Patriots Pro Bowl special teams player Larry Izzo will be among several current NFL players who will travel to the Middle East next week to officially open the Pat Tillman USO Center. The center, located at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, was dedicated in December and will provide services to the men and women stationed there, in addition to being a place for servicemembers to use as they come in and out of the country. The NFL donated $250,000 to the United Service Organizations (USO) to help build the facility, which was conceived by National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Izzo, who will also be joined by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Atlanta's Warrick Dunn, will also spend time visiting troops. Tagliabue made the announcement as part of his review to open the 2005 NFL annual meetings.
"This past year included the premature loss of two players who personified leadership - Pat Tillman and Reggie White," said Tagliabue. "We note their passing, but also vow to preserve their positive legacy to the game and the league. In the case of Pat Tillman, the NFL is establishing in Pat's name the first USO Center in Afghanistan for the support of our servicemen and women in combat in that region where he died. Next week, three of your outstanding players - Ben Roethlisberger, Warrick Dunn, and Larry Izzo - will travel to the Middle East to officially open the center and visit our troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq."
- Facts & Figures: The NFL announced its attendance figures this week, which set all-time records for regular-season total paid attendance (17,000,811) and average per game (66,409). The Washington Redskins set the all-time NFL regular-season record for home paid attendance (707,920 in eight games) for the fifth consecutive season and were also the leader in paid attendance in home and away games during the regular season (1,238,813). The Patriots averaged 68,756 in attendance in eight home contests, drawing 550,048 fans to finish 16th overall in regular-season home paid attendance. The Patriots were also one of 12 teams to draw more than 1.1 million in paid attendance in both home and away games, according to NFL figures, finishing ninth overall (1,108,557). The Patriots have sold out each of their last 115 home games, dating back to when owner Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, quite a remarkable number.
- NFL Europe:If you're a Patriots fan and you get the NFL Network, you'll be able to catch three of the team's six players who were allocated to NFL Europe in the NFLEL season-opener on Saturday, April 2. The game between the Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals, aired live at 12:00 p.m. ET and again at 8:00 p.m. ET, features Patriots wide receivers Cedric James and Mark Bartosic (Rhein) and tight end Joel Jacobs (Amsterdam). The NFL network will show one game live per week, with other games replayed on Saturday and Sunday in prime-time. The Patriots also have three other players allocated to the NFLEL: linebacker Grant Steen (Frankfurt), wide receiver Ricky Bryant (Hamburg) and running back Kory Chapman (Cologne).
James, who spent the season on the Patriots practice squad, is writing a weekly NFL Europe Diary that can be accessed on the team's official website. It's a good read. Congratulations to James and his wife Myriah on the recent birth of their daughter Averie Chanel James.
- Bonus Numbers: Last week I included a note by ESPN's Len Pasquarelli on the NFL's "Performance Based Pay" system. The NFL officially released the total compensation figures for the 2004 season today, which increased 78 percent to more than $57 million. Two Patriots also finished among the top 25 in performance based pay distributions in 2004. Undrafted rookie cornerback Randall Gay was sixth overall at $145,555, and second-year center Dan Koppen was 10th at $135,541. Based on the system, each player on the same team competes for his own share of his club's Performance Based Pay pool, which accounted for $1,784,000 per team in 2004.
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Frank Tadych is a reporter for Patriots.com and contributing writer for Patriots Football Weekly. He can be reached at *FrankT@patriots.com.*