NFL Pro Bowlers Show Military Appreciation

Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden, Vice Admiral John Bird from USAA, and Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon (L to R)

This Sunday, the football world’s attention will be on Aloha Stadium near Honolulu as the best players in the NFL compete against each other in the annual Pro Bowl, but yesterday at Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe, Hawaii (MCBH), the NFL’s best took a day to express their appreciation for the military. The NFL and USAA partnered up to support two events on base: an NFL Play 60 Youth session at Mokapu Elementary School, in which children ran football drills and interacted with players, and a military mural project in which players and Marines joined together to paint panels for a new mural depicting the partnership between football and the military.

This is a great opportunity for two organizations, the NFL and USAA…to come together in a very tangible way,” said Ret. Vice Admiral John Bird, Senior VP for Military Affairs for USAA, which is the NFL’s official partner for military appreciation. “It’s a great partnership that culminates in the Pro Bowl, and it is all about thanking servicemembers, families and veterans for their service to their country.”

The young fans who turned out to participate in the Play 60 event hoping to connect with some of the NFL’s most well-known players were in luck, with members of the Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears participating. Stars such as Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson, and Falcons defensive lineman John Abraham split their time between encouraging their young charges during drills, and autographing their jerseys.

To Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was the second-fastest man to reach 10,000 receiving yards in a career, the military certainly means something; he attended Valley Forge, Military Academy after high school, his grandfather received a purple heart for his service in Korea, and his aunt and uncle are both Lieutenant Colonels in the Army. This isn’t the first time Fitzgerald has participated in a military event during Pro Bowl week, and he has become an ambassador for building a closer relationship between the NFL and the military.

“This is one of the things I really love about coming out to the Pro Bowl,” said Fitzgerald. “Interacting with military families, and meeting these extraordinary men and women… I think all the guys really look forward to it and enjoy coming out.”

Nearby, the mural session saw players from the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings sit side-by-side with Marines to help color in individual panels for the mural, which depicts football players scrimmaging, with Marines and military jets in the background. Once fully complete and assembled, the mural will be hung up in the base. The camaraderie between players and Marines was evident throughout the event, as Browns tackle Joe Thomas did some “outside the lines” work by adding cleats to a boot in his mural panel, while Browns center Alex Mack recounted a story to his neighbors about visiting an Army base in Kosovo and pulling on some fatigues to play a pickup football game, leading to an irate sergeant mistaking him for a Soldier and chewing him out for not saluting.

“It’s particularly nice when you see these NFL superstars interacting with the military,” said Bird. “To see players working with the kids, and teaching them about physical fitness, warms my heart."

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