Whether you’re a diehard NFL football fanatic or just a casual fan, you’ve probably seen Jim E. Mora’s famous November 2001 post-game speech, whether on television commercials or SportsCenter. The longtime NFL coach’s incredulous reaction to a reporter’s question about his team’s chances to make the playoffs, which came after a crushing defeat, is a permanent part of football folk lore that to this day, still elicits smiles and laughs.
When Mora recently got the chance to accompany fellow NFL coaches on a USO tour to visit troops deployed overseas, his reaction was decidedly different. While millions of Americans identify Mora with his oft-quoted post-game rant, few may realize that before making his mark as the coach of the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, he was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
“In January, I called the NFL and asked if they had any tours going to Iraq or Afghanistan,” Mora told Pvt. Andrew Slovensky in Basra, Iraq. “I’ve always had an interest in it.”
In addition to highlighting the illustrious 45-year partnership between the NFL and USO, the trip was also special to Mora because of who went with him. In addition to Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, he was joined by his son, former Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons head coach Jim L. Mora.
“I’m excited to have the honor of spending time with our troops in the Middle East,” the younger Mora said in a statement. “Their selfless service to our country should be an inspiration to all Americans.”
Due to numerous flight delays, the four coaches arrived in Kuwait later than they had hoped on July 2, but still made the most of their time in the Middle East. They visited several significant spots in Iraq, including Baghdad’s Al-Faw Palace and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, where the Iraqi dictator was captured by U.S. troops in 2003.
For Whisenhunt, who is currently leading his Cardinals team in training camp, the trip was full of surprises. He wrote about the experience on the team’s official website.
“It went by quickly. We were busy. We were on a C-130 airplane again (on July 4), we were on Blackhawk helicopter three different trips, taking trucks and vans to all different bases. The hectic pace, I didn’t expect. The emotional connection to the troops and seeing how excited they were to see somebody from home, that was something I didn’t expect. The human element, even though you think you know what it will be, once you see the conditions they live in but the enthusiasm they have for their job, that’s what hits you where you aren’t expecting it.”
Kubiak agreed with his coaching counterpart, saying he wants to go back.
“When given the opportunity, I couldn’t wait to come,” Kubiak told Pvt. Slovensky. “I hope to do it again one day.”
Fittingly, the tour wrapped up on the Fourth of July in southern Iraq, where the U.S. military is set to complete a withdrawal of all forces later this year. The coaches split pieces of a huge cake with the troops, talked football, and put smiles on the faces of men and women serving apart from their families.
For the elder Jim Mora, seeing the sacrifices made by our troops on a daily basis, especially alongside his son, was an unforgettable experience that he will always cherish.
“You’re in a combat zone here, and you know it by what’s going on around you,” Mora told the NFL Network by phone from Iraq as his trip concluded on July 4.
Almost a decade after his famous speech, Jim E. Mora has achieved something far more memorable than another trip to the playoffs: lifting the spirits of our men and women in uniform. And according to his son, he found the perfect way to do it.
“They ask my dad to do the ‘Playoffs?!’’ thing,” Jim L. Mora said. “I’ve heard him spew it out a couple times, and they laugh like heck, too.” - Tom Sileo, USO Director of Story Development