The eyes of the nation descend on the National Football League each and every Sunday as millions enjoy America's favorite sport, but as the Kansas City Chiefs take the field this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys, this matchup is about much more than just the final score.
This particular contest – which will serve as the Chiefs' annual "Salute to Service" game – is about the real heroes in our community.
"I had a chance to go over to Afghanistan and kind of witness [what our military does for us] over there – just a small part of it – and I thought it was awesome. It was phenomenal," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "The organization and the love for the country – all those things that I think are important – [were incredible]. [Our] society has existed longer than any other in the world, and you can see why when you go over there. There's a strength to it, which gives you comfort here to do what we do, all of us."
The Chiefs have a storied history of supporting the military throughout the years, illustrated through numerous base visits, scholarships for Gold Star families, the regular Pros vs. GI Joes gaming events, Military Appreciation Day at training camp and Day 3 draft selection announcements from military bases in recent years.
It's a commitment that's woven into the fabric of the franchise, and not just in the metaphorical sense. In fact, the Chiefs will once again wear an honorary patch during pre-game warmups on Sunday that celebrates our Armed Forces.
"This year's patch really pays homage to the men and women that have spent the past 20 years protecting us since the tragic events of 9/11 via the 'Global War on Terrorism,'" said Chuck Castellano, the Chiefs' Director of Community Outreach. "We collaborated with Army leadership at Ft. Leavenworth to ensure that we properly incorporated the combined intent of this patch – relaying both our adoration for those who have served in this vital cause while combining that with the reverence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us."
This will mark the sixth-consecutive year that the Chiefs will don commemorative patches prior to the annual "Salute to Service" game, continuing a tradition that has honored various aspects of our nation's military and its history.
It began with the intent of recognizing Gold Star families in 2016, as the Chiefs wore custom sweatshirts that each bore the name of a different veteran who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country prior to Kansas City's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The hoodies were then gifted back to the loved ones of those veterans, culminating in an impactful gesture of remembrance that spawned a series of similar endeavors in the years since.
The Chiefs honored the many troops who call our community home the following season during "Salute to Service" month, sporting sweatshirts during warmups that featured a handful of different patches recognizing local military units. Representatives from nearby Fort Riley, alongside members of the Kansas and Missouri National Guard, were then surprised with the game-worn hoodies during a stadium tour soon afterward.
That tradition continued in the three years since, too, as the Chiefs have worn patches honoring the armistice World War I (2018), the commissioning of the USS Kansas City (2019) and the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II (2020).
It's grown into a meaningful display of solidarity during that time, providing the locker room with an opportunity to celebrate the individuals who make our freedom a reality.
"I think they like it because it's kind of our thing and we're honoring the military in our own way each year. We're able to put our individual spin on it and it's gone over really well," said Chiefs' Equipment Director Allen Wright. "The older guys who have been around a while are always excited about it and asking what we're going to do for it."
As Wright indicated, this annual tradition is a fairly unique practice in the NFL. The "Salute to Service" initiative is recognized across the league, but the Chiefs' usage of special patches on pre-game warmups – not to mention the meaning behind them – is a result of thoughtful innovation at One Arrowhead Drive.
"The concept of identifying a special military focus unique to our player and football staff's 'Salute to Service' hoodies was a very organic collaboration," Castellano said. "The effort was such a success initially that we took the opportunity each successive year to have some type of unique military focus included on our 'Salute to Service' hoodies. To my knowledge, we were the first NFL franchise to initiate this type of military recognition and we still remain one of the few that have continued to do so each year."
That collaboration immediately led to some of the earliest iterations of the initiative – such as the warmups that honored fallen veterans and nearby military units – but has more recently culminated in custom illustrations created by the Chiefs' internal design team.
"Each one has had its own distinct purpose, and it's a way for us to make the 'Salute to Service' campaign unique every year. For us to find different, specific points to dedicate each patch and year to has been special," said Jordan Giesler, the Chiefs' Creative Services and Brand Manager. "You can take 'Salute to Service' – which is a big thing – and find moments of individual importance within it every year."
That celebration of service will continue this Sunday, and while the Chiefs take the field against Dallas in a battle of division leaders, the patches on their warmups will ensure that there's no doubt who the real heroes are in our community.
"I think it's extremely special for us to have the ability to recognize Service Members on a regular basis, especially those throughout Chiefs Kingdom," Castellano said. "Regardless of geographic orientation, I think our entire organization appreciates the sacrifice and selflessness that these individuals continually personify…It continues to resonate throughout the team both on and off of the field."