreach and direct clinical care services. The Road Home opened its doors March 10, 2014 to help fill the gaps in care for the "invisible wounds of war." An energetic team of competent clinicians and support staff work to care for service members who deployed and have returned to civilian life in the Chicagoland area with combat-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military trauma, and family challenges. RHP offers these services, regardless of the ability to pay, to the veteran or their family members. For additional information please visit RoadHomeProgram.org

Members of the Road Home receive a check for $300,000 from the Chicago Bears

In addition, through their charitable arm, Bears Care, they play an important role in the Road Home Program’s outreach to military families in need. Every year, Bears Care and MillerCoors celebrate Veterans Day by giving over 400 military families a Pre-Thanksgiving feast complete with turkey, cranberry sauce and all the trimmings. And in December, Bears Care and United Airlines throw a party for more than 250 military children in the United Club at Soldiers Field.

Through the "Hello to Our Heroes" program, the Bears and Boeing support the military and help boost the morale of American soldiers overseas by sending them Bears flags. . Anyone serving or if someone knows someone serving overseas they can submit a request form for a Bears flag from the Bears web site.

Army Reserve specialist Spc. Leiopoldo Guerrero, 814th Military Police Company, charges out of the northwest tunnel with the U.S. flag, leading the Chicago Bears onto the field during their veterans Day game vs the Denver Broncos at Soldiers Field in Chicago. More than 100 service members participated in the recognition honoring veterans for their service. Lt General Thomas Spoehr, Director, Army office of business Transformation, Office of the Under Secretary of the Army, was the senior leader in attendance meeting with spectators there and participated in pre-game and half time activities.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Anthony L. Taylor

An American Flag held in place by over 100 service members covers Soldiers Field at a Bears home game
Photo by Scott Boehm

Service members and Bears players join to hold the American flag during opening ceremonies
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears

Bears flags displayed by the troops overseas