The Giants’ clash with the Pittsburgh Sunday was the home team’s Salute to Service game. Approximately 150 servicemen and women unfurled the full-field flag prior to the national anthem. They were led by General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, and Admiral Jon Greenert, who is the Chief of Naval Operations.
In addition, about 100 first responders who have worked tirelessly helping people since Hurricane Sandy last week were invited to attend the game by the NFL. They met with Commissioner Roger Goodell prior to the game.
Many of the soldiers in attendance were from Fighting 69th (the 69th Infantry), a New York-based Army National Guard Infantry Unit, which returned from its tour of duty in Afghanistan in September and has been aiding the storm relief effort in New York City this week.
The Giants reached out to them when they were overseas. Many of them are members of the New York National Guard and have been first responders in the wake of the storm. They were home about six weeks when Sandy hit and they were asked to respond to the disaster.
“The NFL is high profile, but they always reach out to our soldiers and Marines,” Odierno said. “There’s a close bond and relationship there that means a lot to them that they have a chance to do this. It’s something some of them probably never dreamed they would get to do and here they are being able to stand in Metlife Stadium and have the opportunity to be recognized. It does mean a lot and shows that people still care.”
“People are willing to give something bigger than them and the Giants have been outstanding and so has the National Football League recognizing their service,” Greenert said.
Odierno attended the Giants’ practice and spoke to the team on Friday. He conveyed the message that in the wake of disasters like Sandy, people relish the opportunity to watch their favorite football team.
“I found when I was deployed to Iraq and I’d watch the servicemen and on a Sunday night, which was Sunday night there, when their team would play it gave them three hours to get away from some of the real difficult stuff they were dealing with,” Odierno said. “I see the same thing today. This is three hours with people who are dealing with devastation and issues and problems they can get away from for three hours and think about something else. I think it helps them. It helps them to build resilience; it helps them to cope with the things they have to do. So I think it’s important.
“It makes a difference. It just makes a really huge difference. So I communicated that to the players on Friday. I’m not sure I had to do that. I think they already had it, but it’s a great group of men they have on this team.”
Ninety minutes before kickoff, Goodell was shaking hands, chatting and posing for photos with the first responders, many from fire departments in Jersey shore communities hard-hit by Sandy.
“It’s hard to imagine what they go through,” Goodell said. “Many of them didn’t sleep all week dealing with this constant stress, dealing with people that are obviously going through some very difficult periods in their lives. It’s just remarkable we have people like; many of these folks are volunteers and to see that is really – it gives new meaning to hero to me.”
Ironically, the only disagreement during the pregame activities stemmed from football. Odierno, a native of Rockaway, N.J., is a lifelong Giants fan. Greenert, a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Butler, Pa., is an avid Steelers fan.
“We’ve had some conversations about that,” Odierno said.
Asked if he planned to watch the game with the Admiral, Odierno said, “No.”
Uh oh, a rift between the Army and Navy, played out right here in New Jersey.
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