Veterans Day once again brings together the forces of the National Football League to honor those men & women who have served our country in the United States military. Observed every November 11 at 11:00 AM, Veterans Day also coincides with Armistice Day that is celebrated in many other countries around the world marking the end of World War I. The NFL will recognize veterans by donning “camouflaged” gear to accent their normal uniform combinations.
Military and Pro Football
I write this post with a couple of caveats at the beginning. First, I’ve stood on both sides of the fence in relation to serving in the United States Air Force and serving the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. Second, I don’t mistake my analogy between Veterans Day and that of Memorial Day, which recognizes the supreme sacrifice of those that died for our country in combat. My observations have found many parallels and similarities between two career paths, though nobody should confuse giving one’s life for his or her country with the perils of playing professional football.
Our country has shown a fascination with both the military and professional football for years. Growing up (at least for us Baby Boomers), you were either outside playing “football in the streets” or “army in the vacant lots”. Our heroes as kids straddled those fields of friendly strife, and for me it’s remains amazing that the things that caught my imagination as a child would eventually cross paths in my adult life. So the very word “veteran” congers up various meanings for me, from a number of different angles and over a vast array of experiences.
Love of country, love of the game
The veteran, military and football, brings stability through expertise garnered through experience. All have their own reasons for pursuing their profession, “love of country” or “love of the game”, but many initially see it as an opportunity and a chance to build a career that can bring financial stability for their families.
Time often shifts motivation towards the opportunity of representing something bigger. Veterans in the military understand this through the internalized realization of the supreme sacrifice, while football veterans incorporate this through community support and the creation of charitable foundations. Each begins to compete or fight out of respect and care for those alongside, not for what they feel is theirs to gain, and not necessarily for what others may expect of them.
Rookies get you beat
Veterans are called upon to prove themselves over and over, and more apt to answer that call with the skill and readiness that comes from years of meticulous practice and preparation. “Do it again, do it over, do it one more time”. They learn mistakes don’t just mean “mess ups” but rather lead directly to loss. Rookies get you beat and rookies can get you killed. There is little room for lack of precision in veterans. They fully understand the “ripple effects” of performance and tend to be most demanding of high standards.
Veterans have seen coaches and commanders define leadership as to how loud they can bark orders, and so the idea of “fragging” an out of control 2nd Lieutenant coincides with a young “hot shot” offensive coordinator. Front office management isn’t much different from politicians, neither knowing whether its “pumped or stuffed” at times. So it becomes increasingly difficult to take orders and or criticism from those that have never known the “true sting of battle”.
The emotion of it all
Veterans feel the emotional toil that injuries bring to players, soldiers, and families. The mental and physical anguish goes well beyond the visible and non-visible scars. Hollywood glamorized both wounds and death from combat, television has done the same with “big hits” from football. The weekly injury update is just another way for “bookies” to set the spread and Fantasy owners to set their rosters. Numbers of dead are a statistic; 50, 500, 5000. It all starts to sound the same. And so veterans become a little hardened.
They see friends come and go, are called to pick up and move time and again, see their own skills begin to diminish with age. They’re reminded it’s a game to be played and fought by the young, yet often struggle to accept it. The fears of calling it a career exist on both sides after years of having things clearly laid out, success and failure clearly defined. With skills and abilities finely tuned for a specific purpose, suddenly veterans are left wondering, “What do I have to offer? Where do I turn next? Is this what it’s really like outside?”
So as a veteran myself of “Cold War” combat and the NFL grind, I thank those that served before me and those that came after (ESPECIALLY this generation), and I also thank those veterans of a game that allows us all to take our minds off the harsh realities of why we truly celebrate the 11th hour, of this 11th day, of the 11th month, on Week 10 of the NFL season. Thanks Vets!