News: NFL ProBowl Stars Visit Bagram Troops
Story by Staff Sgt. Donald Reeves
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Underneath the Red number 40 Jersey at the Pat Tillman USO center on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, four ProBowl NFL players met with hundreds of Military service members as part of a USO tour, March 5.
San Francisco 49er's Vernon Davis, Houston Texans' Mario Williams, Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten, and Cleveland Browns' Joe Thomas thanked the troops, took questions from service members, and played a little trivia.
Thomas said, "I think this is really cool for me to be able to visit with the troops. What you guys do over here really means a lot to me and the players that I'm out here with."
When an Airmen asked the players who their mentors were, Vernon Davis spoke up quickly, "I'm going to have to go with coach Singletary, my head coach. 'I want winners!,'" he added referring to a Singlatary post-game rant that became a YouTube hit two years ago.
Other players credited their families. Williams said his mentor was his mother.
"I grew up in a single parent home but she did a lot of stuff for our family. She worked hard and I think that gave me my determination and work ethic watching everything she went through to raise me."
When asked to name the players they cheered for while growing up Witten answered, "Junior Seau," and Thomas, "Brett Favre," to cheers and light hearted laughter.
Other questions were about which team members the players hang out with. Tight end Witten joked, "I guess Romo. It always helps being friends with the quarterback you know."
Then Witten compared the team's camaraderie to that of the troops, "I think it's different for each guy, it sorta depends on who you come in with, I'm sure that it's no different for you guys."
Eventually a question was posed about former Arizona Cardinals Football player Pat Tillman, who left the NFL to join the Army and was killed in in 2004.
Witten said, "I don't know if you can say what he did ... I mean you can't even put it into words... the money he was making, the fame." He said that Tillman wasn't just an example "for us athletes to see, but really our country and the whole world. He was an amazing guy I never met him personally, but it was an unbelievable decision for him to do what he did."
During the Q&A the athletes asked a few questions of the servicemembers. Senior Airman Darcell C. Brown was able to correctly identify Davis and Williams as the two players chosen in the 2006 NFL draft and even in what order they were taken.
Brown was thrilled about winning a football autographed by Witten and the other three players. Though he comes from Chesapeake, Va., he said he is a huge a Cowboys fan.
"My mom, my grandma, everybody's a cowboy fan!" When asked what he would do with his prize he said, "I'll probably give it to my little brother. He's a pretty big Cowboys fan too."
Brown said he would make his younger sibling work for it though.
"He'll be jealous, so I'll probably give it to him, but I'll make him do some push-ups or something first."
Several other service members won T-shirts for their trivia knowledge, but Air Force Senior Airman Adam S. Riendeau of Virginia Beach, Va., who is serving with the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, was thrilled just to meet the players.
"I'm a huge football fan. I just think it's awesome that they come out and see us, to give the troops support and keep the morale up. These guys are idols and role models. All these troops look up to them, it's nice when they come out and show support."
David Krichavsky, director of community affairs for the National Football League who is accompanying the players on this USO tour said, "The NFL has had a strong relationship with the military for over 44 years. Part of the DNA of the NFL is supporting the Armed Forces."
Krichavsky noted that current had NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had already been over to visit with the troops, and that the NFL could be part of as many as five USO tours this year.
All four of the players on hand had military connections in some way. Williams who grew up in the Marine country of North Carolina briefly considered a career in the military. Witten has visited wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of the players, Davis and Thomas had played in the Army's all American Bowl, an invitational game for the top high school players in the country.
Someone asked Thomas if he'd gotten a chance to see any of his cousins who were currently deployed. "No not yet," he said. "One cousin's flying Black Hawks down in FOB Wolverine, but I don't think we'll get to get down there unfortunately."
Daniel L. Cardwell, entertainment coordinator for Afghanistan, had praise for the professional athletes that volunteered for the USO tour.
"Usually when it comes to bona fide professionals like these sports people, they are the easiest to work with because they know it takes work to make things happen."
Brown, showing off his football to the line of autograph seekers, was just thankful for a break for the monotony of daily operations.
"We always like to see things like this because there's not really too much to do out here. This helps the troops with their morale. It's awesome"
The gratitude was mutual. Thomas told the troops.
"You guys doing what you do gives us the ability and opportunity to do what we do on Sunday and entertain in America and the world. We really appreciate that."