My first experience traveling with the Kansas City Chiefs into the local community was to the Army post at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. I was accompanied by Chiefs players, WR Terrance Copper, DE Mike DeVito and LB Edgar Jones, to meet with children of military members, who had just completed the NFL Play 60 Punt Pass & Kick competition, sign autographs for fans, and catch a brief historical tour of the fort. Along the way, I began to feel more and more a part of the team.
The ride up to Fort Leavenworth gave me an opportunity to share with the players the importance of national sports to deployed service members. They were very humble in comparing football to being deployed to a combat zone, especially when they were told that men and women will stay up well into the early morning to watch their favorite teams. The reason for this is simple, and human. When we are far from our families in unfamiliar environments, sports connects us to those back home. We know that, even if only for a few moments, we are participating in the same event as our loved ones.
When we arrived to the Fort Leavenworth football field, the players were greeted with cheers from the children who had completed the contest. It was interesting to see the visit from this side of the crowd and notice how the players took the time to sign each student's ball, picture or shirt. This was again repeated when the players were available for signatures at the Post Exchange (think Army department store).
In the course of the day, the Garrison Commander, Col. Timothy Wolff, gave each of the players his "challenge coin." This afforded me the opportunity to instruct the players on the coin tradition in the military.
In short, if you have been given a coin and someone else who has the same coin challenges you to produce yours and you do not have it, you owe the challenger a drink of his or her choice or ten push-ups. If you have your coin, the challenger owes you the victory beverage or exercise.
On the ride back, we continued to get to know each other. We compared some of the similar aspects between being a professional football player and a Soldier. Key among the similarities we found was the ideal of "love the one you are with".
In professional sports as in the military, we often find ourselves moving from team to team or unit to unit throughout our careers. Each of these players has at one time been on another team, but they expressed to me the excitement and desire to make this team the best it can be. In my career, I have been with numerous units and each one has been my "favorite", while I was there. It is refreshing to see this same philosophy coming from a group of people who are often portrayed in the media in a more self-serving light.
This sentiment, more than any other thing, has made me feel at home and part of the team.