Chief of the Defense Staff General Rick Hillier of the Canadian Armed Forces gives the thumbs up as he poses with members of the Canadian Military on the ice after the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Ottawa Senators at the ACC February 2 in Toronto. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night, it was nice to see Canadian Forces members being recognized, as a few hundred season ticket holders had donated their seats to the troops for the game against Ottawa.
It wasn’t quite as moving as the thousands who did so for the same cause in Edmonton, but that’s not the point.
The point is that far too often we take for granted what these people (worldwide) are doing for us, regardless of where you stand politically on the subject of war. And we forget what it means to them, individually, and as a group, to just spend a night like so many of us, at a hockey game, watching their favorites, cheering on their team.
I had the pleasure of being introduced to a couple of service men afterwards, and you would have thought it was Christmas Day, not Feb. 2. From the thrill (surprise?) of the Leafs victory, to the chance to shake the coach’s hand, or pose for pictures with hockey idols both past and present, you could not wipe the smiles off their faces, or stifle the enthusiasm in their voices. These were the biggest kids I had met in a long time.
And perhaps it was that chance meeting that led me to feel so angered by a thoughtless, throw-away line written by a “media critic” that predictably appeared in Monday’s Toronto Star.
As I settled in to watch Super Bowl XLII, I was moved by the very powerful and impeccably produced recitation of the Declaration of Independence, featuring NFL stars of today and yesteryear, and also a courageous Marie Tillman, widow of ex-NFLer Pat Tillman, who was killed while fighting for the U.S. in Iraq in 2004. It wasn’t the first time Fox had done this, but for me it certainly did not lessen its impact.
Yet as the night wore on, and the game worked towards its magical climax, I couldn’t stop thinking about this tribute Fox had paid to the thousands of men and women who have, and will continue to pay, the ultimate sacrifice for our countries and for freedom. I told my wife about it and suggested to her that Fox will likely get ripped by someone for doing it and sure enough…
“…though what NFL Players reciting passages from the declaration of Independence have to do with football will remain a mystery for the ages,” wrote Chris Zelkovich of the Star.
Well, where do we start?
Should messages like this be saved strictly for the fourth of July? Why not deliver it to the biggest captive audience you can find in any calendar year?
How about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Do you think the millions watching on T.V. and those in attendance, not to mention those playing, were there to have a good time, fulfill dreams, and create memories for a lifetime? Would they have had that opportunity without the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands over generations?
Are the NFL and Fox wrong to take a few minutes to remind young and old alike what values might be considered important for a nation, like all nations, that is constantly evolving?
Hearing Warrick Dunn, Jim Brown, Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning remind us in succession that all men are created equal – that cannot be a negative, can it? Sadly, we can still only dream of a world without prejudice.
Seeing Marie Tillman speak, next to a bronze statue of her husband outside the stadium, essentially still backing her country, even though she was left a widow because of her nation’s willingness to engage in this fight – is that not an inspirational message of strength, hope, and belief?
Considering the game was played in Arizona, where Pat Tillman starred in both University and the NFL before turning his back on millions of dollars to enlist in the U.S. Army, would have been reason enough to pay tribute. Knowing the area surrounding the University of Phoenix Stadium is now Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza makes it all the more appropriate.
It’s also an election year in the United States. By the time the next Super Bowl comes around there will be a new President. What’s wrong with educating future voters on the foundation of which their country was built?
How would you feel if you were serving in Afghanistan, or somewhere else far, far from home?
I’m sure the countless men and women, two of whom I met Saturday night, who continue to do so, along with their families, appreciated this Super Sunday dedication.
Enjoy the video if you haven’t seen it already. Enjoy it again if you have.
Brian Duff is a host of the NHL Network’s ‘On the Fly’ and host of Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio.