Scores of airmen at Joint Base Andrews received a rare treat yesterday when the Washington Redskins decided to host an open-to-the-public practice at the base.
The team buses, accompanied by a police escort, arrived to shouts and applause as families lined the entry way to see their favorite players up close.
The “practice,” it could technically be called, amounted to little more than a walk through of some offensive drills, with the bulk of the players' time being devoted to signing autographs and taking pictures with service members and their families.
“It’s humbling to come out here, to be able to live in the nation’s capital, to be able to play football for a living — all the freedoms this country provides,” said Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. “Sometimes it’s easy to take those things for granted, so to be able to come out and say thank you for the sacrifices our servicemen and women make — and their families make — to provide those freedoms, it’s such a little thing for us to say thanks."
While not all in attendance were devoted Redskins fans — a Dez Bryant Dallas Cowboys jersey made an appearance, much to the chagrin of others — all were excited to spend the day mingling with an entire NFL team.
“I’m retired Army and I just think it’s a great thing for the Redskins organization to engage with the community, the military community," said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anastasios Christian. "They’re big fans of the military and vice versa. The military’s also a big fan of the team especially around this D.C. area.”
Redskins Team President Bruce Allen told Military Times that the visit allows players to put things into perspective, to realize what matters most.
“It’s great for our players to feel the passion of our service members and their families,” said Bruce Allen. "We feel it from the service members, and our players will go back on the buses now and there will be stories about who they met. And you see kids looking up to the players. It really teaches them that they are role models.”
Team personnel eventually wrangled the players to head back to the buses, but that didn’t stop each from squeezing in another photo or autograph on the way. Players were readying to take on the Broncos the following night, but despite game-planning for their next opponent, the visit was one that will resonate.
“In football we talk a lot about sacrifice and commitment, but these people really live it,” Alex Smith said. "It’s humbling to be around and I just appreciate them so much.”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.