ARIZONA: Coming off the team’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance, Cardinals president MICHAEL BIDWILL was invited by the Navy to visit the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier with 5,000 crew members. “It was truly one of the more exciting things I have done in my life,” says Bidwill. “It was rewarding as an American to see what these young sailors were doing.” As a sign of his appreciation, Bidwill presented a Cardinals Pat Tillman No. 40 jersey to the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Michael Manazir. “The Pat Tillman jersey is a specific and very special example of Americans honoring soldiers’ sacrifice,” says Manazir. “What is most impressive about Pat Tillman’s sacrifice is that he took what can be considered as a value lifestyle, something that others aspire to, and gave up fame and fortune and sacrificed his life. That’s why it was so touching to me when Michael Bidwill presented the jersey to the ship. We are going to recognize the Tillman jersey as an example of selfless sacrifice.”
ATLANTA: Third-year fullback JASON SNELLING, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 15, is raising awareness of the disease by speaking publicly and delivering the message that with proper medical care and medication, it doesn’t have to control their lives. “I realized that by me speaking about it, it would shine a light on the misunderstood condition which is epilepsy,” says Snelling. “I also knew it would help other kids who develop epilepsy or find out at a young age that they have it like I did. I can show them that they can do all the things they aspire to do without having to worry about the seizures and just dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis.” Snelling is taking part in the National Walk for Epilepsy on March 28 in Washington, DC and has started a team, fittingly named “Rush to Support Epilepsy.” He hopes to help raise money for epilepsy programs to search for a cure.
CAROLINA: Three Panthers – linebacker THOMAS DAVIS, wide receiver KENNETH MOORE and guard TRAVELLE WHARTON – helped commemorate Read Across America Day by reading to students at First Ward Elementary School in Charlotte. “It felt great to come here, help these kids out and show them that there are things they can do to lead them to bigger things,” said Moore. “It means a lot to be able to show the kids that we care about them.” After reading to the students and emphasizing the importance of getting a good education, the Panthers donated autographed copies of Dr. Seuss books as well as six volumes of the Harry Potter series to the school’s library.
CHICAGO: On April 7, Bears cornerback CHARLES TILLMAN will be honored at Maryville Academy as the team’s recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. The prestigious award is given to one player on each of the 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room. Tillman was chosen by his teammates for symbolizing professionalism, great strength and dedication. During 2008, his infant daughter Tiana was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant to survive. “When I look at her, I see a miracle,” says Tillman. After the experience, he changed the focus of his foundation, the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children by providing daily support and life-changing experiences.
DALLAS: The 2009 NFL season will see the opening of a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington. The stadium, which will be finished this offseason, will seat approximately 80,000 but can expand up to 100,000 for major events such as Super Bowl XLV, which will be held there in 2011. The stadium will also feature a retractable roof, which will incorporate some of the historical features of Texas Stadium, and a video board – measuring 180 feet in length and 50 feet in height – that will be suspended 110 feet directly over the field, the largest video board installation in the world. “The challenge for us with this new stadium was to innovate, but at the same time never forget to acknowledge tradition,” says Cowboys owner and president JERRY JONES. “This new stadium embodies the spirit of the Dallas Cowboys. What we have designed is a building we believe is both architecturally significant and also reflects the emotion and competition that goes on inside.”
DETROIT: Members of the Lions took time this offseason to visit pediatric patients at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Among the players in attendance were kicker JASON HANSON, linebacker ALEX LEWIS, cornerback KEITH SMITH and quarterback DREW STANTON. The players made personal visits with the children, signing autographs, taking photographs, telling stories and making friends. In addition, the team recently announced that Detroit Lions Charities has awarded 87 grants totaling nearly $400,000 to non-profit agencies in 2008-09. This year’s awards bring Detroit Lions Charities’ total donations to more than $5.2 million in its 19-year history. “We are pleased to once again assist a number of outstanding charitable organizations that are making an impact in our community,” says Lions vice chairman WILLIAM CLAY FORD, JR. “It is an honor to partner with these organizations that mean so much to so many.”
GREEN BAY: During the Packers annual Fan Fest, assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach WINSTON MOSS educated several hundred fans about the team’s new 3-4 defense as part of his “Defense 101” session. Held in the Lambeau Field Atrium, Moss showed fans the basics of the new defensive scheme the team will employ in 2009, highlighting two positions that are critical to the scheme’s success – the nose tackle and the outside linebackers. Moss used a slide and video presentation to illustrate the 3-4 and then answered questions from fans. “We didn’t rise to the occasion last year as a team,” Moss told those in attendance, “but we’re going to have answers and we’re going to be able to respond to adversity.”
MINNESOTA: Pro Bowl defensive end JARED ALLEN joined New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark, Arizona Cardinals All-Star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon on a weeklong NFL-USO tour to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, continuing the NFL’s legacy of more than 40 years of sending players overseas to visit with troops. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” says Allen, whose youngest brother, Ronald Jr. recently enlisted in the Marine Corps. “It’s something I’ll never forget. We as players probably get more out of this than the soldiers.” Allen told the troops that the experience would help him as he prepares for the 2009 NFL season. “I’m going to think of all of you when I’m in training camp this summer and struggling to get through a tough drill. The sacrifices that you make are so much greater than anything we do. And the work that you put in and the discipline that you show is off the charts.”
NEW ORLEANS: The Field of Dreams project at Carver High School, a determined effort to restore sports facilities in the Ninth Ward, received a $200,000 grant from the New Orleans Saints as part of the NFL’s Grassroots Program. The grant will help reach a goal for a synthetic turf football field and a running track at the 65-acre Carver campus, which suffered major damage during Hurricane Katrina. “The opportunity for our youth to participate in football and other sports has always been very important to our family and the entire Saints organization,” says Saints owner and executive vice president RITA BENSON LE BLANC. “We’re proud to support this project that will continue the recovery of the Upper Ninth Ward while providing yet another world-class field in which our local high school athletes may compete.”
NEW YORK: March 10 was MANNING Day in Mississippi as state legislators honored the family at the Capitol. The Senate passed resolutions honoring the family and spent time with the two Mannings in attendance – father Archie and youngest son ELI – during a reception. Both Archie and Eli were All-American quarterbacks at Ole Miss. The Mannings received standing ovations and Eli was congratulated for his recent move to Oxford. “This is what adults ought to be like and what all kids ought to aspire to,” said Representative David Norquist. Archie and Eli were each presented with a framed copy of the Senate resolution, although Eli’s was twice the size of his father’s. “I guess I had better stats because mine’s a little bigger than dad’s,” quipped Eli.
PHILADELPHIA: In celebration of Black History Month, wide receiver JASON AVANT took 20 students from William Dick School to tour the America I am: The African Imprint exhibit at the National Constitution Center. The exhibit covered nearly 500 years of African American history and included artifacts from different periods of America’s history such as Malcolm X’s journal and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. “It’s an opportunity to learn about past events and hear about what our ancestors went through in order for us to stand here today so that we can be free, liberated and have the opportunities to become what we want to become,” says Avant. “It’s important to learn your history and know where you came from.”
ST. LOUIS: Linebacker CHRIS DRAFT and the Chris Draft Family Foundation brought the Missouri Asthma Team, a coalition of individuals and agencies who seek to promote awareness and education, together for a special day of events to support the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of St. Louis. “As a team, we will not accept where we are,” says Draft, who is a 12-year NFL veteran living with asthma. “We will work together with the Missouri Asthma Team to tackle asthma and lung disease across the state.” The Chris Draft Family Foundation, which was established in 2006, stresses the importance of education, healthy lifestyles, character development, personal responsibility, self-discipline and physical fitness.
SAN FRANCISCO: Tight end VERNON DAVIS spent National Health-through-Fitness Day in meetings with members of Congress lobbying for assistance to fight the increasing issue of obesity in America. Davis, along with other athletes and celebrities and the Sports Goods Manufacturers Association, met with U.S. Representatives, Senators and key Congressional aides to propose programs that will enable our society to be more physically active and address the increasing problem of obesity. “I understand the severity of this issue,” says Davis. “I think the programs will help and the more you can do, the better. We need more physical education classes to get these kids going because they are not as physically active these days.”
SEATTLE: Cornerback JOSH WILSON spent Super Bowl Sunday watching Super Bowl XLIII in Kuwait with 500 members of the U.S. military. “There’s a huge time difference, so we were watching the game at 3:00 in the morning,” says Wilson. “The troops were great, we had fun.” Wilson traveled to Kuwait and Iraq as part of the Pro Sports Super Sunday Tour. “I have a greater appreciation than ever for the men and women serving in the military,” says Wilson. “At first I hesitated about taking the trip, but now I’m glad I went. It was my first time out of the United States. I’m thankful for the nation we live in. We have freedoms that a lot of other nations don’t have. Our military takes good care of us.”
TAMPA BAY: In January, the Buccaneers named RAHEEM MORRIS the team’s new head coach, becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL. Recently, Morris addressed a packed auditorium of ninth and 10th grade students at Middleton High School about the importance of academics. Speaking on the eve of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a required statewide test for all public school students in grades 3-11, Morris encouraged the students with motivational messages. “Any time you get a chance to help today’s youth and point out the importance of an education, that’s great for our community,” says Morris. “We’re just trying to develop more positive people, and that’s important to all of us. We’re tested every day, and right now these students are going through the FCATs. I’m facing the biggest test I’ve had in my life to this point, and it’s great. It’s a challenge for all of us. It’s a challenge for them just like it’s a challenge for me. The thing that you learn from these situations is that you go into them every day with a level head and you make them make sense for you.”