Heroes, flags and stars
On a perfect summer evening in August, the stands were full at St. Norbert College’s Schneider Stadium. They are here for the first installment of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Flag Football game, as men and women who lost a limb or were injured and served their country played former members of the Green Bay Packers and other former professional footballers. It is, as the game’s emcee said that Saturday night, one of the only times the Packers will be cheered against in the Green Bay area (De Pere, to be exact) without argument or second thought.
Many of the Wounded Warriors are native Wisconsinites and introduced themselves along with their rank and the military branch they served in. The football stars introduced themselves too and participants included Ahman Green, Chris Jacke, Bill Schroeder, Harry Sydney, Chris Greisen, George Koonce, Dexter McNabb and Johnnie Gray. Also on hand were Jerry Kramer, Larry McCarren and Dave Robinson, who was back in town as a newly enshrined member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every former football player says how proud and honored and happy they are to be here. You can feel that honor in the air. It flows through every interaction on the field.
The field of play itself stretches from the left hash of the regulation field to a hash line just a few feet outside of the regular field’s out of bounds line on the left-hand side. The 20-yard lines serve as the goal lines.
Among the former Packers, Schroeder is still speedy and caught a few deep passes in stride. Green is built and lean and still appears capable of playing professionally. George Koonce – who of course heard the trademark KOOOOOOOOOOONCE cheer from the crowd – earned a PhD degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Marquette University in 2012. The emcee referred to him rightly as Dr. Koonce for the night. In his introduction Jacke mentions his son, who is in his second year at West Point.
Watching the Wounded Warriors play, aided by a variety of, but not limited to, prosthetic legs or blades or wheelchairs, is incredible. It is incredible both in what they’ve overcome already and what they continue to overcome everyday. That is an all-too-simple way to say it but it is a great, humbling thing to see these people who served and gave parts of their lives and bodies for their country, on a football field and having fun. Their sacrifices for the United States of America are on display and put the whole event in context. These physical damages only hinder them so much as far as the actual flag football goes; athleticism is all over the field. These Warriors are wounded but the furthest thing from broken.
The entire night is light hearted and blanketed in honor and reverence. At halftime children play catch on the sidelines. Both teams get after it in spurts during the contest. After being down early, the Wounded Warriors help their cause near the end of the first half by acquiring Ahman Green via trade. As the emcee mentions a few times, the rules of this game can change at any given time. Green says he is traded for a bag of Skittles. It’s a good trade for the Warriors and for whomever got that bag of Skittles. The Wounded Warriors lead 21-14 at halftime.
The Wounded Warriors pull further and further away as the game nears its end. There is not a better cause, and it is a perfect summer night.