FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You may have noticed the Patriots wearing some camouflaged gear last Sunday in Philadelphia against the Eagles. They’ll do so again this coming Sunday at Gillette Stadium when New England hosts the Dallas Cowboys.
For the past several years, the National Football League has designated November as Salute To Service Month. Games played during November feature military-themed NFL sideline and on-field team apparel and accessories.
Some football staff couldn’t wait till Sunday. Today, for instance, Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema sported a military green Salute to Service ball cap as he came off the practice field to meet with reporters. He explained that the United States military has always held a special place in his heart and his imagination, as two of his uncles served in World War II.
“I remember at a very young age, I was looking at, for lack of a better term, a journal or yearbook that detailed their service, showed them in their training. I was impressed by that.”
Though he never entertained thoughts of a military career of his own, Bielema smiled when recalling, as a high school football player, that he received his first recruiting letter from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I thought that was a pretty big deal.”
Like Bielema, running backs coach Ivan Fears, tight ends coach Nick Caley, and safeties coach Steve Belichick all have family members who served in the Armed Forces during WWII.
“We’ve had a lot of folks, a lot of family involved in the service. My dad,” Fears revealed, “was actually at Normandy... He actually got injured. That was his ticket home.”
Belichick’s grandfather, after whom he is named, saw action in both the Europe and Pacific theaters during the early 1940s before his distinguished, decades-long coaching/scouting career at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Definitely appreciate all that they do. Can’t thank them enough,” the younger Belichick remarked about military personnel of yesterday and today. “It’s good that we recognize their services because it’s important to our country… We wouldn’t be able to play this game if they didn’t do what they do. I think everyone on the team recognizes that and appreciates that.”
This is in large part due to Steve’s father, head coach Bill Belichick, who places a considerable emphasis on educating his players, particularly the younger ones, on the history of the United States and its military.
“I think very few people take time to educate people on what Memorial Day means and… Veterans Day versus Memorial Day,” added Bielema. “Because I think a lot of kids just know that certain days are holidays and they don’t understand it. Our players need to know that and understand that, and it’s a tip of the cap to [Bill] that he really puts an emphasis on that in today’s world. He makes them aware of what’s bigger than the game of football.”
“Very thankful for the sacrifices they make for us to be free. That’s important to me, personally,” Caley asserted.
“What they do for us, the sacrifices they make for us, it’s awesome. Truly awesome,” Fears declared. “So, for us to have an opportunity to recognize them, hey, I don’t think we do it enough. That’s how I feel.”
According to its website, the NFL, since 2011, has donated more than $34 million to non-profit organizations that cater to military personnel.