In America, football and the military have always been closely tied. But when it comes to Memorial Day and honoring service, players will be the first to tell you who the real warriors are.
“Sometimes, we’ll have military leaders come in and speak to us and they talk about war and team and you’re a group of guys and you’re fighting,” says Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. “I don’t want to call them cliché words for us, because we’re ‘on the battlefield’ and we’re ‘in the trenches.’ We use the terminology, but they do real life stuff, real life and death stuff.”
Vinatieri’s own military ties run deep.
“My dad was in the service, my younger brother is in the service now. If you want to trace it all the way back to my lineage or my heritage, my great-great-grandfather came over on the boat (from Italy) and joined the service. He was the bandmaster for General George Custer way back in the day.”
It’s true. Felix Vinatieri was a decorated musician. And thankfully, Custer sent the band back before his 7th Cavalry was ambushed in Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Or, the most decorated kicker in NFL history may never have been.
Rookie running back Josh Robinson’s thoughts will be with a few family members over Memorial weekend and especially, on Saturday.
“I’ll probably wear my grandma’s shirt,” he said. “Just sit back, relax, and remember.”
Robinson’s grandmother (who raised him) died on May 23, 2004. A year later, his grandfather died on May 23, 2005. His mother was sentenced to 18 years in prison on February 23, 2011, leaving him homeless and living out of his car.
Robinson has the number 23 tattooed on his chest as a source of inspiration. “Maybe Frank (Gore) will hand it down to me soon. It’s a big number for me. It just drives me to be the best I can be.”
For cornerback Greg Toler, it’s not a family member he honors, but a military member who’s like family.
“Because my father was passed away when I was younger. And he took responsibility on when I was young keeping me out of trouble and keeping me close to his son,” he said. “I don’t know how he juggled it, including me in that process, with me not even being his child.”
Quarterback Andrew Luck has a grandfather who served in Korea. But seeing the U.S. military in action is what really opened his eyes – and his gratitude for all they do.
“I got to go on a USO tour earlier this year with Coach Pagano, Dwayne (Allen) and some other folks and a totally positive, enriching experience to see our service men and women out there across the world fighting for freedom,” he said.
Because protecting a football is one thing. Protecting democracy is another.
Says defensive tackle Art Jones, “They look at us like heroes, but truly, they’re the real heroes.”