This Sunday is one of the biggest days in all of sports: The Super Bowl. Pitting the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in a near-identical rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl, the fan rivalries are heating up. Surely Tom Brady will be looking for revenge after his perfect season was ended by the Giants in the Super Bowl four years ago. As the nation prepares for the showdown of the season, here’s a look back at the long and proud partnership between the USO and the NFL.
In 1965, then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle was looking for a way to demonstrate the NFL’s support for United States servicemen and women in Vietnam. He conceived the idea of sending NFL players to Vietnam on “goodwill tours” to visit and inspire the troops. After partnering with the USO they became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam.
From 1966 to 1973, NFL players visited remote firebases, aircraft carriers, and other installations in Vietnam, Guam, Thailand, and Japan. Since then, active and retired NFL players and coaches have lifted the spirits of America’s troops by participating in countless USO tours in places like Somalia, Bosnia, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
More recently, since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the NFL, with the help of the USO, has sent many players and coaches to the Middle East. Commissioner Roger Goodell became the first sports commissioner to visit troops overseas when he toured Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 with Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants.
In 2005, the NFL and USO again teamed up to preserve the legacy of Pat Tillman, a former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger killed in action in 2004, by constructing a USO center in his honor. Former New England Patriot and current New York Giants Assistant Special Teams Coach Larry Izzo traveled to Afghanistan to take part in the grand opening of the Pat Tillman USO Center at Bagram Air Base.
No matter who comes out as this weekend’s victor, remember the men and women sporting America’s camouflaged away uniforms. The USO is proud of their long history with the NFL and is grateful for the opportunity to better lift the spirits of America’s troops and families. Who do you think we should send next? - Joseph P. Scannell, USO New Media Intern